Subject: General Tech, Systems | September 23, 2013 - 02:20 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: valve, SteamOS, Steam Box, big picture mode
SteamOS is the first announcement, of three, in Valve's attempt to install a PC into your living room. The operating system is unsurprisingly built from Linux and optimized for the living room. Still no announcement of hardware although the second part is less than 48 hours away. The key features of SteamOS will also be ported to the Steam client on Windows, OSX, and Linux. Are you seeing... the big picture?
The four main features are: in-home streaming, media services, family sharing, and family options.
In-home streaming allows users to, by leaving their Steam client running on their PC or Mac, use their network to transmit video and controller input to SteamOS. The concept is very similar to OnLive and Gaikai. Latency is barely an issue, however, as the server is located on your local network. As the user owns the server, also known as their home computer, there is less concern of the service removing the title from their library. Graphics performance would be dictated by that high-end PC, and not the gaming consoles.
As a side note: Gabe Newell, last year at CES, mentioned plans by NVIDIA to allow virtualized GPUs with Maxwell (AMD is probably working on a similar feature, too). Combined with in-home streaming, this means that two or more Steam boxes could play games from the same desktop even while someone else uses it.
SteamOS will have music, movie, and TV functionality. Very little details on this one but I would assume Netflix is a possibility. The Steam distribution platform can physically handle video and audio streaming, especially with their updates a couple of years ago, but their silence about content deals leads me to assume they are talking about third-party services... for now, at least. We do know, from LinuxCon, that Gabe Newell is a firm believer in one library of content regardless of device.
We have already discussed Steam Family Sharing, but this is obviously aimed at Steam Box. One library for all content includes games.
Lastly, Steam will be updated for family control options. Individual users can be restricted or hidden from certain titles in other users' libraries. This helps keep them at-or-above parity with the gaming consoles for concerned parents.
Valve also believes in user control.
Steam is not a one-way content broadcast channel, it’s a collaborative many-to-many entertainment platform, in which each participant is a multiplier of the experience for everyone else. With SteamOS, “openness” means that the hardware industry can iterate in the living room at a much faster pace than they’ve been able to. Content creators can connect directly to their customers. Users can alter or replace any part of the software or hardware they want. Gamers are empowered to join in the creation of the games they love. SteamOS will continue to evolve, but will remain an environment designed to foster these kinds of innovation.
SteamOS will be free, forever, to everyone. Both users and system builders (including OEMs) can download the operating system and install it on their machines. No release date, yet, but it will be available soon... Valve Time?
The second announcement will occur at 1PM EDT this Wednesday, September 25, 2013. According to their iconography, we can now assume SteamOS will be the circle. The next announcement is circle in square brackets: SteamOS in a box? If you come on over to find out (please do! : D), stick around an extra couple of hours (minus the time it takes to write the article) for our AMD Hawaii Live Stream at 3PM EDT also on September 25th.
Subject: General Tech | September 14, 2013 - 08:11 PM | Scott Michaud
Valve continues to port their back catalogue to Linux even as its market share on Steam declines. It might be easy to declare gaming on Linux dead, or something like that, but the platform has not yet been pushed for gaming. It is entirely possible, albeit increasingly unlikely (and that is bad), that Microsoft will continue to support an open PC gaming experience. If it continues to sink then Valve might see more appreciation for their work.
Linux gamers of today, however, can access a beta build of Half Life: Source. If this seems oddly familiar then you are probably thinking of Half Life which, itself, was ported to Mac and Linux last January. The Half Life: Source beta announcement came on September 12th.
Not only has Valve kept their 15-year-old game up to date with current hardware and alternative operating systems, they are actively keeping multiple versions of that 15-year-old game up to date with current hardware and alternative operating systems. This is the classic PC gaming mentality also seen in Blizzard and, until a few years ago, Epic Games.
This beta release is not just limited to Linux and Mac, however. Valve encourages users, of all platforms, to test the product and reports bugs to their GitHub.
Subject: Editorial, General Tech | September 11, 2013 - 08:31 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: xbox one, valve, steam
I know there will be some comparison between the recent Steam Family Sharing announcement and what Microsoft proposed, to a flock of airborne tomatoes I might add, for the Xbox One. Steam integrates some level of copy discouragement by accounts which identify a catalog of content with an individual. This account, user name and password, tends to be more precious to the licensee than a physical disk or a nondescript blob of bits.
The point is not to prevent unauthorized copying, however; the point is to increase sales.
Account information is used, not just for authentication, but to add value to the service. If you log in to your account from a friend's computer, you have access to your content and it can be installed to their machine. This is slightly more convenient, given a fast internet connection, than carrying a DRM-free game on physical storage (unless, of course, paid licenses are revoked or something). Soon, authorized friends will also be able to borrow your library when you are not using it if their devices are authorized by your account.
Microsoft has a similar authentication system through Xbox Live. The Xbox One also proposed a sharing feature with the caveat that all devices would need a small, few kilobyte, internet connection once every 24 hours.
The general public went mental.
The debate (debacle?) between online sharing and online restrictions saw fans of the idea point to the PC platform and how Steam has similar restrictions. Sure, Steam has an offline mode, but it is otherwise just as restrictive; Valve gets away with it, Microsoft should too!
It is true, Microsoft has a more difficult time with public relations than Valve does with Steam. However, like EA and their troubles with Origin, they have shown themselves to be less reliable than Valve over time. When a purchase is made on Steam, it has been kept available to the best of their abilities. Microsoft, on the other hand, bricked the multiplayer and online features of each and every original Xbox title. Microsoft did a terrible job explaining how the policy benefits customers, and that is declared reason for the backlash, but had they acquired trust from their customers over the years then this might have just blown over. Even still, I find Steam Family Sharing to be a completely different situation from what we just experienced in the console space.
So then, apart from banked good faith, what is the actual difference?
Steam is not the only place to get PC games!
Games could be purchased at retail or competing online services such as GoG.com. Customers who disagree with the Xbox One license have nowhere else to go. In the event that a game is available only with restrictive DRM, which many are, the publisher and/or developer holds responsibility. There is little stopping a game from being released, like The Witcher 3, DRM-free at launch and trusting the user to be ethical with their bits.
Unfortunately for Xbox Division, controlling the point of sale is how they expect to recover the subsidized hardware. Their certification and retail policies cannot be circumvented because that is their business model: lose some money acquiring customers who then have no choice but to give you money in return.
This is not the case on Windows, Mac, and Linux. It is easy to confuse Steam with "PC Gaming", however, due to how common it is. They were early, they were compelling, but most of all they were consistent. Their trust was earned and, moreover, is not even required to enjoy the PC platform.
Subject: General Tech | August 18, 2013 - 05:48 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: valve, SDL
Simple DirectMedia Layer (SDL), a library for game developers primarily, has finally released version 2.0.0 a few short days ago. Originally developed by Sam Latinga, former lead software engineer at Blizzard and current employee of Valve Software, SDL handles complicated functions such as input devices, video, threading, networking, fonts, and so forth. It complements OpenGL, which is not designed for any of the aforementioned tasks. You can see it used in games such as Telltale's The Walking Dead and Frictional's Amnesia: The Dark Descent
A simple way of understanding it is: as Direct3D gets help from DirectX, OpenGL gets help from SDL.
SDL Logo, Image Credit: Wikipedia
SDL is not a Khronos standard. Prior to the current release, it was licensed under LGPL which required any source code modifications to be shared. Version 2 has been re-licensed under zlib which removes this copyleft requirement. This is advantageous for game developers who wish to modify API while maintaining their secret sauce, increasing adoption, at the expense of potentially fewer contributions.
Latinga's employer, Valve, has interest in a simple and cross platform complement to OpenGL. Valve has been taking Linux and Mac seriously recently. A strong and more permissive SDL helps software portability. SDL is compatible with Windows, Mac, Linux, FreeBSD, iOS, and Android.
The removal of copyleft would also help Valve maintain their own fork of the library without the requirement to share and share alike. Valve was likely not the cause of the switch to zlib, however, as the change was announced during development of SDL 1.3, quite a while before he was hired.
SDL 2.0 was announced the same day as he was hired to Valve Software. This however, at least I expect, was not a coincidence. SDL is available at the project website.
Subject: General Tech | August 15, 2013 - 08:09 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: microsoft, valve, xbox, pc gaming
A half of a year, almost to the day, passed since Valve removed two dozen employees. Jason Holtman, then Director of Business for Valve, was among those released. Despite the flat-by-design corporate structure, with even game credits listed alphabetically versus title and department, Holtman is considered key to the success of Steam.
Games for Windows has not been a success. Microsoft Game Studios, and even Microsoft Hardware, had high respect in the PC gaming industry with extremely popular franchises and lines of peripherals. Their image has since regressed far enough for Microsoft to give up, two years ago, and roll Games for Windows into the Xbox brand.
As Microsoft fell, Valve climbed. Steam, largely credited to efforts by Jason Holtman, distributes games for basically every major publisher. It has a respected position on the hard drive of gamers which is an enviable feat. The Windows Store has not received any uptake. Microsoft feels the need to change that and, it would seem by accepting the job, Holtman believes he can accomplish that.
I do wonder how Microsoft will be influenced by this hire. The major concern with Windows Store is its certification process and I doubt anything will change on that front. I expect the hope is his contributions to publisher relationships but he might also, on the side, induce change in visible ways.
Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | August 7, 2013 - 03:52 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: DOTA 2, valve
Valve has just commenced, with the first match setting up and taking place (between teams Na'Vi and Orange) as I type, the third iteration of their giant DOTA 2 tournament: The International 3.
The prize pool, starting at 1.6 million dollars, is increased by $2.50 for each $9.99 tournament Compendum sold. Almost 500,000 were sold by this point yielding a purse of $2.84 million USD; the prize for first place, alone, is currently $1.42 million USD. This continues The International's trend of being among the most lucrative video game tournaments, almost doubling Blizzard's 2013 StarCraft II World Championship Series which are also along this weekend.
The live Twitch stream, ignoring fans at the venue and cheering from a variety of pubs, currently distributes to 154,000 viewers. Check out their website to watch live, check the schedule, and view past results. The tournament will continue until Sunday. The first match will begin just a minute or two after this publishes.
Subject: General Tech | August 7, 2013 - 02:56 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: valve, Source 2, L4D3
Valve is a secretive company and it is rare, but possible, to get a leak out of them.
How does Valve count to 3? On their fingers first, apparently.
Now, once they know, practice it for the next half of their life.
PC Gamer was lucky. A portion of Valve's corporate changelog was photographed and somehow made its way into their possession. Due to the condition of their picture, more commonly known as "low resolution and bad", I am guessing someone was... phoning it in... at work that day. A couple of entries are a little more serious than I am:
Pardon the ugliness and eyebleed: my attempt is to make text more visible.
Click to make larger or check out the original at PC Gamer.
Update: Or, thanks to one of our readers, a *much* better version at imgur.
- [Source2] Changed typedef for ENTITYFUNCPTR to point to a CEntityInstance member instead of a CB...
- [Source2] Changed L4D3's test_networking unit test to use the devtest level again. Ran assert-free...
- [Source2] Restored L4D3's devtest unit test. Ran locally 6 times without an assert. There may be an...
Looking into patterns, I would expect that all changes tagged with the yellow "2" refer to a Source Engine 2 change. If true, that would add the following four entries, alongside the above three, referring to Valve's next-generation of video game engines.
- Getting VScript running on the client: Created tier4 interface VSCRIPT_SERVICE_INTERFACE_CLIEN...
- Auto-submit of game binaries - built from revision 1858395... Changes included in this submit: Chang...
- Auto-submit of game binaries - built from revision 1858344... Changes included in this submit: Chang...
- Added model_editor support for creating a blank vagrp->SplitQC translator into own file in model...
I have the feeling that a few little nuggets can be extracted from these entries if left to the crowd. First and foremost, Valve is a very productive company; these entries illustrate just an hour of development time. Valve caffeine consumption aside, production of Left 4 Dead 3 seems to be ramped up to a decent level. They are at the point of testing networking code modules which, I expect, occurs after the prototyping phase.
Have any reading to add from these tea leaves?
Subject: General Tech | April 29, 2013 - 07:25 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: valve, steam for linux, steam, pc gaming, linux, l4d2, beta
Users of Valve’s Steam for Linux client will be getting access to the beta version of Left 4 Dead 2 later this week. The L4D2 beta will come with the new Enhanced Mutation System (EMS), which adds advanced scripting options to the multiplayer zombie survival game.
In fact, all Left 4 Dead owners will get access to the new beta release via the Steam client (not just the Linux platform) for free. The beta will appear in the all games list as a separate download from the main Left 4 Dead 2 game. It will allow beta players to connect to beta servers and other L4D2 beta users.
The EMS system is the biggest addition to the beta currently. It gives developers access to custom script logic as well as custom spawn points and control entities. New maps, characters, and weapons are beyond the scope of the EMS, however.
Interested gamers should keep an eye on their Steam games list as well as the Left 4 Dead blog.
Subject: General Tech | March 27, 2013 - 12:06 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: Xi3, valve, Steam Box, piston, pc gaming, gaming
It may or may not be Valve's Steam Box, but Xi3 is the closest thing to a small form factor PC gaming console running Steam on the radar so far. The Xi3 PISTON is now up for pre-order with an intended holiday 2013 launch.
The PISTON starts at $899 and increases in price from there depending on the amount of internal storage included. Basic specifications of the Piston include an AMD APU (likely the A10-4600M) clocked at 2.3GHz (3.2GHz turbo), Radeon 7660G processor graphics (384 shaders), 8GB of DDR3 RAM, and a 128GB solid state drive. For an extra $340, Xi3 will swap in a 256GB SSD, and for $750 the company will include a 512GB option. Of course, that would bring the price of the living room TV up to $1649, which is far from cheap.
For that kind of money you could build a much more powerful mid tower that could actually run Steam games at 1080p with all the details cranked up. The Xi3 box will be lucky to average 30FPS at 1080p with the latest games. With that said, it is a start and I hope to see continued development of these "Steam Box-esque PCs. Hopefully once mass production, competing options, and economies of scale kick in, consumers will be able to get their hands on cheaper Steam Boxes!
If you can't wait for the official Steam Box, however, you can head over to the Xi3 website to reserve your own PISTON.
Subject: General Tech | March 8, 2013 - 05:26 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: valve, Steam Box, steam, pc gaming, gaming, console, big picture mode
In talking with the BBC, Valve CEO Gabe Newell revealed several details regarding the company’s upcoming Steam Box gaming PC. The console competitor will go up against Sony’s PlayStation 4 (PS4) and Microsoft’s Xbox 360 successor. So far we know that the Steam Box will utilize Valve’s Steam distribution service and its Big Picture Mode user interface. Valve will be manufacturing its own reference design, but third parties will also be allowed to construct Steam Boxes that will tap into Valve’s gaming library. Xi3 in particular looks to be at least one of the likely Steam Box partners to produce hardware.
Newell indicated that Valve would be sending prototype devices to customers within “the next three to four months.” The designs are not yet finalized, however, as evidenced by Newell’s statement that the prototypes would be used to gather feedback, and Valve is still working on balancing heat, noise, and performance.
“We're working with partners trying to nail down how fast we can make it.” - Gabe Newell in an interview with BBC before receiving an award for Portal 2.
Further, Valve has not yet determined exactly what it wants the controller to be. It will reportedly be shipping several different prototype controllers along with the Steam Box PCs. One area that Newell is particularly interesting in is in gathering bio-metric data -- such as heart rate -- and using that data to change the game experience for the gamer. This would be one area that Valve could focus on and have an advantage over other consoles. As a fully-fledged PC, the Steam Box could tap into existing bio-metrics technology and easily have the horsepower to effectively parse the bio-feedback. I can only think of a few situations in which such data would be useful (horror games, party/dancing/exercise games), but I do see it as being at least as beneficial as the Kinect was/is to the Xbox.
With that said, we still do not know much about the Steam Box. Much like the PS4, we still do not know what the actual hardware will look like (though we have at least been shown the PS4 controller). Pricing is also one of the major unknowns, and BBC reporter Leo Kelion quoted an industry analyst Lewis Ward (IDC) as noting that Valve will likely not be able to subsidize the hardware nearly as much as the other major console players (Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo) are able to. The Steam Box is inevitably going to be priced more in like with PCs than with consoles, as a result. On the other hand, gamers that buy a Steam Box can look forward to getting games that are much cheaper than the console equivalents. Give Steam Box gamers a couple of Steam holiday sales and they will easily make up the price difference!
What do you expect the Steam Box to be, and will it finally take PC gaming to the masses?