Valve’s Pre-Release Teardown of the Steam Deck Shows You How to Replace the SSD

and Warns Against it

Valve published this video to YouTube today demonstrating how to open up a pre-production Steam Deck, replace the custom analog stick modules, as well as the SSD, and very much warning against doing so:

I’m not sure how I feel about the warnings. In the past I’ve definitely felt bad about breaking or inadequately modifying things that I’m working on but that is also a necessary part of learning how to modify, fix, and build electronics. The parts in modern electronics are delicate and often made to be unserviceable by the companies who design them, this is “for our protection” as users but it is also clearly for their benefit. The longer things are usable and repairable, the less money these companies make on new sales.

That also doesn’t mean the executives at these companies want users to have a bad experience. I can’t be sure of this, but from my experiences my understanding is that these decision makers want users to have a great experience and be motivated to upgrade by new features as well as repairs that are so expensive they make recycling broken hardware a better option.

Valve is also not in a great position with regard to supporting the users of their hardware but may be getting better. It’s one thing for a huge company like Apple who has physical retail stores to lock users out of repairs, there is an argument there that I disagree with from Apple that Apple can provide the best support. Valve has none of that retail presence to repair, replace, and even just troubleshoot hardware near their users. I think that’s why they made this video, essentially arming the more experienced hardware repair technicians to have access to repair these devices when they start breaking down. Valve even makes a promise in the video about upcoming Steam Deck part availability for people doing repairs.

As an example, according to a friend in Australia all Valve hardware sales and returns are done through the local EB Games chain. Apple does the same thing. In several countries where Apple does not have a physical retail presence they train third parties in how to service iPhones, iPads, and Macs. I once started but did not complete that training before my life took me elsewhere.

There are also still criticisms I have about Valve’s attitude regarding Linux porting which, to the best of my knowledge, is still putting people who are in the business of porting games to Linux natively out of work as well as advising developers not to port games natively and instead relay on Valve’s Proton Windows API compatibility layer/emulation to make games run under Linux.

The one “bright spot” in the Steam Deck’s software support is that Epic’s Easy Anti-Cheat middleware is promising Linux support. Previously, anti-cheat middleware locked out some Linux users running games under any Windows API Compatibility layer/emulation like Valve’s Proton and simply wasn’t available for native ports. Now, Epic has promised that Easy Anti-Cheat is available for both Native Linux and Mac game ports, including the Linux-based Steam Deck, and will be supported in WINE and Valve’s Proton. Unfortunately the decision to allow WINE and Proton to run these games is still only in the hands of developers and publishers who may not be interested in providing any support to Linux and macOS, quoting Epic:

To make it easy for developers to ship their games across PC platforms, support for the Wine and Proton compatibility layers on Linux is included. Starting with the latest SDK release, developers can activate anti-cheat support for Linux via Wine or Proton with just a few clicks in the Epic Online Services Developer Portal.

This makes it more likely that games using Easy Anti-Cheat will be able to support WINE or Proton, assuming business interests about support costs and other middleware doesn’t get in the way, but when those games get that support the compatibility is a coincidence that can disappear with any future updates.

Valve is still the wrong company to be making hardware and software decisions that affect the rest of the game industry. Valve are presumably, by majority of their income, a store for third parties. The people running stores have different motivations from places that exclusively make and sell hardware products and what software decisions are best for developers. Although I think the people who work at Valve clearly are trying to make the Steam Deck as open as possible and often do make the best decisions for developers and users, the motivations of people running a store are to sell things, maximize their own profit, and not to make good products for the overall health of an industry of developers who are still overworked, abused, not organized, and ruined by the success of the wealthy who are making decisions for the rest.

There is nothing the workers at Valve can do to change that unless they are organized to reject the false non-hierarchical model of Valve’s workplace, gain equal decision making abilities, and their independence from the store business.

The first Steam Decks are still supposedly shipping before the end of the year. Valve has never responded to any of my requests for comment. If you’re a game developer who is interested in commenting on this story please feel free to comment below or get in touch over E-Mail. My address is zjs@zacharyjackslater.com.

The Consolized MiSTer Multisystem Promises an Easier MiSTer

Will that be with SCART hole or NO SCART hole?

For a few years now there have been systems that replace classic video game system and computer software emulation with field-programmable-gate-array hardware (FPGA) like the open-source MiSTer FPGA kit and the commercial Analogue line-up of home consoles. There’s now a product that bridges the gap a bit in the MiSTer Multisystem.

Both systems can be expensive but the Analogue consoles replicate the SNES, Genesis, PC-Engine, and NES with modern flairs for minimalist design and are defined by requiring original cartridges with mysterious firmwares that are occasionally available to use ROMs but either way you’re gonna need a separate (expensive) Analogue console per-system for their level of high quality experience.

The MiSTer has always leaned more towards the “oh boy” end of technical challenges by requiring users to play a choose-your-own adventure of stacks of components to end up with a custom setup that plays the games you want, with the video and audio outputs you prefer, and managed with a Linux layer at the top. Cartridge connectors aren’t even an option for the MiSTer.

Either system eventually got you to the same goal of amazing hardware recreated on the fly using that FPGA magic. The MiSTer just does it in an open-sourceror way for the benefit of everyone and letting everyone develop cores that turn that FPGA into everything from the Acorn Archimedes to the ZX81 and Analogue prefers to keep their hu-cards closer to their chest as a commercial entity with more control over their consoles.

The MiSTer Multisystem supplements the traditional MiSTer stack with a dedicated all-in-one motherboard that turns the barebones DE-10 Nano into something more like a console. It handles USB, VGA, HDMI, your controversial SCART connection to the TV for RGB output, and more on a dedicated PCB inside of an optional 3D printed case that looks at home under a modern TV or next to an old CRT video monitor for scanline lovers. Just about the only limitation I can see is the lack of built-in S-Video or composite output. The MiSTer Multisystem also has support for input adapters using the SNAC system to let users plug in old controllers and lightguns as directly as possible.

There’s nothing here you couldn’t do with a more custom MiSTer setup, but it might be easier and more attractive to someone interested in FPGA gaming and vintage computers to have one add-on board in a 3D-printed case than having to farm out each of these things separately.

Unfortunately, if you don’t have a DE-10 Nano already you’re looking at about $618.76 USD or £454.80 GBP for the entire Consolized MiSTer Multisystem before shipping and any import fees and that isn’t cheap. Other bundles of MiSTer hardware end up around $455 for the kit from MiSTer Add-Ons. None of these MiSTer setups are really going to be the easiest things in the world to configure, but I’m curious if it ends up being easier than dealing with a Raspberry Pi which is the traditional go-to setup for an emulation box. Compared to the Analogue consoles, with the MiSTer, you don’t need more than one to play multiple systems.

The first round of 500 MiSTer Multisystem kits that ship in November sold out quickly and another round of 1000 more are promised to go up for pre-order soon. They’ll be announced on the MiSTer Multisystem Twitter account.

The MiSTer Multisystem creators also have a lengthy video answering questions they received about the console:

Robert Yang’s Quake Renaissance

The Internet’s JP tweeted about this fantastic series on RPS from Robert “radiator” Yang about Quake’s history, how to play it with mods today, and the wonderful history of the scene around it:

Quake modding symbolizes the opposite of work – it is life. And ultimately this is what the Quake Renaissance is about: when our communities control our own games – from the source code and tools, to the social hubs and archives – we can reinvent it as necessary, and through it, reinvent ourselves too.

I love this view on the state of the Quake game, engine, and tools, and it’s always been true about communities: Nothing is owned by the companies involved, they are owned by the communities around them. The harder companies try to lock down on games (or any work), the more they strangle community interest in the thing. The id software of today is only capable of producing locked-down experiences with the noose of capitalism around them.

There are some mods in the new 2021 re-release of Quake, and more coming which is excellent. Get those map-makers, artists, and developers, paid. But this re-release services as an excellent comparison to the wonderful communities that have formed around the original Quake. The 2021 release of Quake will never be the open platform that the full source of the original engines and tools and people produced and the executives above the developers of these ports will likely never understand why people continue to engage with the open-source tools and engines around id’s old games. The money people only engage in open source when it is profitable and exploitable, otherwise they will continue to release locked-down, useless versions of their new games that nobody forms a permanent community around. Is anyone modding Doom 2016 or Doom Eternal? (I mean this seriously, I do not believe they are, but it is possible people are doing their best with the tools available) The executives involved should still be embarrassed by the comparison between classic Doom modding and what isn’t possible with the latest games.

How-To Geek: “Why You Should Use Proton Instead of the Steam Linux Runtime”

You should really just go play Escape Goat 2

The situation with Windows “API Compatibility” or emulation, however you call it, came to an inflection point when Valve started pushing or reassuring developers that they don’t need to port their games to Linux for them to work well on the Steam Deck. Jordan Gloor at How-To Geek has this article titled “Why You Should Use Proton Instead of the Steam Linux Runtime”:

When you use Steam’s compatibility features to run games on a Linux PC, you may have the option to run it with one of two utilities: Proton and Steam Linux Runtime. Between the two, you should probably choose Proton. Here’s why.

Gloor goes through a few reasons that it might be preferable for Linux gamers to use Proton instead of a native Linux port. Gloor says that the smaller size of the Linux game-playing audience means that the game developer may have spent fewer resources on making the port function well versus the Windows version of their game.

I don’t think Gloor is a bad person, but this is bad advice for both game players and Linux as a whole. Articles like this are disappointing, but they are the natural consequence of what Valve is doing by pushing their Windows API compatibility emulation layer over native Linux ports. It would be interesting if game developers have the option to disable Proton for their games because, and I cannot stress this enough, Windows emulation or compatibility layers truly are a coincidence when they work. Especially with games from smaller developers who do not have fantastic commercial success, I would not expect Proton to be the correct choice or to be surprised when Proton doesn’t work. Valve will most likely not take the time to make sure that, for example, Escape Goat 2 works in Proton. Yes, Escape Goat 2 is a real and very good puzzle game with a native Linux port. There are tens of thousands of games on Steam, it is impossible that these games will all work well in Proton. Linux users should absolutely go with the native port first, when they have the option.

Quake 1’s Re-Release on Modern Platforms

At QuakeCon 2021, Bethesda and id software re-released Quake 1 for Windows, and put it out for the first time on the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 & 5, Xbox One & Series S/X. The Windows version is free to anyone who already owned it on Bethesda’s launcher or Steam.

The re-release embeds the original game inside of Nightdive Studios’ KEX engine, which does make it a little different but there are some possible benefits to the update. Steam and Bethesda Launcher users can still choose to launch the original game.

One of the benefits of this re-release are slightly updated features to support things like achievements and modern widescreen graphics resolutions and play at them out of the box. Quake 1 also gets split-screen and cross-platform multiplayer but it requires a Bethesda login.

Currently the versions on the latest Sony and Microsoft consoles run via backwards compatibility, a native version is coming to those platforms “soon” according to a FAQ on Bethesda’s website.

That same FAQ notes that the original Nine Inch Nails soundtrack is included for Quake 1. The original expansion packs are also included, as well as a new pack from Machine Games who made the recent Wolfenstein games.

Quake 64 is also downloadable in-game, more free add-ons are promised to come later.

This re-release is interesting because it really cements how commercial releases of games are matched to the point in time they’re released in. There’s a few ways to think about it.

The first is the obvious business realities that have changed in the decades since Quake was released. id software was an independent company then, and now they’re a subsidiary of Bethesda and Microsoft.

Then there are the technical perspectives. With all of id’s updated versions of games in the past, they’ve released the source code. Quake 1‘s source code has been out for decades now. There is a healthy community of developers for it. Those developers will continue working on the open-source versions but the this new re-release of Quake 1 is not open-source and may not ever come to Linux or macOS or whatever platform you’d like to run Quake 1 on. That may not seem like much, but we’ve seen so many platform changes over the years that rendered the original releases of not just id’s games, but all games on computers obsolete and difficult to run.

Valve’s Proton does let you play this new re-release of Quake 1 on Linux through Windows emulation or “API Compatibility”, but that seems like a bad way to go about it when the original game has been ported to Linux both by id software and been maintained by the community for decades.

As a multiplayer game, there will be security issues for people playing Quake 1, though this version doesn’t support dedicated servers it does still communicate over the network.

The one good thing I can think about this Proton availability under Linux is that it may make it easier to download the files for Quake 1 and then use them in another version of the engine. That’s how it worked with the newly available Windows Store version of Quake 3.

It makes me wonder what the value is to the community for working on the open-source versions of these games. Providing free labor for a big company like Microsoft or Bethesda is exploitative and wrong, but it is even odder when the companies involved are just going to ignore all of the work the community does and put out another point-in-time release that will stop working in another few years.

From what I’ve played, there is nothing wrong with this version of Quake for the platforms it is on, it is just very clearly not from the id software that cared about open-source and almost nobody from that era is still with the subsidiary of a subsidiary. It is not at all surprising that this version of Quake was released without the code, it is just disappointing.