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.

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.

Reinstall Half-life 2 & The Episodes Isn’t a Band in Cleveland

It’s a requirement for playing Jazztronauts, a mod for Garry’s Mod. Yes, you’ve read that correctly. You have to reinstall a bunch of old Source-engine games and get this weird ass $10 sandbox thing called Garry’s Mod to play Jazztronauts. You’re also going to need to read these instructions to get the game going. It’s worth it.

There are cats, they talk to you, they want you to steal for them. What are you stealing? Stuff, from random Source-engine game levels, like lamps, or tables, or chairs, or headcrabs in levels made for Team Fortress 2. The cats are funny in their conversations, the gameplay systems are normal but the manner in which you’re to carry them out are just so odd.

You’ll fulfill the fetch quests the bar-dwelling cats give you with a a “prop snatcher.” That’s the device the cats, and you, use to summon a Half-Life 2 scientist model in a t-pose with a gravity gun to grab the objects in the world and pull them back to the bar. A very strange machine in the bar converts those objects into money that you can use on upgrades and new tools to better traverse and collect objects in Source-engine levels that absolutely aren’t meant for you to explore outside of the original context of whatever game or mod they came from.

There’s a lot more to Jazztronauts that I wish I hadn’t known about before I tried it out. It’s very strange to play, and fun to explore the worlds that map makers create, with charmingly funny writing, and you can play it cooperatively with friends. Try it out.

Valve’s Erik Johnson Promises To Take Money From Anyone, For Almost Anything

As long as it isn’t “…illegal, or straight up trolling.”

Erik Johnson:

So we ended up going back to one of the principles in the forefront of our minds when we started Steam, and more recently as we worked on Steam Direct to open up the Store to many more developers: Valve shouldn’t be the ones deciding this. If you’re a player, we shouldn’t be choosing for you what content you can or can’t buy. If you’re a developer, we shouldn’t be choosing what content you’re allowed to create. Those choices should be yours to make. Our role should be to provide systems and tools to support your efforts to make these choices for yourself, and to help you do it in a way that makes you feel comfortable.

With that principle in mind, we’ve decided that the right approach is to allow everything onto the Steam Store, except for things that we decide are illegal, or straight up trolling. Taking this approach allows us to focus less on trying to police what should be on Steam, and more on building those tools to give people control over what kinds of content they see. We already have some tools, but they’re too hidden and not nearly comprehensive enough. We are going to enable you to override our recommendation algorithms and hide games containing the topics you’re not interested in. So if you don’t want to see anime games on your Store, you’ll be able to make that choice. If you want more options to control exactly what kinds of games your kids see when they browse the Store, you’ll be able to do that. And it’s not just players that need better tools either – developers who build controversial content shouldn’t have to deal with harassment because their game exists, and we’ll be building tools and options to support them too.

The end result of this is that Valve is fine with making money from software that encourage sexual assault and other awful trash as long as it isn’t “trolling.” Whatever that means. This is bad.

Valve needs to grow up and take responsibility for the software that they sell. This policy is the opposite of that.

The Steam Link is Getting Usurped by Apps

Valve is releasing Steam Link apps for iOS and Android sometime during the week of the 21st of May. They’ll stream games to your device or TV from a host computer just like the Steam Link box does. Valve says that these apps will support a few different types of controllers including Apple’s MFI standard, but I’m not sure how they have Steam Controller support working without attaching the full-size USB type A dongle, unless they intend for people to use a series of adapters.

The physical Steam Link box could still end up being useful by working with even more types of controllers, as well as running general purpose software using the Steam Link SDK.

Valve is also putting out an app to watch any videos purchased on Steam, because that’s a thing people do?

It’s a shame that game streaming is exclusively the domain of stores like Valve’s Steam and Nvidia’s streaming built-into their Geforce graphics cards. Although the latter has some open source support via the unofficial community-developed Moonlight project, neither option is perfect. Steam streaming is often broken for many games outside of Steam, and Nvidia only officially streams to their Shield tablet and set-top-box devices. If you’re using an AMD or intel video chipset they aren’t supported by Nvidia, either.

I’m not sure if there’s any room for a commercial third-party solution when Nvidia and Valve’s solutions work almost well enough, so it might have to be a community-developed open source project.

Ultra Expensive HTC Vive Pro Out Soon

It’s $1100 for a complete set with the lighthouses, controllers, and all, or $800 if you want to reuse an original Vive setup. You get higher resolution screens, a better headstrap, headphones. Kyle Orland and Sam Machkovech reviewed it for Ars:

Despite the improvements, though, the Vive Pro still includes some of the same basic design problems of the original. The eyepiece housing (which now allows for additional room for eyeglasses, toggled by an easy button press and slider) still ends up pressed up tightly against the front of your face, creating a thick seal that traps heat and puts significant pressure on the sinuses. Any decently long VR session threatens to turn your face into a sweaty, red mess that can lead to significant steam buildup on the lenses. Worse, the front-of-face foam padding feels decidedly non-Pro. HTC has been showing this off at press events with a custom leather face cushion, and for this price, we wish they’d offered the same option as a consumer default.

There’s nothing that sounds more appealing than turning into a sweaty red mess. The resolution bump is the best part of the Vive Pro, but is it really worth paying over twice the price of the base Vive if you’re starting from scratch? Read the rest of their review.

Steam Can Finally Move Games From One Drive to Another

Time was you had to move games from one drive to another by using hacky programs that abused features of Windows’ filesystem to make virtual links from a folder on one drive to another. For Steam games that isn’t a problem anymore. Now that Steam can use multiple game library folders, maybe one for each drive, Valve have added a feature to move games between library folders.

Here’s how it works if you don’t already have a separate library folder on another drive:

  1. Click the Steam menu, and then click on Settings:1 settings
  2. Click on the Downloads tab on the left, then click on the Steam Library Folders button:2a downloads
  3. Click on the Add Library Folder button and add a new folder if you don’t have one on the drive you’d like to move the games to.2b library folders
  4. Click Close and then OK. Right-click on the game you’d like to move to another library folder, click on Properties:3 properties
  5. Click on the Local Files tab, then click on the Move Install Folder button.4 local files
  6. Finally, select the new location for the game you’d like to move, click Move Folder, and then wait:5 move install folder

You Can Ignore Curators on Steam Now

Ignore curator

One thing I find particularly frustrating in Steam is being inundated with curator recommendations from Gamer Gate supporters like Total Biscuit, well the good news is that you can ignore them now. Of course, Valve has made this incredibly frustratingly only accessible from one page, and only when some algorithm decides to recommend that you follow that curator. That’s also the only place to undo ignoring that curator, despite each one having individual curation pages.

Andy Chalk:

Ignoring a curator will ensure that Steam will no longer recommend that curator on your home page. You can take that one step further by ignoring all the top curators recommended by Steam, which will cause Steam to stop recommending any curators at all. It’s a fairly small change, but potentially handy for dedicated Steam users who don’t especially care what other people think. A Valve rep described it as “part of our ongoing efforts to refine the services and features of Steam.” 

Valve’s Disease

Patrick Klepek has a post up on Waypoint, discussing a homophobic game that unsurprisingly managed to get onto Steam. He sums up Valve’s issues with content moderation very well. I’ve trimmed the quote just to remove the name of the game.

…is a symptom of a larger disease. Steam’s “new releases” tab is full of trash, and while you can be generally sympathetic to Valve wanting to allow all sorts of creators an easy path to publishing on their enormous platform, it doesn’t absolve them of the responsibility to make sure it’s a platform that doesn’t promote hateful speech.

The MRA garbage I wrote about last year, Dating Lessons, is still up on Steam as well. Anyone working at Valve should be embarrassed to have their salary funded by getting a cut off of sales of this trash.

Valve Games Were Vulnerable to Software Exploits When Your Character Died

The One Up Security firm, who must be very new because this is their only published research article and their domain name appears to have been registered about 8 months ago, has released information on a vulnerability that Valve patched in their Source engine back in June.

It’s an amusing vulnerability because the exploitation of it occurs when your character dies on a game server, and your character model’s ragdoll is replaced with an exploitative payload that the researcher was able to exploit because certain security flags weren’t set on portions of Steam. This is what you see in action when you watch One Up Security’s video embedded above.