Check out these inventive hacks for a Sci-Fi themed contest

Subject: General Tech | April 22, 2014 - 12:37 PM |
Tagged: hack, valve, glados, tf2, kick ass

Hack a Day have been accepting entries to their Sci-Fi contest for long enough that they have a few worth showing off before the entry deadline of April 29th, specifically the Valve themed ones.  A table top sized level 1 sentry gun from TF2 is being entered, perhaps not as heavy duty as  the one currently guarding Valve HQ but destined to be able to fire paint balls if all goes to plan.  There is a French team who are modifying some personal assistant software called RORI into a replica of GLaDOS, hopefully a version at least slightly less murderous than the original while another team is going about creating a physical version of the homicidal AI complete with a camera to allow face tracking.  Check these entrants and other in the full Hack a Day post.

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"While most of the entries to our Sci-Fi contest come from movies and TV shows, a select few are based on the Valve universe, including a few builds based on Portal and Team Fortress 2."

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Source: Hack a Day

Ars Technica Estimates Steam Sales and Hours Played

Subject: Editorial, General Tech | April 16, 2014 - 01:56 AM |
Tagged: valve, steam

Valve does not release sales or hours played figures for any game on Steam and it is rare to find a publisher who will volunteer that information. That said, Steam user profiles list that information on a per-account basis. If someone, say Ars Technica, had access to sufficient server capacity, say an Amazon Web Services instance, and a reasonable understanding of statistics, then they could estimate.

Oh look, Ars Technica estimated by extrapolating from over 250,000 random accounts.

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If interested, I would definitely look through the original editorial for all of its many findings. Here, if you let me (and you can't stop me even if you don't), I would like to add my own analysis on a specific topic. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim on the PC, according to VGChartz, sold 3.42 million copies on at retail, worldwide. The thing is, Steamworks was required for every copy sold at retail or online. According to Ars Technica's estimates, 5.94 million copies were registered with Steam.

5.94 minus 3.42 is 2.52 million copies sold digitally. Almost a third of PC sales were made through Steam and other digital distribution platforms. Also, this means that the PC was the game's second-best selling platform, ahead of the PS3 (5.43m) and behind the Xbox 360 (7.92m), minus any digital sales on those platforms if they exist, of course. Despite its engine being programmed in DirectX 9, it is still a fairly high-end game. That is a fairly healthy install base for decent gaming PCs.

Did you discover anything else on your own? Be sure to discuss it in our comments!

Source: Ars Technica

Getting burned by the Steam Controller

Subject: General Tech | April 11, 2014 - 03:37 PM |
Tagged: valve, Steam Controller, gdc 14

At the Game Developers Conference last month The Tech Report had some one on one time with the Steam Controller and walked away with a less than positive impression.  It would seem that the learning curve for this device is rather steep, especially when they tried Portal 2.  Fine aiming, circle strafing and other tasks which come naturally to those used to a keyboard and mouse were quite difficult to accomplish on the new controller.  When asked, the Valve rep admitted it took them about 8 hours to familiarize themselves with the Steam Controller.  Is that too steep a learning curve or is it simply part of the fun of playing with a new type of console and controller?

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"Valve's Steam controller looks great on paper. It promises not just greater accuracy than conventional console gamepads, but also support for point-and-click titles that traditionally required a mouse and keyboard. There's a downside, though. As TR's Cyril Kowaliski learned first-hand, the Steam controller has a pretty steep learning curve—steep enough, perhaps, to put off some potential converts."

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Now Valve Doesn't Have Michael Abrash OR Jeri Ellsworth

Subject: General Tech, Displays | March 28, 2014 - 04:21 PM |
Tagged: VR, valve, Oculus, facebook

Today, Oculus VR issued a statement which claims that Michael Abrash has joined their ranks as Chief Scientist. Abrash was hired by Valve in 2011 where he led, and apparently came up with the idea for, their wearable computing initiatives. For a time, he and Jeri Ellsworth were conducting similar projects until she, and many others, were forced out of the company for undisclosed reasons (she was allowed to take her project with her which ultimately became CastAR). While I have yet to see an official announcement claim that Abrash has left Valve, I have serious doubts that he would be employed in both places for any reasonable period of time. With both gone, I wonder about Valve's wearable initaitive going forward.

Abrash at Steam Dev Days

This press statement comes just three days after Facebook announced "definitive" plans to acquire Oculus VR for an equivalent of $2 billion USD (it is twice the company Instragram was). Apparently, the financial stability of Facebook (... deep breath before continuing...) was the catalyst for this decision. VR research is expensive. Abrash is now comfortable working with them, gleefully expending R&D funds, advancing the project without sinking the ship.

And then there's Valve.

On last night's This Week in Computer Hardware (#260), Patrick Norton and I were discussing the Oculus VR acquisition. He claimed that he had serious doubts about whether Valve ever intended to ship a product. So far, the only product available that uses Valve's research is the Oculus Rift DK2. Honestly, while I have not really thought about it until now, it would not be surprising for Valve to contribute to the PC platform itself.

And, hey, at least someone is not afraid of Facebook's ownership.

GDC 14: Valve's Steam Controller Is Similar to Dev Days

Subject: General Tech, Cases and Cooling, Shows and Expos | March 15, 2014 - 01:44 AM |
Tagged: GDC, gdc 14, valve, Steam Controller

Two months ago, Valve presented a new prototype of their Steam Controller with a significantly changed button layout. While the overall shape and two thumbpads remained constant, the touchscreen disappeared and the face buttons more closely resembled something from an Xbox or PlayStation. Another prototype image has been released, ahead of GDC, without many changes.

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Valve is still in the iteration process for its controller, however. Ten controllers will be available at GDC, each handmade. This version has been tested internally for some undisclosed amount of time, but this will be the first time that others will give their feedback since the design that was shown at CES. The big unknown is: to what level are they going to respond to feedback? Are we at the stage where it is about button sizing? Or, will it change radically - like to a two-slice toaster case with buttons inside the slots.

GDC is taking place March 17th through the 21st. The expo floor opens on the 19th.

Valve's Direct3D to OpenGL Translator (Or Part of It)

Subject: Editorial, General Tech | March 11, 2014 - 10:15 PM |
Tagged: valve, opengl, DirectX

Late yesterday night, Valve released source code from their "ToGL" transition layer. This bundle of code sits between "[a] limited subset of Direct3D 9.0c" and OpenGL to translate engines which are designed in the former, into the latter. It was pulled out of the DOTA 2 source tree and published standalone... mostly. Basically, it is completely unsupported and probably will not even build without some other chunks of the Source engine.

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Still, Valve did not need to release this code, but they did. How a lot of open-source projects work is that someone dumps a starting blob, and if sufficient, the community pokes and prods it to mold it into a self-sustaining entity. The real question is whether the code that Valve provided is sufficient. As often is the case, time will tell. Either way, this is a good thing that other companies really should embrace: giving out your old code to further the collective. We are just not sure how good.

ToGL is available now at Valve's GitHub page under the permissive, non-copyleft MIT license.

Source: Valve GitHub

Steam Family Sharing Is Now Available For All Users

Subject: General Tech | February 28, 2014 - 06:36 PM |
Tagged: steam, valve

Today, Valve announced that its Steam Family Sharing program is available for all users. This initiative allows Steam accounts to authorize devices to access their library on other accounts. The intention is for each family member to have their own account while being able to borrow games from one another. This can also extend to "their guests". It does not include titles which use third-party DRM, accounts, or subscriptions - Valve obviously does not have direct control over them.

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There are other rules and restrictions, of course, but the account and device limits are quite high: 5 accounts across 10 devices. This does not get around region locks and a game which is VAC-banned cannot be shared. Ultimately, be careful sharing your games with your kids if they are jerks.

To setup Family Library Sharing in the Steam Client, go to View > Settings > Family and start to authorize and manage other computers. Just do not allow Cheating Charlie. For more information, check out Valve's promotional site and FAQ.

Source: Valve

Develop for Debian; get free games

Subject: General Tech | January 27, 2014 - 02:01 PM |
Tagged: linux, debian, valve, free

Valve has an obvious favourite flavour of Linux as revealed by the free games they will be showering Debian developers with.  Any and all Valve published games, past or future, will be made available to developers for free.  This makes sense as SteamOS is branched from Debian 7.1 "Wheezy", making it very worth Valve's time and money to make friends with developers for Debian.  Maybe it is time to update your coding skills and become a developer; The Register didn't specify that Half Life 3 will be out first on Linux but do you really want to run that risk?

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"Games vendor Valve has offered a surprise present to the Debian Linux community, in the form of subscriptions that give Debian project members free, unlimited access to all Valve game titles – past, present, and future – forever."

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Source: The Register

SteamOS Beta Non-UEFI Support & Other Untested Features

Subject: General Tech, Systems | January 22, 2014 - 01:27 AM |
Tagged: valve, SteamOS

When Valve launched SteamOS, it was definitely a beta product. Its installer prompted Ryan to make a troubleshooting video on our Youtube channel. It also apparently required a computer equipped with a UEFI which only became common about two or three years ago. It is also very difficult to install as a dual-boot configuration which complicates its coexistence with Windows (because Microsoft will certainly not support it from their end).

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Thankfully, most or all of these issues are being addressed in the latest beta SteamOS ISO... at your own risk. They are very careful to highlight that this beta has not been properly tested. Given that their initial release could nuke a random hard drive full of data, I would take that warning seriously.

These changes come from the project, "Ye Old SteamOSe". I am not sure that it solves the USB overwrite issue that we experienced (unless it was already fixed at some point) but I would expect that custom partitions and dual-boot would be impossible if that bug still existed. The highlighted features, according to the announcement's comments, are:

  • Non-EFI support
  • DVD install support
  • Custom partitions in Expert mode (cannot resize NTFS partitions).
  • Dual-boot in Expert mode.

If you would like to give SteamOS installation another shot, on a machine that you feel comfortable testing software with, then check out the Steam Universe thread.

Valve Virtual Reality Project at Steam Dev Days

Subject: Editorial, General Tech | January 20, 2014 - 11:35 PM |
Tagged: valve, virtual reality

Steam Dev Days was last week. At it, Valve announced a redesign of their Steam Controller and the removal of Steam Greenlight, among other notables. This was a press-free event, officially. Of course, due to Twitter and other social media platforms, everyone can decide to be a journalist on a whim. Things are going to leak out.

Other things are going to be officially released, too.

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Michael Abrash held a speech at the event discussing his virtual reality initiative within Valve. Both it and the Steam Machine project was in question when the company released Jeri Ellsworth and several other employees. After SteamOS was announced and castAR, Jeri's project at Valve, had its Kickstarter, it was assumed that Valve gave up on augmented reality. Despite this, they still kept Michael Abrash on their staff.

I would speculate, completely from an outside position, that two virtual reality groups existed at one point (at least to some extent). The project seems to have been sliced into two parts, one leaving with Jeri and one continuing with Michael. I seriously doubt this had anything to do with the "High School Cliques" that Jeri was referring to, however. She said it was "longtime staff" (Michael was newly hired around the end of Portal 2's development) and not within her hardware team.

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These are the specs that Valve has developed prototypes to.

1K x 1K per eye is about 100x less than they would like, however.

Ooo... 100 megapixels per eye.

I just believe it all shook out to an unfortunate fork in the project.

Politics aside, Michael Abrash sees virtual reality affecting "the entire entertainment industry" and will be well supported by Steam. I hope this would mean that Valve will finally drop the hammer on music and movie distribution. I have been expecting this ever since the Steam infrastructure was upgraded back in July 2011. Of course, neither server or software will solve content availability but I am still expecting them to take a shot at it. Remember that Valve is creating movies, could they have plans for virtual reality content?

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The latest prototype of the Oculus Rift uses camera tracking for low-latency visibility.

This looks like Valve's solution.

The PDF slide deck is publicly available and each page includes the script he heavily followed. Basically, reading this is like being there, just less fun.

Source: Valve