Marc Laidlaw, Lead Writer for Half-Life Franchise, Retires

Subject: General Tech | January 8, 2016 - 07:06 PM |
Tagged: valve, half life 3

I won't blame them if they hide the silverware, however. I can be trusted with company secrets, but not with spoons. Never with spoons.

Marc Laidlaw is an author of science fiction, who wrote much of the story of Half-Life, its expansions, and Half-Life 2. Valve's flat corporate structure (at least at the time) makes it difficult to find out who did what. All employees are listed alphabetically in the credits. He hasn't been given a lot of public credit since Half-Life 2, though.

crowbarhl22.jpg

Whatever he's been working on, he has since retired from the company after eighteen years. On his way out, he emailed a Reddit user with opinions regarding his departure, because that's a Valve thing to do I guess. Gamasutra confirmed it's true. It's a relatively short, interview format letter. The Reddit user apparently initiated contact and didn't realize Marc had just retired.

He wouldn't go into too many details about why he left the company, except that he's “old” and he wants to start writing his own narratives. He published several novels before being hired at Valve Software, which he apparently shelved after The 37th Mandala at the short story Catamounts in 1996. He wrote a couple of short stories in the last 2000s, right after Half-Life 2: Episode 2 launched. He wishes to go back to doing that again, which should be a nice retirement pass-time.

What this means for future Half-Life titles? Who knows.

He says that everything's in Valve's hands at the moment, but he could very well have wrapped up involvement in a project just before he left. I mean, it's been five or six years since his last publicly credited work. That's plenty of time to finish an unannounced product. Again, who knows?

Source: Reddit

Valve Reviews CS:GO Match-Fixing Bans and Upholds Them

Subject: General Tech | January 5, 2016 - 10:03 PM |
Tagged: valve, CS:GO, esports

About a year ago, Valve blocked several players from participating in their sponsored tournaments when the players were believed to be match fixing. This is the practice of arranging outcomes in events and tournaments. This is often accompanied by betting on the pre-arranged winners, but it could also be used to shift around positions in seed brackets by having one or more member intentionally lose winnable games. This is bad all-around, but can even be illegal (due to the implications of fraud and so forth).

valve-nope.jpg

Since then, the game developer has reviewed their earlier decision, and they decided to make it permanent. They did not state how many players were involved, although PC Gamer knows of 21. These individuals will never be allowed to compete at any Valve-sponsored tournaments, and other organizers will be able to extend those bans to their events, too.

A similar incident happened in the Korean StarCraft II scene. In that situation, a dozen individuals were arrested and detained by Korean law enforcement, charged for betting (or enabling third-parties to bet) on predetermined outcomes. This has been an ongoing problem.

Source: Valve

FCC Approves the Vive VR "Base station"

Subject: General Tech | December 31, 2015 - 03:00 PM |
Tagged: htc, valve, vive, vive vr

This bit of news is a little more pleasant for Valve. According to Engadget, the HTC Vive has passed FCC approval. HTC recently announced that the product would launch in April, slipping from its original launch date, Holiday 2015, by a few months. This was due to a “very, very big technological breakthrough” that was in no way elaborated on.

valve-2015-htc-vive-fcclaser.png

The linked FCC report calls the device the “HTC Base station.” This likely refers to the Lighthouse laser tracking system that are monitored by light sensors on the headset and controllers. The public notice includes the FCC warning label, which mentions that the device is a Class 1 laser system. There are five classifications of lasers, from Class 1 through Class 4 (with Class 3 split into Class 3a and Class 3b). Class 1 means that the laser is completely incapable of producing harmful radiation. Class 4 can cause fires. Since HTC's device is Class 1, this means that either the laser's intensity is too low to cause damage, even with sustained viewing, or the laser never produces a harmful amount of radiation in a way that could be viewed under normal operation. For instance, a laser printer is a “Class 1” laser, because everything occurs within the device. Laser pointers, on the other hand, are typically Class 2.

This raises an interesting question about how the lasers are used. They are clearly emitted into open space, because the sensors are on the visor. This suggests that the lasers are either very low power, or the beam is manipulated in such a way that it cannot be pointed into someone's eye for a meaningful amount of time. How? No idea.

HTC and Valve are expected to fully unveil the product at CES. PC Perspective will be at the event, and we'll probably have more information at that time.

Source: Engadget

Valve Comments on Christmas Security Issues

Subject: General Tech | December 30, 2015 - 11:48 PM |
Tagged: valve, steam, security, Privacy

On Christmas Day, Valve had a few hours of problems. Their servers were being overloaded by malicious traffic. The best analogy that I could provide would be a bad organization who sent a thousand people to Walmart, to do nothing but stand in the check-out line and ask the cashier about the time. This clogs up the infrastructure, preventing legitimate customers from making their transactions. This was often done after demanding a ransom. Don't pay? Your servers get clogged at the worst time.

steam-family.png

A little too much sharing...

There are two ways to counter-act a DDoS attack: add hardware or make your site more efficient.

When a website is requested, the server generates the page and sends it to the customer. This process is typically slow, especially for complicated sites that pull data from one or more database(s). It then feeds this data to partners to send to customers. Some pages, like the Steam Store's front page, are mostly the same for anyone who views it (from the same geographic region). Some pages, like your order confirmation page, are individual. You can save server performance by generating the pages only when they change, and giving them to relevant users from the closest delivery server.

Someone, during a 20-fold spike in traffic relative to the typical Steam Sale volume, accidentally started saving (caching) pages with private information and delivering them to random users. This includes things like order confirmation and contact information pages for whatever logged-in account generated them. This is pretty terrible for privacy. Again, it does not allow users to interact with the profiles of other users, just see the results that other users generated.

But this is still quite bad.

Users complained, especially on Twitter, that Valve should have shut down their website immediately. From my position, I agree, especially since attempting to make a purchase tells the web server to pull the most sensitive information (billing address, etc.) from the database. I don't particularly know why Valve didn't, but I cannot see that from the outside.

It's probably a simple mistake to make, especially since Valve seems to blame a third-party for the configuration issue. On the other hand, that also meant that Valve structured their website such that sensitive information is in the hands of third-parties to properly cache. That might have been necessary, depending on their browser compatibility requirements, but I would hope that it's something Valve restructures in the future. (For instance, have the caching server store the site's framework, and fill in the individual's data with a JavaScript request to another, uncached server.)

But again, I don't work there. I don't know the details.

Source: Valve

HTC Vive Headset and Controllers Allegedly Leaked

Subject: General Tech | December 18, 2015 - 04:26 PM |
Tagged: valve, htc, vive, vive vr

A grain of salt is needed for this one. Users on Reddit claim to have found a pair of renders, one of the headset and one of the controllers, for the HTC Vive VR system. They also have a screenshot of the page, although the first words you see are “This Is Real,” which are the most sketchy, ironic, and unfortunate words to be greeted with in a product leak.

valve-2015-htc-vive-allegedheadset.jpg

The current HTC Vive prototype looks like a rough version of this. There are some significant differences, though. My major concern is at the front of the headset. You can clearly see a front-facing camera as well as two nubs below it, one to the bottom-left, and one to the bottom-right. If those two nubs are also cameras, then that makes a bit more sense.

valve-2015-htc-vive-allegedcontroller.jpg

If those two nubs are not cameras, then Valve would have downgraded from a two-camera system, in the original prototype, to a single camera. Valve has already claimed that the Vive will have front-facing cameras, plural, to track objects (like pets) for safety reasons. I can see them adding an extra camera, but I doubt that they would use just a single one. Two cameras allow more accurate depth tracking at low distances, which is when you risk... interacting... with the user. That sounds unlikely.

If it's three cameras? That makes sense.

valve-2015-htc-vive-kyle-orland-ars.jpg

Kyle Orland of Ars Technica is using the original prototype during GDC 2015.
Image Credit: Ars Technica

The controllers are also interesting, but mostly from an aesthetic standpoint. The hexagonal plates, which apparently functioned as sensors, seem to have been changed into circular rings (if the hole goes all the way through). They retain their thumb trackpads, triggers, and a couple of buttons. It's unclear whether each controller is identical, or if there's a difference between the intended-left and intended-right models. Being a lefty, I hope not.

At roughly the same time, Cher Wang, the CEO of HTC, announced that the HTC Vive will be unveiled at CES (in January). It won't be available until around April, but we should know basically all there is to know about the system at next month's trade show. Given this timing, and that multiple users have been posting the leak seemingly independently, it sounds valid. The camera configuration, on the other hand, takes a bit away from that.

Source: Reddit

New Valve Steam Controller Software and Factory Video

Subject: General Tech | December 11, 2015 - 08:37 AM |
Tagged: valve, Steam Controller

Valve updated the Steam Controller software, driven mostly by community feedback, statistics, and direct enhancements from lead users. This update allows users to bind media key inputs to the desktop so that the controller can adjust volume, play, pause, and skip when it is not being used to game. They also added context menus for hotkeys, so they can be accessible from the controller without each action taking up a whole button. It sounds like an analogy for the Q command rose in games like Battlefield, just in your input device drivers (and customizable).

valve-2015-steam-controller-front.jpg

There were two other features that caught my eye. First, controller profiles will soon be sharable for non-Steam games (if you add them to your Steam library). This may or may not be useful for titles from Blizzard or Riot Games. Would sharing profiles really help these games be playable with a controller? Either way, there are certainly some titles that will benefit from this, especially those purchased on GoG. The other addition is “Controller HUD.” Basically, when enabled, it shows the pressed inputs on screen. It sounds like Valve intended this to be a debug mechanism for creating profiles, but it could be very useful for video streamers (especially speedrunners).

Lastly, and this is purely for entertainment value, Valve published a video of their factory. Someone decided that it would be hilarious to stick Aperture Laboratories on various machines. It's pure promotional fluff... but cool fluff.

Source: Valve

Valve Time Has Canceled Half-Life 2: Episode Four Images

Subject: General Tech | December 6, 2015 - 07:35 AM |
Tagged: valve, pc gaming, half-life 2

Today I learned that there was originally supposed to be multiple follow-ups to Half-Life 2: Episode Two. I wasn't really into Valve games at that point. At some point after Valve released Episode Three, which obviously never happened, two spin-offs were planned by two different studios. One unnamed title was supposed to be spearhead by Warren Spector and Junction Point Studios. The deal collapsed when Disney committed to Epic Mickey and the studio dropped Valve.

valve-2015-episode4-shot.png

The other canceled title was supposed to come from Arkane Studios, which went on to create Dishonored. This one is sometimes called “Half-Life 2: Episode Four,” and “Return to Ravenholm” at others. The narrative takes place before Half-Life 2: Episode Two and is said to star a new, unannounced protagonist.

I bring this up because Valve Time has recently published a post and video that collects a bunch of screenshots from the portfolio of Robert Wilinski. The video goes through the theory of what the game was supposed to be, and how these screenshots fit in with previous leaks and rumors.

Keep in mind that the content is almost a decade old at this point, as Robert dated this folder of his portfolio between 2006 and 2008. This is older than Left 4 Dead.

Source: Valve Time

Steam Launches "Item Stores"

Subject: General Tech | November 5, 2015 - 07:01 AM |
Tagged: valve, steam, Rust

Team Fortress 2 switched from a paid game, first seen in The Orange Box bundle, to a free-to-play title. Financially, you could say that it was supported by tips... ... tips of the hat. Some responded with a wag of their finger, but others with a swipe of their credit card. Where was I going with this? Oh right. This game put Valve on the path of microtransactions, which fuels games like DOTA 2 that aren't supported in any other way.

valve-2015-steam-item-store.png

Each of these item payments are done in game however, even Valve games, except for one. Rust has been chosen to introduce Item Stores on Steam. If you go to Rust's store page, you will see a category called “Items available for this game”. Clicking on it brings you to “Rust Item Store”, where you can buy in-game clothing, weapons, and sleeping bags with real money. This feature is not even available on Team Fortress 2 or DOTA 2.

While there has been some parallels drawn between this and the backtracked paid mods initiative, I don't see it. This is not attempting to take third-party content, some of which was plagiarized from free, existing mods, and sell it. This is an attempt to provide a platform for in-game purchases that already exist. If there's a story, I'd say it's how the initiative launched with a third-party game, and not one of Valve's two, popular, free-to-play titles.

Source: PC Gamer

Podcast #373 - Samsung 950 Pro, ASUS ROG Swift PG279Q, Steam Link and more!

Subject: General Tech | October 29, 2015 - 03:22 PM |
Tagged: podcast, video, Samsung, 950 PRO, NVMe, asus, ROG Swift, pg279q, g-sync, nvidia, amd, steam, steam link, valve

PC Perspective Podcast #373 - 10/29/2015

Join us this week as we discuss the Samsung 950 Pro, ASUS ROG Swift PG279Q, Steam Link and more!

You can subscribe to us through iTunes and you can still access it directly through the RSS page HERE.

The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!

  • iTunes - Subscribe to the podcast directly through the iTunes Store
  • RSS - Subscribe through your regular RSS reader
  • MP3 - Direct download link to the MP3 file

Hosts: Ryan Shrout, Josh Walrath, Allyn Malventano, and Sebastian Peak

Subscribe to the PC Perspective YouTube Channel for more videos, reviews and podcasts!!

 

Steam Link First Impressions: Game Streaming Still Needs Work

Subject: General Tech | October 26, 2015 - 12:08 AM |
Tagged: video, valve, steam link, steam hardware, Steam Controller, steam, game streaming

Last week we posted a video that looked over the new Valve Steam Controller and I offered some feedback and input on the new hardware. It was interesting, to say the least, and took some getting used to, but in the end I was surprised by how easy some things were, and how different other things felt. It's an interesting experiment for $50 or so, but it definitely is not a product I recommend all of our readers invest in immediately.

steamlink1.jpg

But what about the Steam Link device? This second piece of the puzzle is a small unit that sits near your TV or entertainment system, with an HDMI output, USB inputs, integrated wireless connectivity and Ethernet support. The goal is to stream Steam games from your primary PC without the need for a second computer. Instead, much like the NVIDIA GameStream technology that we have seen for a couple years now, the Steam Link receives a video stream from the gaming PC, accepts input from a controller or keyboard/mouse, and loops it all back.

Specifications (from Valve website):

  • 1080p resolution at 60 FPS 
  • Wired 100 Mbit/s Fast Ethernet and Wireless 802.11ac 2x2 (MIMO) networking abilities 
  • 3 USB 2.0 ports 
  • Bluetooth 4.0 
  • HDMI out 
  • Supports Steam Controller (sold separately,) Xbox One or 360 Wired Controller, Xbox 360 Wireless Controller for Windows, Logitech Wireless Gamepad F710, or keyboard and mouse 

In the Box

  • Steam Link 
  • Power cable and adapter 
  • HDMI 2.0 cable 
  • Ethernet cable 

To get my full take on it, and to see me test out a handful of games using the Steam Link in our office, check out the video above. The short answer is that game streaming technology is still hit or miss: some titles work great others are an immediate turn off. Want to play a fast paced FPS game? You're going to hate it if you have any kind of PC gaming experience already. Maybe you need to catch up on those recent indie games released on the PC but want to sit on your couch? Steam Link will do the trick.

steamlink2.jpg

Again, the device is only $50, so it's not a significant investment for most people, and it might be worth trying if you have some time and are interested in checking out the technology out for yourself.