Steam Machines Aren’t Here to Challenge Consoles

Valve recently put up an early list of Steam Machines coming this November from various gaming computer makers. Paul Tassi of Forbes is here predicting doom and gloom in an article comparing the chances for Valve’s success against traditional gaming consoles:

So if Steam Machines aren’t for console players, will existing PC gamers bite? I really don’t see a reason for them to do so. PC gamers like their mouse and keyboard, their ability to sit close to their monitor, and the probably multi-thousand-dollar rig they already have. The avid PC gamers I’ve seen look at Steam Machines as “good for people who want to check out PC gaming,” but almost none of them seem to be considering it for themselves. And why would they? It’s just a pre-built gaming rig that hooks up to their TV and runs Steam Big Picture, something all the do-it-yourself-ers out there could have made themselves for years now if they really wanted to. With the release of the new store, many veterans of the scene are looking over some of the machines and laughing about the price, knowing they could get the exact same level of performance for much, much cheaper if they did it on their own. Other than the ability to express their endless love and devotion for Valve’s Gabe Newell, patron saint of PC gaming, I don’t know what PC gamers get out of Steam Machines.

This is but one of the many arguments Paul Tassi has that they won’t find their market.

It’s a bit early to predict the death of Steam Machines, eight months before they ship. Among Paul Tassi’s other arguments is this one:

Why? Before I flood your screen with a deluge of reasons, first and foremost what the new store page shows is a huge range of prices, ranging from slightly above asking price for the PS4 and One ($460 for iBuyPower’s box) to typically absurd gaming PC levels (as high as $5,000 for top-of-the-line units from Falcon Northwest and Origin). Across the fifteen(!) different machines on the page, only two are around the $500 mark, while the rest probably average between $700-$900, if I’m being generous.

There is definitely a large selection and I can see how it might steer some people away and back to their consoles. It makes sense to have a small selection of products that people can choose from. A good machine, a better machine, a best machine.

That is the one valid criticism in Paul Tassi’s article. The others are ridiculous. PC gamers aren’t going to buy these? If some weren’t already buying pre-built gaming machines these companies wouldn’t be in business to now sell Steam Machines.

There are other, more valid, criticisms that Paul Tassi misses.

These machines run Steam OS, and although you could replace that and install Windows at your own expense there will be a more limited selection of games available for the default Linux-based operating system.

Though he does point out that they’re more expensive than consoles, the reason why is extremely important. Consoles are subsidized and initially sold at a loss to be later offset by software sales with a cut going back to the manufacturer. Valve isn’t selling these directly and can’t do that. Subsidies are the one way that Valve could really improve the initial turnout on Steam Machines but then they would have to produce their own and be competing with these third parties.

The advantage to Valve in the current Steam Machine situation is that they lose almost nothing if Steam Machines fail to find users.

The one thing Valve loses if Steam Machines fail is their edge against Microsoft. Steam Machines (and SteamOS) exist as a hedge against the possibility of a strong Windows App Store in future versions of Windows where customers won’t or can’t choose Valve’s Steam marketplace.

The computer manufactures have something to lose too. With Steam Machines they don’t have to deal with Microsoft and pay for copies of Windows. As far as we know, Valve charges them nothing to include SteamOS.

This is the reason why Steam Machines aren’t really here to challenge consoles. They’re here to take on Windows.

Dear Esther Review (PC)

Photo Credit: Dear Esther
Photo Credit: Dear Esther

In 2009 I reviewed Dear Esther, the free modification for Half-Life 2.

It’s 2013 and I’ve finally played the commercial version available on Steam released in 2012.

Both versions are a first person walking tour of an island where the player listens to narration of letters written to Esther.

2012’s Esther is fairly similar to the mod. So lets quote the TimeDoctor of 2009 and remove anything that isn’t relevant to this 2012 commercial release:

I just finished my first walk-through of Dear Esther.

When I say “walk-through” I mean, walking through the narrative of this incredible mod on top of Half Life 2‘s Source Engine by Dan Pinchbeck.

You’re guided through it by a narrator who tells you about an island, its inhabitants, and a few events in their lives.

The narration is randomized, so each play through may tell a different story.

It might be a bit pretentious, but that is OK. If you give it a shot, I think you will like it. It is about the closest I’ve ever seen a game come to approaching the narrative elements of interactive fiction. Unfortunately this is mostly at the expense of the interaction. You walk through the island on foot at a snail’s pace and gain some knowledge of the story through a beautifully perfect vocal narration.

Games as art? Fuck that. Games as narrative. We’re half way to the finish line, and Dear Esther is the best runner in that race. I hope that the confines of an engine and resources of a mod will not hold back the next narrative from thechineseroom.

So now we’re in 2013 again – hello there! – and Dear Esther is a mod no-longer. They’ve cleaned up just about everything that was unpolished in the original and this is almost perfect.

I say almost because as a game released in 2012 it still doesn’t look right for the modern era. The vegetation in particular is unappealing and at worst takes you out of the experience as you see 2D sprites always turn to face you at the edge of your view. You’ll still see the occasionally strangely polygonal natural feature. Otherwise, Esther is a pretty game featuring some stunning scenes as you navigate the island. To say too much about them might spoil your enjoyment.

The narrative as read to you and soundtrack are still amazing. What other game is excellent at a walking pace? Your view of it and the way the narrative unfolds through the changing aspects of the island are unique. Nobody else has made anything like it and I doubt anyone ever will.

We are spoiled beasts by some great narratives with games attached; Dear Esther, Digital: A Love Story, and The Walking Dead. Two of which were released commercially in 2012. Though Esther is the least game-like of any I’ve experienced, I can’t recommend it enough. There are no puzzles or action sequences. Your only input is to move around in the world. Your only objective is to look and listen until you can’t anymore. You’ve never played anything like it.

Dear Esther is a bargain at $10 USD on Steam.

5 out of 5 Narratives

5 Dollar Defense Grid: The Awakening

5-dollar-defense-grid

Defense Grid: The Awakening is on sale for $5. Stop reading now and click the damn link if you enjoy tower defense. This game was, from what I could tell during the demo, not worth $20 or $15. But 5? That, my friends, is the price of a 5 dollar foot long at your local subway.

So instead of shoveling more cheap swine-flu-laced lettuce and the best horse snouts which can be placed on a cheap roll baked fresh from organisms (Subway’s Fred De Luca found in a neighboring galaxy but that was actually too expensive so he had to just use recycled sporks as filler instead)  into your pie-hole, go down to your local Steam retailer and buy this tower defense game.

A new blogger and an indie game sale!

Indie games are cool and fun

Ahoy folks! I’m fydo and apparently zakk wants me to write some stuff on this silly blog. I like to hang out in the indie games / opensource games crowd, so I’ll try to share any interesting tidbits I pick up on. Meow?

For instance, I might mention that this weekend there is a weekend sale going on at Steam, featuring 5 pretty awesome indie games. These games are:

  • Eets
  • Gravitron 2
  • I-Fluid
  • Multiwinia
  • Trials 2

I personally know the developer of Gravitron 2 and he’s a great guy too.

So I’ll talk a little bit about Gravitron 2. It’s got a really retro look and feel to it, tight controls and a difficulty ramp that reminds me of the NES days. There are over 40 levels in the original game and the game author just recently released a map pack which adds even more. There is another update in the works involving the map editor, but I probably shouldn’t reveal too much about that. Suffice to say, Gravitron 2 is more than worth the $5, and within this indie pack, it’s a steal! (figuratively speaking, of course)

I’d love to hear your opinions about any of these games in the comments, so flame away, dear readers.

(Note that I’ll try to avoid turning my posts into advertisements in the future. Hardy har.)

Call of Duty: World at War (PC)

Call of Duty: World at War is critically under appreciated. By that, I mean the slights it gets for being popular. Some too-cool-for-school game critics think that CoD:WaW can’t be good because regular people enjoy it.

If only they could see past their indie-rock-pete-esque hearts to the shiny gooey filling that is an improved and different Call of Duty.

Improvements on CoD4:

  • Nearly the entire single player campaign can be played cooperatively online.
  • In-game friends list, including invites.
  • You can squad up with your buddies fairly easily during team-based matches.
  • Prestige, previously only available to console players, is now available for win-folk.
  • Large, open multiplayer maps enable a different style of play. Bolt-action, single shot rifle kills are now reasonable. As are tanks and other changes to gameplay style. This might not appeal to everyone, but it is a definitely visible change to anyone who has sunk time into CoD4’s multiplayer campaign
  • The Flamethrower, flame tank, and molotov cocktail all bring a new kind of area denial  effect to play.
  • Nazi zombie mode.

You broke it:

  • Co-op isn’t continous, you’re automatically sent back to the lobby and the map is reset to the first map (Semper Fi). Good luck remembering the name of the map you were on.
  • Multiplayer squads aren’t retained between map changes. Boo!
  • The game seems to crash more than is usual.
  • Should have been released on steam on the day of the retail PC release.
  • Still different binaries for multiplayer and singleplayer.
  • While you can invite friends to the multiplayer game you’re in, you can’t see what game your friends are in without having to accept an invite. That is to say, you must request an invite to get to that server.
  • The name tags in multiplayer are colored red or green for differentiating  friend or foe. I can’t see those colors.