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Valve at GDC 2011 (and CeBit)

News & Rumors Other

As Mega 64 once said, GDC may very well be the “hottest video game party on the West Coast”.

Does the presence of Valve developers improve that lovely party atmosphere? Let’s find out.

Valve at GDC 2011 (and CeBit)

First up, we’ll be taking a look at Kotaku’s article about Mike Ambinder’s speech about the use of biofeedback in video game design.

It also includes a build of top-down shooter Alien Swarm that alters the game’s timer in response to stress and a version of Portal 2 that decoupled aiming a cross-hair and viewing the game world.

Is he talking about some sort of survival mode for Alien Swarm? Player stress meter or no player stress meter, gimme some of that.

Ambinder showed a demo of a Left 4 Dead 2 player connected to a biofeedback measurement device, a custom piece of hardware designed to detect skin conductance response. An in-game graph displayed levels of arousal from the player as he fought a series of Special Infected zombies, trying to refill a generator with gas cans. The player’s stress levels steadily increased as he was attacked, until ultimately he peaked during a Tank battle. A post-gameplay graph showed spikes in player trauma levels, tied to game events: Smoker attack, Charger battle, game-ending Hunter pounce.

Don’t confuse player arousal with sexual arousal. We don’t want our comments section to sound like Kotaku’s comments section. Ohohoho!

A Left 4 Dead 2 prototype used player biofeedback in another capacity, showing a teammates’ arousal levels above their health bar to illustrate how other Survivors were responding to in-game trauma. 

Ambinder said that data was entertaining to watch during competitive play in the upcoming DOTA 2. This, he said, was “the most enjoyable thing we’ve done so far” with biofeedback. Players who saw their opponents’ sense of arousal spike would “go crazy” with delight.

“Protect the Aroused”. And then, “Fight the Aroused”. Has a nice ring to it, does it not? Wait, no! Not that kind of arousal!

Ambinder also showed gameplay of Portal 2 being controlled with eye-tracking. Player movement, looking around the game world, was still done by hand, but aiming with a crosshair was done by looking with the eyes—they move faster than the wrist, so would using them to aim be an improvement? Enjoyable?

First Sixense, now this? Good god, what next? Voice control? Kinect-type motion control? Or… virtual reality?

Eye-tracking hardware determined the X/Y location of a gaze, redrawing the targeting reticule at 60 Hz. It was jittery, but speedy, leading Valve to determine that eyes could be viable aiming controllers. Decoupling the aiming viewpoint was a plus, Ambinder noted.

Biofeedback controllers may be a long ways off, Ambinder said, cautioning developers that consumer grade eye-trackers are still “far away” due to cost. Clearly, though, Valve sees value in factoring in physical feedback into its games and, at the very least, watching them experiment is highly entertaining.

Sounds great! We hope that we’ll one day be able to experience this with our own… eyes, I suppose?

Here‘s that particular article.

PC Gamer also talked about Ambinder’s presentation. They also had videos!

He talked about the things that may become possible using this technology:

“We don’t know how the player is feeling,” said Ambinder. “We’d like to attack that problem. We’d like to figure out player sentiment, and player emotion.” He also hinted at future matchmaking profiles based on player’s emotional responses: “We don’t want to pair passive players with emotional players. It’s something we’re thinking about it, we think it’s worthwhile.”

Whoa, whoa. Hold up one second. How could Ambinder not mention the one application that will make this tech a must-have?

They could instantly detect griefers, trolls and all manner of gorons.

Genius. Pure genius. I should get in the business.

Valve have been experimenting with varied techniques during the research. “We made a heartbeat measuring mouse – a detect heartbeat mouse – but had to ditch it because every time it moved it would introduce artefacts into the readings. We have a mouse that senses skin conductance, it’s easy to use, pretty cool.”

Valve’s solution is a piece of tech that costs $10 to make, and consists of two metal contacts attached to a strip. They’re fixed to your hand by a bandage, and a USB cable sends data about the current passing between them to your PC. It’s measuring the electric response of your skin, something which varies with stress.

Hold on, hold on. Better application right here – Tesla coils. They could manipulate… the electricity! Of our skin! Bzzzzz! Bzzz?

I should get in the weapons business as well.

Mike talked us through some of the extraordinary ideas they have planned for this tech. “We can detect when a player is bored,” he said, and suggested this as a way of determining if the player is lost, and using in-game prompts to help them out.

“Can we tie health to arousal? If you stay calm, your health rises… imagine a lie detection game: fool your interrogator by remaining calm.”

Why, no, officer! I most certainly did not kidnap the readers and turn them into Tesla coils. I swear.

Or an NPC who knows how you’re feeling – “Hey Mike, why are you so sad?”

“Watching the arousal patterns of competitive players – just knowing if the competitors were aroused – could be interesting.”

Mike said they could also use it to detect when your team-mates are in trouble in a co-op game like Left 4 Dead, by spotting spikes in arousal. In the video above you’ll see the clear response when the player’s attacked by the tank.

“Or [you could] earn points from eliciting responses from your team-mates,” Mike adds.

No! Don’t bring the griefers back!

Oh, I see what Valve wants to do! The old… uhh… Kansas City Shuffle! Look the other way, while we fry you with human Tesla coils! I mean come on, it’s a crippled Bruce Willis!

Here’s the videos:


But that’s not all!

Gabe also went on stage at Intel’s event (this is actually shot at CeBit, and not GDC) to demonstrate Intel’s Identity Protection Technology utilized in Steam Guard.

This is the full length keynote. Gabe comes on stage at 31:50 and leaves at 35:55. Portal 2 Sixense gameplay begins at 36:50 and ends at 38:10.

There’s also individual videos of the more interesting bits, such as Gabe Newell giving out his Steam password… live.

If you want the bragging rights for having tried to enter Gabe’s account, then you’d best hurry up, as it seems fairly evident that the password was a publicity joke, so it may be changed soon.

Second is…

Great question, Mooly! Counter-Strike 2 is definitely a major priority for Valve.

Very major.

In any case, that’s about all we could dig up from GDC. And CeBit. Can’t forget about CeBit.

Thanks for reading!


  1. The Eye tracking stuff looks really cool. I’m not sure how well it would work in a competitive environment like COD, CSS or TF2, because sniper rifles and high accuracy assault weapons would become incredibly OP. But in the context of portal, when the problem is where to look, rather than how fast you can like its a perfect improvement.

  2. I’m kind of ashamed that I tried his password. I knew it wouldn’t work, but still…

  3. “First we need to ship Portal 2, then DOTA 2 and then we’re going to worry about Counter-Strike 2”


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