Before running away for a few days of competitive eating and cooperative gaming, Evan, Cory, and Tyler gathered to reflect on the most memorable victories, losses, and stories they virtually experienced in 2013. Watch the whole five-video series on the PC Gamer YouTube channel, and subscribe to our YouTube channel for more regular content, gameplay footage, and conversations.
Valve's Steam Controller is a funny-looking thing—an owl-like game pad with dual trackpads instead of analog sticks. It pairs with Valve's free SteamOS and whatever living room PC it's installed on as a solution to the clumsiness of using a mouse and keyboard on the couch. In a new video demonstration, Valve does its best to convince us that Steam Controller really offers a level of control comparable to our traditional instruments of gaming.
First we see Portal 2, which demonstrates that—unlike analog sticks—the trackpads can be configured for 1-to-1 control. "Directly move your thumb a fixed amount of distance on the pad, and the view will correspond to the fixed amount of distance," says Hardware Engineer Jeff Bellinghausen. Meanwhile, he says, the left trackpad has been configured as a D-pad to simulate WASD.
Later in the video, Bellinghausen plays Counter-Strike: Global Offensive with great accuracy, though his aiming looks a bit slower than it might have been with a mouse—obviously, we'd need to see a comparison video of him playing with a mouse to know for sure. Civilization V and Papers, Please also demonstrate how accurate the trackpad is for mouse-based games.
It looks like it works—not just like a mouse, but like something more accurate and responsive than analog sticks. Trying to move a mouse pointer around with velocity-based control is miserable, and this doesn't look miserable. Seeing isn't believing—we need to feel this thing in our hands to judge it—but it does build confidence, and Valve will be posting updates like this "frequently."
Rounding out its set of living room-centric announcements this week, Steam Controller has been revealed by Valve, a 16-button, haptic-driven gamepad that Valve says is hackable, includes a touch screen, will feature sharable configurations, and has the ambitious goal of “supporting all games in the Steam catalog.” No price was announced for the controller, and it doesn't appear to feature motion control. In place of analog sticks, Steam Controller features two circular, clickable trackpads. Valve claims that PC gamers “will appreciate that the Steam Controller’s resolution approaches that of a desktop mouse,” and goes as far to promise that the controller makes games that aren't traditionally suited to playing from the couch--RTSes, 4X games, simulations, and others--controller-friendly.
To compensate for the trackpads’ nature as less-tangible input devices than conventional analog sticks, Steam Controller includes “dual linear resonant actuators” that produce vibration. Valve adds that the controller can serve as a speaker. What seems to distinguish the Steam Controller’s square touch screen from other touch screens is click functionality. “Actions are not invoked by a simple touch, they instead require a click. This allows a player to touch the screen, browse available actions, and only then commit to the one they want,” Valve states in the announcement.
Although Valve was vague on how it plans to implement this policy, it emphasized the openness of the device. "We plan to make tools available that will enable users to participate in all aspects of the experience, from industrial design to electrical engineering. We can’t wait to see what you come up with," Valve says.
We'll await details on price, materials, and an opportunity to try Steam Controller ourselves soon. Snuck into the very end of the announcement is a mention of Steam Machines and SteamOS, the prototype of which Valve says it will share "detailed specs" of next week.
In the meantime, you can become eligible to beta test Steam Controller by following the same steps outlined for the Steam Machines beta.
By announcing SteamOS yesterday, Valve declared that PC gaming is more than desktop gaming, that Windows is not our master, and that—finally—cats can own Steam accounts. The free, Linux-based, cat-friendly operating system is designed for gaming on living room PCs, because PC gaming according to Valve isn't about WASD and DirectX—it's about openness and collaboration.
We're free to choose our hardware, our software, our mods, and soon more than ever, how we play, where we play, and whether or not Microsoft gets a cut. If SteamOS takes off, PC gaming will undergo one of its most dramatic changes ever—possibly one more significant than the introduction of the free-to-play model and crowdfunding. That's thrilling, but also scary as hell, so we've worked through our fears with a list of SteamOS pros and cons, followed by deep breaths in anticipation of tomorrow's announcement.
It's free. If you have a living room PC, or plan to build one, you can ditch Windows for free. That feels really good to say, but the adoption rate hinges on SteamOS launching with native support for everything we want in a media and gaming center. Streaming games from a secondary PC is neat, but we'd rather run them natively on the machine we paid to put in our living room. It also needs native Netflix and Hulu apps, and all the other media services offered by the consoles.
Valve says it's got this covered, announcing that it's "working with many of the media services you know and love," and that "hundreds of great games are already running natively on SteamOS," with native "AAA titles" to be announced in the coming weeks.
It encourages competition in the console market. May the best Steam Box win! Windows isn't designed for TVs, so neither are many PCs. Now Valve is giving away a platform for games, movies, and music, challenging hardware manufacturers to make systems that are powerful, quiet, and inexpensive. It used to be Microsoft vs. Sony vs. Nintendo fighting for the top of the living room ecosystem's food chain—soon it may be Microsoft vs. Sony vs. Nintendo vs. Everyone.
It should run some games better. One of the few advantages consoles have over PCs (whether or not they always make the best of it) is an OS specifically designed for gaming. Meanwhile, we have Windows, which is clearly not designed to be an ideal gaming platform. With SteamOS, however, Valve claims it has "achieved significant performance increases in graphics processing," and is now working on "audio performance and reductions in input latency at the operating system level."
Last year, Valve posted a performance test of Left 4 Dead 2 running on Windows 7 and on Ubuntu, and the Linux build came out ahead, saying that the test "speak to the underlying efficiency of the kernel and OpenGL." This isn't close to being an objective experiment—and we'll look forward to making our own evaluations—but it is encouraging.
It means more Linux games, and more couch-friendly PC games. SteamOS is as much about ditching Windows as it is putting PC gaming in the living room, so it affects even those firmly planted in their desk chairs. If SteamOS achieves the install base it needs for developers big and small embrace Linux, the Microsoft shackles may be broken forever.
Steam Boxes may struggle to compete in price. A PC designed to run SteamOS skips over the Windows fee, but unlike a console, the manufacturer can't rely on game licensing fees to recoup costs—that money goes to Valve. Sony and Microsoft, however, can price their consoles competitively with that revenue in mind, which gives them the advantage. Valve itself could price hardware this way, but that would undercut third-party hardware manufacturers and could turn out to be anti-competitive. Unless, of course, Valve makes the unlikely move to subsidize the cost of these systems.
It could increase development costs. Major game developers aren't going to ditch Windows, the platform with the world's largest install base. If SteamOS becomes a competitive gaming platform, competitive developers will have yet another version to make, soaking up more resources.
The pessimistic angle is that this can only result in either lower quality games or more expensive games. The optimistic angle is that SteamOS will be embraced and prioritized by developers with the same enthusiasm as the consoles.
It could further fragment games and smother certain genres. If SteamOS eclipses the popularity of desktop gaming, developers will have less incentive to develop desktop games. Just as developers rushed into mobile and Facebook development, we could see a flood of controller-based Steam games that push niche and classic-style PC games into the slums.
It's a scary thought, but when we un-jerk our knees and really consider this scenario, it's a very minor concern. Crowdfunding has proven without a doubt that there's still a huge appetite for old fashioned mouse and keyboard PC games. The positive—and more likely—angle is that we'll see just greater diversity in the Steam library.
It gives Valve even more power over PC gaming. Valve isn't PC gaming. We know that, and millions of League of Legends players, World of Tanks enthusiasts, GOG.com users, modders, and more know that. But Steam is the most popular digital distribution service, and soon, it will be a platform. SteamOS may be free, but it's only as open as Valve allows. We don't know yet if we can use SteamOS to play non-Steam games, or if Valve will make exclusivity deals. We've asked, and Valve's answer will be a huge indicator of its intentions.
If you've got a passionate thought about SteamOS, we'd love to include it in our next issue of PC Gamer. We're always listening at email@example.com.
Valve have launched the second community map event for CS:GO, after the first - Operation Payback - proved hugely successful this summer. Once again, eight locations have been chosen as this season's must-visit destinations for the discerning terrorist. For a $6/£3.50 downpayment, you'll secure official server access to each user-made map in casual, deathmatch and - for the first time - competitive modes.
As with Payback, Operation Bravo also supplies buyers with an event coin that displays next to their avatar. The coin can be upgraded through playtime and wins, and grants access to a scorecard, which tracks competitive performance throughout the duration of the event, on both Bravo and regular maps.
And look, there's more. The Bravo pass also grants access to 15 map-themed weapon skins, which will drop periodically during play. Special Bravo-themed cases have also been created, and will get delivered to players' inventories, whether they own a Bravo pass or not.
The new maps for the event are Agency, Ali, Cache, Chinatown, Gwalior, Ruins and Siege. Bravo also includes the return of Seaside. Of course, as with Payback, all maps are currently available through the Steam Workshop, with the pass making them playable on official servers until the end of the event on January 20th.
For more details, see the CS:GO blog's Operation Bravo page.
If you've got three friends and the urge to break into the pro Conter-Strike: Global Offensive scene, MSI's Beat It! Open Qualifiers open for US teams this weekend. There are slots for 64 teams, the top two of which will advance to face the likes of Curse and Complexity in an eight team playoff. The winner of that playoff gets to go to Beijing to compete for $22,000 in prizes.
Check-ins for the open qualifier are first come, first served... so keep your browser pointed at the check-in page on September 8 at 5 p.m. Eastern, 2 p.m. Pacific. The qualifier will progress in rapid-fire rounds, with the finalists to be decided by 10 p.m Pacific. So you might want to have some snacks on hand if you're planning to go all the way. The playoffs for the US Qualifiers are scheduled for the 10th, 11th, 14th, and 15th.
You can read more about the competition on the official announcement page.
The Arms Deal Update for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is live, adding in a Team Fortress 2-style system of random drops, over 100 new weapon skins, two new stock weapons, and a purchasable item that helps fund competitive play.
The new weapon skins will drop randomly while you play CS:GO, much like new items in Team Fortress 2. Unlike TF2, all of the modifications are purely cosmetic. You will also occasionally find weapon cases, similar to TF2's crates, which must be opened by a key. These come in two styles: standard variety, and a special eSports case. The proceeds from eSports case keys will go towards larger prize pools and greater visibility for competitive CS:GO.
It's not all just paint jobs and microtransactions, though. We're also seeing the return of the silenced variants for the M4A1 and the USP, which feature a smaller price tag and magazine size than their louder brethren.
Arms Deal is available now, and you can read more about it on the official announcement page.
Valve are extending their Operation Payback campaign for another month. Which isn't to say they're planning another 30 days of making prank phone calls to the offices of EA's Origin - that's the other Operation Payback. This one is the reward scheme for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive mapmakers, giving players the chance to remunerate the community creators for their contributions to the game. Originally due to retreat on July 31st, the programme will now run until the end of August.
In exchange for the $5.99 contribution, buyers of the Payback pass get official dedicated server access to the seven chosen maps over the course of the event. The maps included are Museum, Downtown, Library, Thunder, Favela, Seaside and Motel. Since the scheme's launch in April, a total of $150,000 has been paid out to the mapmakers involved.
While this first Operation Payback will now close on August 31st, Valve have announced that they're already looking for the next wave of creators to showcase. "We’re looking at a great list of maps that we hope to include in the next operation," they write. "If you’ve been working on a map, now is the time to make sure it’s in the workshop and getting votes!"
You can currently access the Operation: Payback pass for a discounted price of $0.99.
Operation Payback has paid out for Counter-Strike: GO's top mapmakers, who have earned a fantastic $150,000 between them. Payback, you'll remember, is Valve's attempt to 'pay back' the game's dedicated community by offering unlimited access to seven of its best user maps, and dedicated servers on which to play them, for a flat $5.99 fee. Considering the creators of those seven maps now have around $150,000 to share between them, I'd say it's proved rather successful.
The operation ends July 31st, but I hope it's an initiative Valve will return to in the future, especially considering how successful it's been. They did something similar with TF2 with the Robotic Boogaloo pack, which raised nearly $250,000 for 66 item creators. It's an increasingly lucrative business, this modding lark - and richly deserved, considering how much talent and effort the top creators put in.
As predicted earlier, The Steam Summer Sale is now. From today until July 22nd, daily deals and flash sales will flood the Steam store with prices that are lower than the usual prices. To get the best deals, you may want to be patient and gamble on there being heavier discounts as the sale goes on—a good way to pass the time is to chart prices across a giant blackboard, mixing in the Fibonacci sequence now and then and muttering about "Gabentropy."
Currently, you can get BioShock Infinite for $30/£17.50, Counter-Strike: GO for $5.09/£4.07, Hotline Miami for $2.49/£1.74, and tons of other crazy dumb deals. You can also vote on the Community's Choice sale every eight hours—the currently leading game is something called "Heavy Load."