Last week I spoke about the recent announcements from gaming industry giant Valve, in relation to their new Linux-based Steam operating system called SteamOS, their "Steam Machines", and the potential announcement of a Steam gamepad / controller, which has since been confirmed. All three announcements will no doubt prove to lead to major changes in how PC games can be played, and I for one cannot wait for the SteamOS and Steam Controller to become available!
SteamOS looks as though it will be used in one of two main ways. The first way would be as a "console replacement", in the form of a dedicated machine with SteamOS installed, that would be used to directly play games on, as you would with an Xbox or PS3 now. This machine could be your existing PC in the study, or a powerful Xbox or PS3 look-a-like PC for the lounge, and would be able to have the hardware such as the RAM and graphics card upgraded.
The second way would be to enable streaming of games from a main PC gaming "rig" (that was located in the study for example), to a less powerful and smaller PC in the lounge room, family room, bedroom etc, that would be connected to your home network and your TV. This is great news for people with a low powered HTPC, laptop, or a spare PC that wouldn't normally be able run games, as it means they have many more options in where they can game in the home. It will hopefully
be small enough and light enough to be easily moved from room to room, and in the future, to be taken on business trips or holidays, to be used to connect to your PC at home over the internet for hotel gaming!
Electronic manufacturers can also get in on these fully fledged "console replacements" and streaming boxes, and we will likely see pre-built machines for sale in retail stores in early 2014. I personally am envisioning seeing something very similar in size and shape to a current gen console that would run SteamOS, which may retail for around $500 - $600, and a streaming box that could be a lot smaller (say about 10cm x 10cm) with SteamOS installed, that would retail for about $99.
The third announcement concerning the Steam Controller may well turn out to be the one that has the most impact. Valve has stated that "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. Simulation titles.". This means that games that required a keyboard and mouse previously can now be played using the Steam Controller, and it has also been designed to work with every single game that is available on Steam, including the ones which were not built with controller support. This is excellent news for a lounge gamer like myself.
The controller itself has dual trackpads (replacing the traditional thumbsticks) and a touchscreen, with both of these being "clickable", giving the controller a total of 16 buttons. Haptic feedback will provide precise control, and "dual linear resonant actuators" will deliver never-before-seen force and vibration.
It really is an exciting time to be a gamer. The forward thinking of Valve is opening up new ways to enjoy the gaming experience, and helping to bring PC gaming out of the shadows of the study or spare bedroom, and into the centre of the home for all to enjoy.