Valve Announces Their Linux-Running Windows-Emulating Handheld “Steam Deck”

It won’t be available in New Zealand?!

Calling it “The most gaming power you have ever held” Valve announced their Steam Deck handheld gaming computer today. The pricing starts at $400 and it ships this December to the US, UK, and EU according to the company. Order reservations start Friday, July 16th at 10AM Pacific time and are $5 to get a spot in line with the remainder due when your order comes up.

Valve is restricting sales in the first 48 hours to people with Steam accounts older than June 2021 that have made a purchase on Steam. They say the reservation system is to let them make the ordering process fair, but they also won’t let Steam users order more than one device or switch which tier of system they’re ordering. The only changes allowed will be cancellations which are refunded to a Steam wallet if the refund is 30 days after the reservation is made.

The basic model of Steam Deck has a paltry 64GB of eMMC storage. Another model is $530 and includes 256GB of faster NVMe SSD PCIe third generation x4 storage. The highest end version is $650 and has a 512GB NVMe SSD and “Premium anti-glare etched glass”. Typical NVMe SSDs run about $100 per terabyte so it seems a little expensive for these upgrades. There is also a microSD card slot for expanding the storage on the system.

All models have a 4 core AMD Zen 2 APU that supports up to 8 threads and 16GB of DDR5 RAM.

The display is an LCD, not an OLED, and it uses a 16:10 aspect ratio, has a resolution of 1280×800, and a fixed 60hz refresh rate. No variable rate. It’s a 7” touch screen, measured diagonally. We won’t know the full quality of the display until reviewers who are more technical get their hands on it.

The controls on the device include a traditional dual-stick layout and two square trackpads with haptic feedback that Valve claims have 55% better latency than their discontinued Steam Controller.

The Steam Deck will also have a dock available in the future from Valve with more ports, and third-party docks may work out of the box. The USB-C port supports external display resolutions up to 8K at 60hz or 4K at 120Hz. The same USB-C port allows for charging the internal 40Whr battery at 45 watts using power delivery 3.0. Valve says the device will have anywhere between 2 and 8 hours of battery life.

Unlike the Nintendo Switch, Valve’s Steam Deck supports Bluetooth audio. There is also a traditional 3.5mm stereo headphone jack and stereo speakers.

The Steam Deck is running what Valve calls SteamOS 3.0, in a change from earlier versions that used a version of Debian, Valve’s new Linux operating system is using Arch Linux as a base. Arch Linux uses the pacman package manager instead of Debian’s apt system. Valve also notes that you can install any operating system including Windows on the device.

Valve appears to have completely given up on native Linux gaming, their developer FAQ for the Steam Deck includes this question and answer:

Do I need to port my game to Linux to have it work on Steam Deck?

No porting necessary. Your Windows build will likely work right out of the box, thanks to Proton.

Proton is Valve’s fork of the open-source WINE Windows API emulator. Proton is focused on game compatibility.

Comparable devices that use similar hardware to the Steam Deck like the Aya Neo and One XPlayer cost closer to a thousand US dollars and come from brands people do not recognize. None of these devices will run the highest end games very well, especially not when outputting video to an external screen, but they are all more powerful than systems like the Nintendo Switch.

I’d expect the performance on the Steam Deck to still be good enough for the majority of the games on Steam, the 1280×800 resolution is a little larger than 720p and not that difficult a target to hit, but the Steam Deck should be extremely capable of streaming games from a more powerful local computer (there’s no cellular hardware).

Competing stores for computers could run on the Steam Deck, but Epic’s Game store doesn’t run on Linux for example, that one is only available on Windows and macOS. The only other store that I know of that runs on Linux is the Itch store. Software like the PlayStation 4 & 5 Remote Play, that lets users stream games from their consoles to computers and mobile devices, also does not support Linux.

One thing that should run exceptionally well on the Steam Deck is emulators. They should be absolutely terrific on the device, and I hope that emulator authors are able to get onto the platform easily.

OpenTTD on Steam

OpenTTD, the open-source game of business transport simulation based on Transport Tycoon Deluxe, is now available for free on Steam for Windows, macOS, and Linux. The developers recommend that new players check out OpenTTD’s manual, a 26-part tutorial series on YouTube, and a short 14 minute video on signaling. This seems like it’s in the Dwarf Fortress realm of difficulty but those guides should help.

Valve Expands Remote Play Together to Players Outside of Steam

Speaking of Valve’s game streaming technology, their Remote Play Together service that lets people share local multiplayer games over the internet through game streaming now lets up to four players join with just a link, no Steam account required. Valve says that it’ll work for Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, and Android. Only the host needs to own the game.

The Steam Link App is Finally Out for iOS & tvOS

The Steam Link app is finally available on iOS (and tvOS) after being available on Android, and then the Raspberry Pi sbc, for a year. The Steam Link app acts like the now-discontinued Steam Link box and streams your Steam library (and more) to your phone, tablet, or TV. The iOS & Apple TV tvOS app allows for Bluetooth controllers like the Steam Controller as well as Apple-approved controllers that are already available for iOS and tvOS.

Apple initially approved and then blocked the Steam Link app for iOS last year. Presumably that was because Valve’s Steam store was available to users, which was a not-great on Apple’s part but makes about as much sense (none) as Apple demanding a cut of Amazon’s ebooks. The new version of the Steam Llink iOS app doesn’t let people access Valve’s store while streaming, it only allows people to play their game library.

The newest versions of the Android app also allows people to stream games when they’re away from home, the iOS app doesn’t have that feature yet and so you’ll be stuck playing on your home network.

As I’ve said before, I don’t think it is any good that the streaming of games you own locally is controlled by any store, platform, or driver company (like Nvidia’s Shield game streaming service.)  There could be a third-party, entirely open-source effort to stream your desktop with performance in-mind, but there isn’t. The closest thing is the Moonlight project, but it is only available for people with Nvidia’s graphics cards.

All that said, I played a game of Into the Breach streamed to my iPhone from a Windows host using the new app and while that was a confusing setup process (disabling the virtual mouse, enabling the virtual gamepad) it was ultimately rewarding.

I did have one crash when I switched apps and the network connection had been dropped, but I just resumed the game once I re-launched the Link app.

Streaming from a macOS host is a giant pain in the ass, involving the installation of multiple kernel extensions, reboots, and then installing more kernel extensions and more reboots. I can’t imagine this will get any easier with macOS 10.15, if it’s possible at all. Apple delivers a warning to let you know that something Valve is doing won’t work with “…a future version” of macOS:

Screen Shot 2019 06 03 at 12 49 37 AM

That is an ominous warning for a person to read who just wants to play a fucking game. I’m sure they’ll rush out to install the next big macOS upgrade.