Sunday Newsday: SteamOS Announcements

“If this was called Tuesday Newsday, it would rhyme.” -Founder and CEO Jeauvin Kablarski

In an effort to crawl out from under Wiiware's stranglehold on the downloadable gaming market, Valve announced this past Monday that Steam would be “Available soon as a free operating system designed for the TV and the living room.” The announcement was the first in a barrage of three Valve announcements last week, none of which involved Half-Life 3.

The operating system, dubbed SteamOS, will be based in Linux. Many are concerned about the prospect of using an operating system that follows coding standards. Spiderduck's Valve correspondent, SteamFanboy44, says that he's “not sure gamers are ready for products that run on a half-decent operating system.” Indeed, that seems to be the case; according to the Steam Database, somewhere between 199 and 262 Steam games run on Linux.

Above: the current method for playing Steam games on a TV. While some contend that this method is too expensive and complicated, others rightly note that gamers don't mind hauling giant computer towers around, having long since learned the skill from LAN shindigs.

Above: the current method for playing Steam games on a TV. While some contend that this method is too expensive and complicated, others rightly note that gamers don't mind hauling giant computer towers around, having long since learned the skill from LAN shindigs.

For the boatload of other Steam games, Valve has a solution for its SteamOS. “Just turn on your existing computer and run Steam as you always have - then your SteamOS machine can stream those games over your home network straight to your TV!” Other conveniences include the ability to restrict the game library based on who's using SteamOS and streaming video.

Interestingly, graphics card manufacturers AMD and Nvidia announced larger Linux support soon after SteamOS was revealed. For SteamOS to become a serious gaming platform, graphics card support for Linux will be crucial. I guess.

Not content to leave it at software, Valve announced Wednesday that hardware known as Steam Machines would run SteamOS. The image is a frightening one: a PC that comes out of the box ready to plug into a TV and use. “The success of the Wii U,” fearless leader Greg Livingston says, “was that it evaded the common console experience by requiring a five hour update before it could be played. If Steam Machines are too easy to use, they will lose the difficulty-of-use edge that PCs currently hold over consoles.”

Although it is not finalized, this is the current design for a Steam Machine. Its size has not been confirmed.

Although it is not finalized, this is the current design for a Steam Machine. Its size has not been confirmed.

Above: lamps, cats, and globes, all made out of cardboard, are essential parts of the Steam Machine experience.

Above: lamps, cats, and globes, all made out of cardboard, are essential parts of the Steam Machine experience.

While Valve will manufacture its own Steam Machine, it promises, “we are working with multiple partners to bring a variety of Steam gaming machines to market during 2014, all of them running SteamOS.” Although competition does run the risk of resulting in better products, Google's Android platform has proven that fragmentation creates less reliable software and a frustrating debug process. Many cite this frustration as the cause of Android's success against iOS devices.

Valve will debut its own Steam machine in 2013 to 300 beta testers. According to Valve, “We're conducting a beta of the overall Steam living-room experience, so we needed to build prototype hardware on which to run tests. At Valve we always rely on real-world testing as part of our design process.” Critics wonder if this might result in overtesting, a calamity whereby products become too reliable. “PC games are supposed to debut with as many bugs as possible so as to allow for patches,” SteamFanboy44 notes.

After creating its own operating system and its own hardware, industry analyst Joe Blow predicts, “Valve's next move is to create its own planet.” Not so fast!

Right: the current mockup of the Steam Controller.

Right: the current mockup of the Steam Controller.

Left: the original mockup of the Steam Controller.

Left: the original mockup of the Steam Controller.

On Friday, Valve decided on its own controller instead of its own planet. The Steam Controller employs two clickable trackpads, granting the accuracy of a mouse to a controller. Actually, that's the accuracy of two mice, a dual-wielding PC gamer if you will. According to Valve:

The Steam Controller is built around a new generation of super-precise haptic feedback, employing dual linear resonant actuators. These small, strong, weighted electro-magnets are attached to each of the dual trackpads. They are capable of delivering a wide range of force and vibration, allowing precise control over frequency, amplitude, and direction of movement.
This haptic capability provides a vital channel of information to the player - delivering in-game information about speed, boundaries, thresholds, textures, action confirmations, or any other events about which game designers want players to be aware. It is a higher-bandwidth haptic information channel than exists in any other consumer product that we know of. As a parlour trick they can even play audio waveforms and function as speakers.

 

I didn't see anything about motion control in there. Some view this as a risky move, as the Steam Controller will miss out on cutting-edge waggle games. Others take this as a hint towards Kinect SteamOS support.