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'Doom,' 'Fallout' creator dives into virtual reality

Virtual reality headset
Kiyoshi Ota | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Virtual reality headset

The video game publisher that accuses Oculus of stealing its intellectual property to create its flagship virtual reality headset isn't planning to stay on the sidelines as VR games grab a foothold in the industry.

Bethesda Softworks on Sunday announced the launch of a VR division — Bethesda VR — with two of its flagship games leading the charge. A virtual reality version of "Fallout 4" will be released for the HTC Vive headset in 2017. The company also showcased a VR version of the just released "Doom."

"We want to give you a glimpse into where we are with VR, where you can expect us to remain a leader," said Pete Hines, vice president at Bethesda Softworks.

It's not unusual for game publishers to support VR these days. Ubisoft has already announced three original titles and Electronic Arts hinted at support for PlayStation VR Sunday.

But Bethesda is owned by ZeniMax Media, which in May 2014 sued Oculus (and parent company Facebook), saying it illegally took computer code, trade secrets and more to create the Oculus Rift. ZeniMax maintains John Carmack, current chief technical officer at Oculus, provided technology and information to the VR company before he left ZeniMax subsidiary id Software for Oculus in 2014.

Last August, a judge denied a motion to dismiss the suit, which Oculus has called "silly" and "money-grabbing."

Whether because of concerns about the lawsuit or internal production issues, Oculus has been rolling the Rift out at a surprisingly slow pace since it went on sale. Soon after the official release date, people who preordered the system said their headsets weren't arriving as promised — and the company did not respond to customer or media inquiries. Now, two months after that launch, there is still a backlog of at least two months for new customers.

Whether Carmack took proprietary information with him when he went to Oculus or not, he was certainly the early face of VR, showing off a very early prototype of what would become the Rift at E3 in 2012. Bethesda carefully discussed that demonstration in unveiling the VR division.

"The first time anyone experienced modern VR was in 2012. And if you were there, and were lucky enough, you may remember getting to play Doom 3 BFG in our booth," said Hines. "At the time, we had solved some of the toughest technology challenges posed by VR, and people were amazed. Since then, we've quietly continued our pioneering work in VR and [now] we want you to see and experience what you feel when you put on a headset and play the latest AAA games in the industry."

Announcing that "Fallout 4" will be a VR title is about as big an endorsement as Bethesda can give to the virtual reality space. The title, released last year, has sold more than 12 million copies life to date and is one of its biggest franchises.