Hot on the heels of announcing its family-sharing plan a few weeks ago, Valve announced three small announcements that have huge possible ramifications for the future of a gamer’s living room experience.
Monday, Wednesday, and Friday each saw it’s own announcement. On Monday Valve revealed that it’s platform, Steam, is coming to Linux based operating system and that they were developing a separate Steam based operating system designed from the ground up for the living room. SteamOS is designed to stream games from your PC to a living room Steam console for play, let you experience your favorite music, television, and movies, and act as the ultimate device for family sharing.
The “Steam console” in the last paragraph was the focus of Steams announcement on Wednesday. “Entertainment is not a one-size-fits-all world. We want you to be able to choose the hardware that makes sense for you, so we are working with multiple partners to bring a variety of Steam gaming machines to market during 2014…” proclaimed the announcement on Steams homepage. Steam is offering a competitor to the current and next generation consoles via multiple versions of the Steam Machine. There will be versions made with different goals in mind similarly to the PC market today. There will essentially be low, middle, and high end SKU’s that will vary in price and performance.
Since the PC offers infinite customizability, some may ask why Steam would release it’s own box. To which Steam representatives replied, “In SteamOS, we have achieved significant performance increases in graphics processing, and we’re now targeting audio performance and reductions in input latency at the operating system level. Game developers are already taking advantage of these gains as they target SteamOS for their new releases.” Valve hopes that creating a semi-unified platform will let developers optimize their games and create a more unified experience for its community.
The latest and most revolutionary announcement is of a new Steam Controller to be paired with the Steam Machine and PC’s. The controller is almost completely touch-based, using concave circular touchpads in place of analog sticks and introducing a touch screen at the center of a controller that not only displays information at high resolution but also functions as five tactile buttons.
The controller is lauded for new haptic capability and better tactile feedback than any controller before it. This is achieved with a new linear actuators rather than spinning weights common in older controllers. Valve says that these “can even play audio waveforms and function as speakers” which has incredible gameplay possibilities in creative hands. The addition of high definition controller sound could add small but important sound cues to action games or add a new pipeline for terror in the horror genre.
Valve claims that the controller will work with every Steam game that was and will ever be available. “Whole genres of games that were previously only playable with a keyboard and mouse are now accessible from the sofa. RTS games. Casual, cursor-driven games. Strategy games. 4x space exploration games. A huge variety of indie games.” If the controller turns out to be as functional as Valve claims then there is a high possibility that it will soon replace the current PC favorite controller, the Xbox 360 gamepad.
Altogether, this will amount to a new console launch for Steam and while there is not definite date as of yet, the hardware will be entering into a closed beta test round in 2014 that anyone meeting the requirements on the Steam website can participate in.
By Sean Burke