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?
Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Systems, Shows and Expos | January 9, 2013 - 02:44 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: CES, ces 2013, valve, Steam Box
CES opened with excitement from Xi3 Corporation and their announcement of the Piston. When Gabe Newell spoke with Kotaku at the VGAs he said that we would see Big Picture PCs this year. With word that Xi3 received funding from Valve some of us, including myself, wondered if this Piston was Valve’s “Nexus” Steam Box.
Ben Krasnow, hardware engineer at Valve, comments in the video below about whether we have seen Valve’s canonical Steam Box or if there are any planned announcements for 2013.
Thank you Ben.
There seems to be some discrepancies between statements from Krasnow and Valve Managing Director, Gabe Newell. The major deviation concerns whether the official Steam Box will be based on Linux or another operating system. When interviewed by The Verge, Gabe Newell claimed the official box will be based on Linux with no unclear terms:
We’ll come out with our own and we’ll sell it to consumers by ourselves. That’ll be a Linux box, [and] if you want to install Windows you can. We’re not going to make it hard. This is not some locked box by any stretch of the imagination.
Krasnow in an email discussion with Engadget was somewhat more timid in future plans. The Engadget article was published on the same day as the The Verge interview which makes neither position particularly out of date. His statement:
"The box might be linux-based, but it might not," he continued. "It's true that we are beta-testing Left for Dead 2 on Linux, and have also been public about Steam Big Picture Mode. We are also working on virtual and augmented reality hardware, and also have other hardware projects that have not been disclosed yet, but probably will be in 2013."
At the same point this might all become irrelevant very quickly. As reported yesterday, Gabe Newell in the very same interview seemed to strongly suggest that post-Kepler GPUs will bring virtualization to the consumer market. If that is the case, then the only barrier between Linux and Windows would be for a company to provide a user-friendly virtual machine. Having your host operating system as one or the other would not particularly matter if the user could run gaming applications from the other platform.
PC Perspective's CES 2013 coverage is sponsored by AMD.
Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!
CES 2013: The Verge Interviews Gave Newell for Steam Box. Valve's Director Hints Post-Kepler GPUs Can Be Virtualized!
Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Graphics Cards, Networking, Systems, Shows and Expos | January 8, 2013 - 11:11 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: valve, gaben, Gabe Newell, ces 2013, CES
So the internet has been in a roar about The Steam Box and it probably will eclipse Project Shield as topic of CES 2013. The Verge scored an interview to converse about the hardware future of the company and got more than he asked for.
Now if only he would have discussed potential launch titles.
Wow! That *is* a beautiful knife collection.
The point which stuck with me most throughout the entire interview was directed at Valve’s opinion of gaming on connected screens. Gabe Newell responded,
The Steam Box will also be a server. Any PC can serve multiple monitors, so over time, the next-generation (post-Kepler) you can have one GPU that’s serving up eight simulateneous [sic] game calls. So you could have one PC and eight televisions and eight controllers and everybody getting great performance out of it. We’re used to having one monitor, or two monitors -- now we’re saying lets expand that a little bit.
This is pretty much confirmation, assuming no transcription errors on the part of The Verge, that Maxwell will support the virtualization features of GK110 and bring it mainstream. This also makes NVIDIA Grid make much more sense in the long term. Perhaps NVIDIA will provide some flavor of a Grid server for households directly?
The concept gets me particularly excited. One of the biggest wastes of money the tech industry has is purchasing redundant hardware. Consoles are a perfect example: not only is the system redundant to your other computational device which is usually at worst a $200 GPU away from a completely better experience, you pay for software to be reliant on that redundant platform which will eventually disappear along with said software. In fact, many have multiple redundant consoles because the list of software they desire is not localized to just one system so they need redundant redundancies. Oy!
A gaming server should help make the redundancy argument more obvious. If you need extra interfaces then you should only need to purchase the extra interfaces. Share the number crunching and only keep it up to date.
Also check out the rest of the interview over at The Verge. I decided just to cover a small point with potentially big ramifications.
PC Perspective's CES 2013 coverage is sponsored by AMD.
Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!