SteamOS, Steam Machines and Steam controllers: Valve innovation, or just hot air?

28 Sep 2013  by   Peter Parrish
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Paul: I don’t think its deliberate, I think it’s just the evolution of the PC market. The majority of gamers have been using an MS OS for years, and while the thoughts of a Linux based OS would probably give the average gamer the total fear, Valve have an opportunity to shake things up and change the perception of Linux, and at the same time create something that’s accessible to all. I have to mess with Linux servers all the time and it can be a pain but I don’t envisage the SteamOS to be like other versions of Linux which come in 10 billion different flavours.

Tim: I’m curious about how well SteamOS will work, though, even with the AMD and Nvidia support. I mean, as far as I know, there are games on Steam that won’t actually run on Linux right now – even with emulation – and there aren’t too many games that actually have Linux-specific versions on there. So… are there games that simply won’t work on the Steam Machine? Will you have to stream them across?

valve cats

Can cats play them? SO MANY QUESTIONS.

Peter: I like that most of our statements end with questions, since so much of this is still unknown.

Tim: Asking questions? Wow, that’s sort of like actual journalism. Except that we’re pretty much shouting them into a void.

Paul: So many questions that leave me feeling a little flat after this week’s announcements. I need to know more now!

Peter: I think I can answer Tim’s question about the Linux-specific games at least. In the first announcement Valve said that “hundreds” of games are working natively on SteamOS (which, to put it another way, means thousands aren’t.) But also followed that up by saying to keep an eye out for news of “all the AAA titles coming natively to SteamOS in 2014.” So it seems like they have a plan to get as many as possible working natively before the Steam Machines start rolling out. Until they get the whole catalogue sorted then yes, you would have to just stream I think.

Tim: I guess I wasn’t shouting that one into a void, then.

Horace

Definitely more like Horace goes Skiing

Peter: Anyway, can we talk more about the controller? Do you guys think it looks more like an owl, or more like the face of Spectrum superstar Horace of Horace and the Spiders fame?

Paul: It’s definitely Horace inspired, although I think the inspiration has come from Horace goes Skiing in which he looked a little more stressed.

I’m not sure about the controller, but then again I’m not a huge controller fan anyway because they’re shit for playing FPSes with. It looks pretty slick though, and I like the idea of the pads. The buttons, on the other hand, look like they could be in an annoying position.

Tim: Horace just looked like an arse with arms and legs anyway. Those weren’t his eyes at the front. Also: congratulations! We’ve just lost pretty much everyone under the age of, ooh, about 28. Shall we talk about Jet Set Willy next? Maybe Olly & Lissa? You know, while we’re staying current.

Paul: Tim, how dare you slag off Horace? And thanks for letting everyone know we’re all old farts.

Tim: Anyway: I’m not sure what to make of the controller, yet; I’d need to quite literally get my hands on it before making up my mind. I’m intrigued by the prospect of the pads, and the button positions don’t worry me too much, if only because the controls are all customisable anyway. The thing is, I wouldn’t necessarily be using this for playing most games that would theoretically use a pad anyway – I’d be using this for things like RTSes. I don’t really care how this copes with Assassin’s Creed 6: Still Not Set in Japan or Rayman Comes Out of Retirement. I want to know how it handles Civilization 5.

Peter: Or Europa Universalis IV, as featured in the SteamOS announcement (on a screen, in the background). Everybody knows Horace is a cultural icon though, so I don’t know what your problem is there.

Tim: The most recent announcement actually mentioned Euro Truck Simulator 2, which amused me greatly.

Peter: The greatest game! It’s tough to say with the controller until you actually hold it, isn’t it? I’ve seen quite a few people online saying it looks terrible, which I actually don’t agree with at all (it looks odd, but that’s quite different). What’s interesting though is that even the people saying it looks terrible are often appending “but I wouldn’t mind trying it out.” I kind of doubt it’ll displace mouse/keyboard as my preferred input for stuff like strategy games, but if there’s a low-cost streaming Steam Machine and if the controller feels alright then it do the job for some EUIV living room gaming. Although maybe not, as although EUIV is a great game, making someone sit and watch it is probably against the Geneva Convention in some way.

Tim: Because Peter “War Crimes” Parrish really cares about violating the Geneva Convention.

europa universalis iv (1)

Shh … don’t listen to them Europa Universalis IV. You’re still special to me.

Paul: Watching EUIV would be like pulling teeth. That’s a prime example of a game you would not want the family gathering round for. That and Seduce Me.

Peter: That game has potential with this new controller though. Waggle the trackpads to tweak some manly or feminine nipples. Wait, is this another war crime? Let’s move on.

A lot of ifs, buts and questions I guess. Much of this seems like it has potential, it’s kind of intriguing. I’m somewhat interested and optimistic, but not blown away or totally sold on Valve’s latest venture. How about the two of you?

Paul: Overall it’s quite exciting, but I don’t think it will be for everyone. For me the OS is the most interesting part of this week’s announcements; I am not that fussed about playing all my lovely Steam games in the living room on my TV. What the hardware manufacturers come up with is also a little intriguing but without more information it’s quite hard to get too excited.

The controller looks cool but as a die-hard mouse and keyboard guy it’s something I would mess with as a last resort depending the game in question. I’m not totally convinced that it’s going to be great for strategy games for example. Besides, I would feel guilty shoving my fingers in Horace’s eyes every time I played a game. Horace, you da man!

Kudos to Valve, though. These announcements could bring PC gaming to a wider audience if it all slots into place and they get support from all corners of the industry. If the hardware is solid and priced reasonably then console gamers might – and I stress might – move away from the dark side over time, due to the variety of games that will be available through Steam. It’s a canny move by Valve.

Wait a second, dark side … I’m having some sort of vision …

stewie controler

Valve’s original design document.

Tim: Like I said at the start: I have no real idea what any of this is, but I want one anyway.

Nothing here is particularly mind-blowing. Not even the whole “Valve moving into hardware” thing, as that’s something we’ve been expecting for what feels like a few years now. Crucially, though, it doesn’t have to be mind-blowing.

Almost all of this is already doable with some basic technical knowledge; there’s no reason you can’t install Linux on your PC and hook it up to a TV right now. So yeah, these are baby steps, but they’re baby steps that simplify things for the end user and push PCs just a little bit further towards the less tech-minded end of the market. As a lot of people don’t want to use PCs because they’re bizarrely complicated – and when you look at how Nvidia and AMD number their graphics cards, you can’t blame them – that can only really be a good thing. About the only thing that’s genuinely “new” is the prospect of a controller that’ll let you play games that traditionally require mouse and keyboard, and there’s no way to know how that’ll work without trying it.

I don’t think any of this’ll set the world on fire (unless the controller really is that good) but I can’t really see any of this being bad in any real way.

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