It looks like Google is set to attempt to make a big splash at GDC (Game Developers Conference) in just 6 short days according to their teaser video that just went live yesterday. There’s little to be gleaned from the video itself, but a tweet from Rick Osterloh may give us a bit more info on what Google is planning.
We are going to talk about the future of gaming! You can watch it live on 3/19 at 10AM PDT → http://g.co/gdcreveal19
Coming from the SVP of Products and Services at Google, this statement is making most of the internet believe that we’ll not only see a gaming service launched, but also some sort of hardware as well. A patent for a game controller from Google has leaked out, so a hardware/software combination on March 19th seems probable.
Whatever Google is planning on announcing, it is clear that their efforts last fall with Project Stream – a game streaming trial with one title on offer for an initial test – are bearing some fruit. There are theories left and right, but my guess is a game streaming service with the full muscle and breadth of Google’s server infrastructure will be on offer and those wishing to use it will only need Chrome. Window, Mac, Chrome OS, or Linux won’t matter.
You’ll just need Chrome.
Enter The Nintendo Switch Controllers
In a very interesting commit found by Gabriel a few days ago, the Chromium team is working on getting full support for the Nintendo Switch controllers all sorted out. When he found this commit, Google’s GDC teaser had yet to surface, so we were a bit confused about the reasoning behind the effort, here. That’s no longer the case.
Controller support is all over the place between consoles, laptops, mobile, and TV boxes, but Google looks to be working towards a much more standardized angle with controller support for the Switch: Chrome support.
From the looks of the commit and the included bug report, the team is working on getting the details ironed out to not only have the controller noticed by the OS, but to allow Chrome to handle the actual implementation.
The Nintendo Switch Pro Controller can be paired over Bluetooth and used as a standard gamepad on desktop OSes. It is currently enumerated in Chrome but is unusable due to incorrect mappings for the D-pad and analog axes. Chrome should add a mapping for this popular device.
The Switch Pro controller is usable when connected by USB or Bluetooth,
but defaults to a Bluetooth-only mode. This CL adds methods for
recognizing Switch Pro controllers, sending the vendor-specific packets
used for USB initialization and haptics, and reading controller data
The only reason for this to actually be worked on is whatever gaming service Google is getting ready to announce. My guess is they want Chrome to be able to recognize and use popular gaming controllers over Bluetooth and/or USB regardless of the OS Chrome is being run on.
After all, Project Stream ran in Chrome, but once you were in the web app itself, it basically took over your machine. If Chrome can deal with input methods in a native way, this makes for one less layer of complication when sitting down to play a game on Google’s new service. Instead of wondering whether or not you Switch Pro controller works on a Mac for instance, Chrome can handle all the packet transfers to make things like analog sticks and vibrations work as they should without the need of making it work across the entire operating system.
Along with keyboard and mouse support, all Google really needs to figure out is how to keep latency at an absolute minimum. I had moments using Project Stream where it felt quite native, but I also had moment where I could absolutely tell I was streaming a game and not loading it on my Chromebook. If Google can get this right (and it seems they are investing heavily into their already-massive server infrastructure), if they can launch a game streaming service that is nimble enough to play games like Fortnite, Apex Legends or PUBG, the could truly change the way we approach and distribute games.
Getting controller support right will go a long way to helping that effort move forward in a meaningful way, but this is a complex effort. I’m looking forward to Google’s announcement next week and you can be sure we’ll be tuning in live to see how it all plays out.