Valve's gaming goggles tested, says "credible" AR games 3 to 5 years away

They sure aren't pretty.

Valve's definitely building wearable computer hardware, because a New York Times writer went inside the company's Seattle HQ, put on a pair of prototype gaming goggles and tested them for himself.

"Every way I look, the scene shifts, the battle unfolds," wrote reporter Stuart Isett. "I have a crazy contraption strapped to my head: a boxy set of goggles that looks like a 22nd-century version of a View-Master. It immerses me in a virtual world. I whirl one way and see zombies preparing to snack on my flesh. I turn another and wonder what fresh hell awaits."

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Better these than Half-Life 3. Oh, did I say that out loud?

An accompanying picture showed Isett wearing the big, chunky, boxy and black goggles. Mounted on top of his head and connected to the goggles was a large video camera. Various wires jutted out, and it looked like Stuart Isett may have had to hold the device while using it.

"The goggles I'm wearing - reminiscent of the ones Google recently unveiled to much hoopla - could unlock new game-playing opportunities," the report added. "This technology could let players lose themselves inside a virtual reality and, eventually, blend games with their views of the physical world."

Isett didn't go into any great further detail about the goggles, but he did talk to Michael Abrash, the man in charge of Valve's wearing computing project. Abrash apparently predicted that glasses capable of "credible" augmented-reality games could be three to five years away, but virtual reality glasses will arrive sooner.

Abrash also said that Valve wasn't sure it would produce the glasses itself. The "ultimate goal" is to share designs with other hardware companies, who'll go on to manufacture them.

"Gabe has a saying, which is, 'We will do what we need to do,'" Abrash said. "We don't particularly want to be a company that makes hardware in large quantities. It's not what we do."

Isett's report talked a bit about the intriguing boss-less company structure at Valve, where some 300 people work. There was a nice quote by Valve co-founder Gabe Newell given on the topic of departed staff.

"I get freaked out any time one person leaves," Newell said. "It seems like a bug in the system."

Newell also said Valve was more likely to "disintegrate", and its eclectic body of staff scatter to the four winds, than it was to sell itself to a billion-dollar buyer.

The report also unearthed word that the sofa-friendly Big Picture mode of Steam will enter beta testing today.

Isett's article comes hot on the heels of a job advert for Valve got tongues wagging. It advertised for the post of Industrial Designer, and declared that Valve was "jumping in" to the computer hardware space.

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