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.

Counter-Strike: GOes F2P, Adds Battle Royale Mode

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is the latest update to the classic Counter-Strike gameplay, and it is now free-to-play, and the game’s developers at Valve have added a battle royale mode called Danger Zone. Unfortunately that mode doesn’t involve crashing cars through puzzle-y intersections.

All of these updates are out now, and Valve has an FAQ about the free-to-play mechanics of the game.

Everyone who owned CS:GO previously now has “Prime Status,” which apparently puts you into a different match-making hopper with other “Prime Status” players. It sounds worse than it is, though, since it’s possible to get to that tier through playing the game and reaching the 21st rank, as the FAQ explains:

Prime Status is an upgrade available to all CS:GO players. When you have Prime Status you are matched with other players who also have Prime Status, and Prime users are eligible for Prime-exclusive souvenir items, item drops, and weapon cases.

There are two ways to upgrade your account to Prime Status; reach Rank 21 by earning XP and add an eligible phone number to your Steam account, or purchase the CS:GO Prime Status Upgrade in-game or through the Steam Store.

I suppose then the question is “how long does it take to reach Rank 21?” and the answer is probably “a long while” otherwise they wouldn’t be charging $15 for it.

Cheese’s Thoughts on Steam Play (Proton)

Josh “Cheese” has a ton of thoughts on the latest developments with Valve’s Proton Windows pretendulation software for Linux gaming through Steam. Cheese is always good reading, but he provides some especially useful historical context for this conversation.

I am still extremely concerned for where Linux gaming is going with Valve-controlled pretendulation as the default mode for new and old games, instead of native ports. It isn’t something many people playing those games will care about, if the pretendulation is good enough for them.

Katamari Damacy ReRoll Announced for December on Switch & Steam

Katamari Damacy is almost unplayable today. You can’t buy it online through any platforms or services.

The 2004 PlayStation 2 original game is out-of-print. The Xbox 360 sequel isn’t backwards compatible on the Xbox One. No Katamari has ever been available forWindows or any other desktop computing platform.

Mobile versions of the real Katamari existed on the iPhone, but aren’t available anymore. The only Katamari games that you can download on an iPhone today are free-to-play explorations of other game formulas like the modern clicker game or the endless runner. Those seem to exist solely to siphon off our shared nostalgia.

Katamari Damacy is just a great example of the difficulty in preserving original games in their original format. Hooking up a PlayStation 2, 3, or Xbox 360 is the only way to experience it today without walking in the harsh desert of emulator country and I haven’t even begun to explain why anyone who hasn’t played some version of Katamari would care about it.

It’s a game where you roll a big-ass ball around, it’s extremely weird, the ball collects things in a fictional version of our world and the things all have a kind of low-poly aesthetic. The ball is called a Katamari and it is being pushed by the Prince of the Cosmos under orders from his father, the King of the Cosmos. As you collect things the ball grows larger and larger until it’s finally going to roll up entire continents and at some point the level ends and the King is either satisfied with your work as the Prince or you can repeat the level. Some levels had annoying goals, it wasn’t perfect, but Katamari Damacy is missed by everyone who loved it. I still listen to some of the soundtrack with my family because it’s fun music that is approachable even to people who haven’t played a Katamari game.

I’m eternally grateful to whatever print magazine or 1UP.com show that told me about the original, because I wasn’t hooked into anywhere else that was talking about it when it was released in 2004.

All that said, this remaster of the original Katamari Damacy will finally be available on December 7th, 2018. Katamari Damacy ReRoll (it’s strangely an all-caps REROLL in the press release) on the Nintendo Switch as well as Steam for Windows. I don’t have a firm price available yet. ReRoll will also have new motion controls on the Switch. Very curious to see how well this game caps off our year of remasters and remakes as Katamari takes one more roll through the ephemerality pipeline.

Windows Pretendulation Is Bad Even When Valve Does It

Valve’s Pierre-Loup A. Griffais announced that they’re including their brand new fork of the WINE Windows pretendulator in a new beta product for Steam. They call it Proton. WINE is an open-source Windows API emulation layer that lets Linux users play Windows games without rebooting into Windows. I call this process “pretendulation” because it isn’t emulating the entire operating system, but it is still far from native.

That sounds good, more games for Linux, right?

Well, when I started writing about Linux gaming 18 years ago there was a commercial, closed-source, fork of WINE called WineX. WineX had a lot of fans, it was developed by people who had been working on Wine, which was a more generalized product for Windows software, to target game software. These developers of WineX (later called Cedega) did a good job at writing the software, but it had a number of issues.

One of those WineX issues was that Windows compatibility is a moving target. Any progress the WineX developers made to support new versions of Microsoft’s DirectX game software programming interface were usually still years behind where modern games were. If the latest Battlefield game came out and it only worked with DirectX 8 and WineX was still on 6 or 7, it was going to be a while until they could support that new game.

Even though new DirectX versions are less of a headlining feature in Windows these days, compatibility with a wide range of games is going to be a problem for Valve’s Proton as well. 

Any emulation, or translation, layer, is also going to introduce some amount of performance overhead. You can’t emulate a PlayStation 3 or Dreamcast at full speed on a lot of expensive computers today, but you can buy the original console for $50 that plays those games perfectly. The same issue happens with emulating Windows APIs under Linux. Some games will only have a very small hit to performance, but others might be more of a problem and you won’t get the same framerate that you do under Windows.

So there are compatibility and performance issues, that’s it, right? Nope, there’s one more technical hurdle. When something breaks, you’re not going to know if it’s the game or the emulation layer. I imagine this will infuriate some developers.

Valve claims that games they’ve tested and whitelisted in this beta have an almost identical gameplay experience to Windows, and they acknowledge the performance overhead. Valve doesn’t acknowledge the negative effect this will have on real native ports of games. Back in those WineX days there were some developers and publishers who cancelled their plans for native Linux ports because Windows pretendulation was “good enough” for them, even when Wine or WineX didn’t provide a great experience for players.

“Good enough” Windows API emulation eventually turned into developers porting their games with Wine wrapped up into a library, giving Linux players some of the half-assed ports they have today.

One additional issue that wasn’t a problem with WineX, these improvements to Wine are only designed to work with games on Steam. You won’t be playing Battlefield  5 with Proton. Although Valve’s fork of Wine is open-source, unlike the old WineX fork which had its source closed behind an agreement that the executives at Transgaming later deleted and refused to acknowledge.

Proton is an interesting technology, but a bad thing for anyone who loves Linux gaming and wants native ports of games brought to Linux.