And then Gabe Newell said "Let there be games!" and thats how the Steam Universe was born. What is exactly in this universe? For the longest time Valve was very quiet about this and this kinda scared people. Finally we heard some answers to our prayers and Valve, together with HTC and other companies, finally filled that vast universe of theirs. SteamOS, Steam Machines, Steam Link, a Valve-controller, SteamVR and a whole bunch of games. At the GDC we got a lot of news about all these things and I'm here to give you the low-down
What exactly is the Steam Universe? The concept is pretty easy, everything that belongs under the Steam name also belongs in this universe. "But isn't that simply Steam? There's more than that?", yup there's way more. Until 2012 it was simply Steam and its games, then Valve officially announced they were going into the hardware business. Initially they kept their mouths pretty tightly closed as we can expect from Valve. The only clear thing was that it was going to involve their own Linux-distro and that it was meant for the living room to bridge the gap between PC and console. Then in 2013 more information came out like official specs and info on the OS which was dubbed SteamOS. On top of that 300 lucky bastards got their hands on Steam Machines with varying specifications to try out SteamOS. At the same time Valve launched SteamOS bèta as a free download. Obviously they got lots of feedback and they certainly took it all in. They got so much feedback that they delayed the project for a year and a half! Finally though this year its time, we got release dates, prices and final information and so far its all pretty interesting
A Steam Machine, what is it and is it for me?
A Steam Machine is nothing more than a PC with SteamOs and a Valve-controller. What SteamOS is exactly we'll talk about later, same with the controller.
Steam Machines are meant as a hybrid between PC and consoles, this way PC-gamers can laze about on the couch playing their favourite games on their TV and for console players it means they can finally enjoy the riches that Steam has to offer with its sales and exclusives. To bridge that gap Valve partnered up with basically everyone to create a PC that looks like a console. It has the same size and shape, and looks sleek enough for the living room. They also said that accessibility should be there for everyone so they told PC-makers like Alienware and Alternate to get cracking! They all get the name Steam Machine and will all be sold with SteamOS and a controller. Obviously you're not dependent on these companies as you can simply build your own. SteamOS is free to download and the controllers can be bought separately. There's something for everyone.
SteamOS? Linux? Isnt that really difficult?
The name Linux obviously brings some connotations with it like hackers, coding and the neckbeards who live in their mom's basements. Thankfully SteamOS is easy to control. Its pretty much Big Picture Mode but then as an entire OS. For those unfamiliar with Big Picture Mode, I've included a picture. As you can see its not unlike the PS4 and Xbox One UI's, big buttons and easy to control and see. The Linux part of the software isn't visible for those who don't want to see it. This is where SteamOS is better than the regular Windows or PS4 and Xbox One OS because if you DO want to mess with it, you can! SteamOS is totally open source meaning that if you can code you can. Valve even allowed people to put their own distributions online, obviously this has risks if you don't know what you're doing. So if you don't know what you're doing, stick with the regular SteamOS.
Valve has their own controller? Other controllers work just fine!
Well yes, and I use the Microsoft 360 controller myself as well. The difference is that Valve made something new entirely. It had a LOT if iterations over the past few years with buttons in the middle, touchscreens in the middle, analog sticks, no analog sticks but we finally got a final version. Valve threw the classic controller layouts overboard and introduced haptic feedback in trackpads. For those who don't know, haptic feedback is kinda like the vibrations your phone gives you when you do certain actions on the screen like swipe or type. This however is way more sensitive and accurate. Why? Because most of the people using it are PC-gamers who are used to mouse and keyboard controls. According to Valve it should be a near-perfect transfer. Personally I suck at using controllers, if I can handle them ok then Valve will forever earn my respect. They also kept one analog stick, this way you can still use one if you want and it gives you more freedom.
But I've already got a PC! Why should I have to buy another one?
Thankfully Valve already thought of us! Its called the Steam Link and its about the size of a large smartphone. It allows you to stream your own games from your PC to your TV via your home network. All you need to do is connect it to TV and network and you're off! This is obviously ideal for the people who already have a good PC but its not near their TV. It utilizes your PC-hardware fully and streams at 1080p at 60Hz. The biggest problem is of course the lag, unlike regular gaming where the path is controller to PC, now there is the Steam Link in between and it needs to travel through your network. Valve said that the lag should be minimal, I hope theyre right. We'll see with games like Battlefield: Hardline and Dota 2 where Actions Per Second count.
Do I need to buy special games for this? How do I need to look at it?
At this moment Valve has tons of games that are ready for SteamOS. This varies from big budget titles like Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, Civilization and Dying Light to smaller indie-games like Besieged, Kerbal Space Program and of course, Goat Simulator. At this moment Steam also has a sale on for SteamOS games. Its going until Monday so check it out if you want to know if your favourite game is among them. When there is a list I'll pop it in here.
So I heard something about VR-headsets from Valve?
Yes you did! HTC and Valve announced the HTC Vive, a new VR-headset thats supposed to compete with the Oculus Rift and Sony's Project Morpheus. The concept as far as I understood it is the same except that Valve promised less nausea. It uses SteamVR, the VR-version of Steam. The headset comes with two handheld devices that both have a haptic trackpad. They also include a smart little system that reads the room for you so you dont step on your cat, knock over some stuff or faceplant into the floor. The SteamVR API's are open source as well so for the programmers here, have at it!
Thats the Steam Universe as we know it, at this moment we have release dates of November 2015. Prices are only released for the US market but I'm sure other markets will soon follow. The Link and controller are both $50. Steam Machines that are being sold right now vary between $450 and $5000. For Europeans, Alternate also made one. I asked them if we would be able to compose our own Steam Machines but since its weekend I doubt I'll hear back before monday. When I do, Ill update accordingly.