This Week in Gaming 01/10/13

This week in PC gaming:

Steam ‘expanding’ to the living room

Trung 2

Valve’s dominating online distributor has been announced to ‘expand’ to the living room. The announcement was split into three smaller announcements, with the first one being SteamOS. SteamOS will be a free Linux-based operating system. It will feature the ability to stream games from a more powerful PC, behave as a media PC, and family sharing and parental control. Valve claims that it will also be more optimised for gaming than Windows is.

Steam hardware was the second piece to be announced; Valve has decided that the ‘Steam Machines’ will be developed by multiple partners, and thus will be many tiers of PCs, from low-end to high-end. However, Valve will also have their own prototype which you can test if you are eligible. Steam Machines will be open-platform, just like regular PCs, so modifications are welcome, unlike consoles.

The third announcement was the Steam Controller. The controller differs from the usual configuration that includes analog sticks, a d-pad, and four action buttons. Instead, the Steam Controller replaces the analog sticks with two circular convex trackpads, similar to the trackpad on your tablet. Valve claims that they have created a controller that will be able to play well on genres that were previously only good with mouse and keyboard. The controller features 16 buttons, with half of them accessible without lifting the thumbs off the trackpads. In the middle, there is a touchscreen. It also claims to have an improved physical feedback system. A configuration tool will be available so that players can change around the configuration of the buttons.

 

Dota 2 gets ‘First Blood’ update

The first major update after Dota 2’s release has been pushed out. Captain’s Draft is a new game mode where an assigned captain drafts the team from a pool of 20 random heroes. Local play has now been added, though this is not to be confused with LAN mode, because you still need to be connected to the internet. A GLaDOS announcer pack, along with several other Portal-themed items, have been added to the in-game store. Several more minor changes can be found in Dota 2’s changelogs.

 

Nvidia looks to increase the quality of driver support on Linux

AMD hardware powers consoles so Nvidia now looks to Valve’s promising operating system. Linux has been infamous for being a hassle to install drivers on so Nvidia is now looking to improve the quality of the drivers and help push PC gaming to another operating system.

Good on them. Nvidia has already lost the chance to reap the profits from consoles so they might as well turn back to PC.

In other news

Latest certified AMD drivers have been released.

Latest certified Nvidia drivers have been released.

Arma 3 has been released.

 

Editorial

But what does this actually mean? For one, Valve is now entering the ‘console race’, though their hardware technically is just pre-built PCs. There is no doubt that Steam Machines will be more expensive than consoles because they can’t simply be sold like the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 are. SteamOS will be free to license, so that means any manufacturer could use it as a default operating system, even Smart TVs. A Smart TV running on SteamOS would essentially become an all-in-one media PC also capable of streaming games from a different PC. Every year is the ‘Year of Linux’ for Linux users, but maybe this time it will actually be true.

The other huge impact of Valve’s announcements is game sharing. PC has been a platform full of DRM for the past decade and one of the most commonly cited advantages of consoles is the ability to share games. Steam has been successful mostly due to the insane sales it has every now and then. Will game sharing stop huge discounts from appearing? That is a possibility. Steam almost has a monopoly over the PC market which means they can do pretty much anything and the cult-like following will allow it. One should hope that this doesn’t happen, but anything is a possibility.

Their ‘Steam Controller’ looks interesting. It’s very different from conventional controllers and that can be worrying because it might not be easy to get used to, if at all. The convex trackpads make sense, since the analog sticks of conventional controllers have always been really bad for precise aiming. However, using one of them as an input for movement seems awkward. I, personally, have always found movement with an analog stick far superior than WASD, but I’ve never considered a trackpad to replace that. Otherwise it looks pretty awesome.

Captain’s Draft looks like a very interesting mode. Regular Captain’s Mode and simulation of professional-level of coordination can get boring to players since conventional drafts are usually chosen. With the limitation of a pool of 20 heroes, captains will have to be more flexible and creative in their drafts and this can get pretty interesting. Obviously, you shouldn’t do either of these modes in public matchmaking because who knows what kind of person will get to be captain.

Local play is a good step forward. The problem Dota 2 is facing is that, particularly in the South-east Asia region, a lot of people have bad internet and that affects the well-being of a match. Local play still needs connection to the internet but not necessarily with the quality of online play. Until LAN mode has been added, however, internet cafes will probably still resort to classic Warcraft III DotA or League of Legends.

The Portal-themed items have been criticised by the community for ‘lore-breaking’. Personally I find Dota 2 lore to be quite tenuous to begin with but it’s certainly understandable that they would think that. Nobody wants Dota 2 to go full-on Team Fortress 2 and have hats that really break immersion.