Hello and welcome to a guide to Valve’s Steam Machine, if you’re a bit confused with what it’s all about, once finished reading – you should no longer be. First, let’s start with the basics and get a little context.
Who is Valve?
Valve Corporation is a company with its fingers in many gaming pies. Founded by Gabe Newell in 1996 they started out making games; Half Life being their first (a game considered the best ever by some – not a bad debut then), they’re also responsible for Counter Strike, Portal, Left for Dead – plus the sequels to each of those franchises… amongst others. But making games is no longer their only focus, they also made the ‘Source’ game engine and created the biggest digital distribution platform, Steam.
What is Steam?
According to Valve, Steam is the ‘ultimate entertainment platform’. And judging by the numbers – Valve announced they passed 125 million active users in February this year – they may just be right about that. It’s software you can download and use to buy games, play games, mod games, communicate with friends and more. In essence it’s a handy gaming hub for PC users.
What is Steam Machine?
It’s a gaming device that’s attempting to strike a nice balance between being a PC and a console.
Though they’re becoming more and more complex with time, a traditional console is simple for the user. You buy it, connect it up and you’re ready to play games. With PC gaming your hardware dictates whether (and how well) games will run on your machine, after a few years you may find the latest releases are now no longer a viable option.
But then PC gaming also has what Nintendon’t. Mods being a biggie, also a high end gaming PC can muster graphics consoles can only dream of and you have more control over your experience in general.
So with Steam Machine Valve are selling you a box that will connect to your TV, come with a controller and use an interface much like a console, but it’ll also allow access to mods and the Steam platform – unlike a console.
So that’s the basic idea, now let’s go into a bit more detail.
Releasing in November, they will be available in many different specifications.
Hardware wise, we’re squarely in PC territory. Right from the off, the Steam Store shows you 14 different manufacturers and different configurations are available from the manufacturers too. Prices vary from $449 to a staggering $5,000. There are of course a plethora of options in between those as well.
At the low end of the scale is the $449.99(+) Alienware Steam Machine, touting the ability to play all games in 1080p – this seems most directly comparable to PS4 and Xbox One. At the top is the $1,999.99(+) Falcon Northwest Tiki Steam Machine, 4k ready (as are lower priced options), liquid cooled and supplied with options of the latest and greatest innards – this is clearly aimed at the ‘hardcore’.
The software side of things brings us back to console familiarity. Running Steam OS, which is similar to ‘big picture mode’ from Steam on PC, you’re using a operating system designed for the living room experience.
The Steam Controller has been built to support all types of games and all types of input methods. Valve consider it an apt device making games designed for mouse and keyboard – as well as other control methods – playable with a joypad.
One of the most notable features of the Steam Controller are the trackpads, they allow “1:1 absolute position input via virtual controls like a trackball, adaptive centering joystick, or steering wheel”. A mouse has long allowed precision as unattainable as unobtainium for joypads, though Valve may have found a way to change that. They’ll take some getting used to, but if as good as Valve make out, trackpads could become commonplace in the future.
SteamVR/Vive – Virtual Reality
Being designed in partnership with HTC, SteamVR is a package of headset, dual controllers and two base stations. With SteamVR Valve are looking to track you in the room you’re in, allowing for movement and immersion beyond just your head.
SteamVR is still in the development stage, but Valve are hoping for a consumer edition to be available later this year.
If the idea of playing your library of Steam titles on the big screen makes you happy, but the idea of buying a whole new system to do so makes you sad, then Steam link is for you. Essentially it’s a streaming device for games, like other media streaming devices, it connects your TV and PC via your home network.
Jamie’s Final Thought
So there you have it; a concise run down of what Steam Machine is.
Though I can see what Valve is trying to do, I feel the magnitude of options and especially the higher priced offerings kind of defeat the point.
PC’s are already available in small form factors and compatible with joypads, Steam Machines will undoubtedly make PC gaming more accessible, but you still have the problem of your hardware becoming obsolete – not having to worry about that is one of the biggest positives of owning a console.
However, I can see the merit of what Valve is trying to achieve and I’m all for a new player to come mix things up.
Colour me intrigued.