Friday, September 27, 2013

SteamBuntu, The SteamBox ecosystem

Remember Last week when Gabe Newell said that Linux was, "The Future of Gaming!"

This week we found out his plan to bring the self-fulfilling prophecy to fruition.  It came in the form of three announcements starting Monday that outlined a platform strategy centered around the much speculated about SteamBox.

Monday we found out about SteamOS.  A linux based operating system that forms the foundation of the SteamBox strategy.  SteamOS promises to stream Windows and Mac games from other PC's (Kind of like Nvidia's Shield) and natively support Linux games.  Valve has purportedly been working with hardware vendors and game developers to take advantage of the new platform and claims "significant performance increases in graphics processing."

Taking aim at existing and upcoming consoles it also promises support for Music, TV and movies and socialization utilizing existing Steam client mechanisms.

Wednesday brought the announcement of an actual hardware platform or should I say "platforms."  "SteamMachines" are described as, "...a variety of Steam gaming machines...all of them running SteamOS.
300 Steam users will be selected to participate in a SteamBox beta program utilizing prototype hardware.   Specifics about the hardware weren't released but it appears Beta participants will not be under any non-disclosure restrictions with Valve stating, "...that really is the whole point. The input from testers should come in many forms: bug reports, forum posts, concept art, 3D prints, haikus, and also very publicly stated opinions"

Friday brought the final announcement.  The last piece of the SteamBox puzzle was revealed to be the introduction of a new controller.  The SteamController resembles a standard game controller but will be wireless (except for the beta), contain a small touchscreen in the center of the controller flanked by two trackpads in place of traditional gamepad controls. 

Valve claims the device will mimic the operation of a keyboard and mouse and touts the advancements in control using haptics.  Haptics is a method of providing feedback via small electromagnets to aid in the "feel" of control using a trackpad.

So what have we got...

Well, since SteamOS is going to be open and hackable we basically have a new Linux Distro.  Considering Ubuntu is the only platform  that Steam currently works with reliably, I wonder how long it will be before someone coins the term, "SteamBuntu." 

Oops, maybe I just did...

The SteamBox or "Steam Machines" seems like a dodge.  The Beta program is awfully small and the SteamOS is not being publicly released yet.  It sounds more like a recommended configuration than an actual product. 

The "Steam Controller"......... is a joke.   I don't care how cool it looks...

 I'm sorry, but trackpads make for poor game controllers for the same reason that your predictive keyboard on your smartphone sucks for writing blog posts.  There's a disconnect that can't be resolved by any combination of shimmy, shake or resistance in a trackpad. 

It appears to be more of an exercise in design than utility.  Valve is quick to point out that you can still use your current mouse or keyboard with the new OS and Hardware platforms.

There's nothing revolutionary here and too many questions answered with glittering generalities.   Let's also be mindful that the whole platform is "open" meaning Valve hasn't really committed to anything but a loose specification. 

The solution to Windows and Mac games is streaming them from another PC in your house?   Not exactly original or ideal.  Latency from wireless controllers is bad enough, imagine processing an entire game.
What about virtualization?  What about emulation?  The only compatibility fix was hosting OnLive at home?  The hype isn't living up to the reality and Valve will have to do a whole lot better than what they're offering now.  Linux still has only 1.52% of market share on desktops where most major titles are played outside of the consoles. 

These new Steam branded offerings are likely destined to fail because they aren't really so much  a platform as a specification.  It's not a PC, it's not a console and it's not offering anything we haven't seen before. 

So what's the point?  Do we really need another Mythbuntu?

Monday, September 23, 2013



The concatenation of the words "Free" and "Premium."  A contradiction of terms to be sure.  The best things in life may be free but rarely do they rate the label of premium.

You may have heard the big announcement from Blizzard last week about the imminent departure of Diablo 3's auction houses on March 18th (2014.)  For the uninitiated, there are currently both cash and in-game currency options for acquiring loot via the auction marketplace.  For many players it became a viable alternative to actually playing the game to acquire your goodies.

Problem was, it seems the best stuff ended up being bought not found.  Like many recent triple-A titles (Like Borderlands 2) it's often more productive to buy your way to the top than rely on the often disappointing loot drops.  That set the stage for Blizzard's auction house problem.  A whole community sprang up alongside Diablo 3 whose sole purpose was to capitalize on Blizzard's naiveté.   

"When we initially designed and implemented the auction houses, the driving goal was to provide a convenient and secure system for trades. But as we've mentioned on different occasions, it became increasingly clear that despite the benefits of the AH system and the fact that many players around the world use it, it ultimately undermines Diablo's core game play" Blizzard

Blizzard's grand idea to short circuit the practice of players buying and selling upgraded characters on EBay (and Blizzard not getting their cut) ended up being a "short-circuited core reward loop." 

Ever since its inception, Diablo 3's auction house has been accused of being just another example of "pay to win."  

It created a market that's become a cornerstone of the free to play revenue model with returns that would make a stock broker jealous.

But Diablo 3 wasn't free, in fact it was one of those "Triple-A" titles that was going to set you back at least $60.  Depending on your level of fandom that could go as high as $150 for the Collector's Edition.

That's a pretty high price of admission just to be treated like a Team Fortress 2 player. 

If a game is decent and comes without a price tag then chances are you're going to be asked to buy something along the way if you want more than just the basics.  There's nothing wrong with that but what if you've already paid upfront for the privilege? 

It's the classic argument against DLC.  Games like Battlefield 3, Borderlands and Crysis offer upgraded equipment, a raise in level caps and other advantages only paid DLC or upgrades can provide.  In some cases unbalancing the experience for those who choose to spend their money more wisely.

But what happened with Diablo 3 is something far worse. 

Intentional or not it's taken greed to the next level in the industry with the careless structuring of Diablo's auction system.   Even amongst the claims of it only being intended as a place for players to trade items, the reality was quite different. 

When you introduce a profit motive unrelated to the game itself, opportunists will be ready to fleece the faithful.  That's why Blizzard shut down the EBay sales and moved them into its own ecosystem.  What Blizzard didn't count on was rampant capitalism to turn on them.  When it became apparent that the game was rapidly becoming an arms race based on how much you could pay the faithful began to lose faith.

After all, why buy a DLC pack promising better items if they can be undercut by the unruly mobs of the auction house.  Gamers got wise and now Blizzard looks stupid.

The core problem is the mistaken belief that a publisher can treat a triple-A title as though it were a freemium offering like Plants Vs Zombies 2 or Simpson's Tap Out.  More to the point, that anyone would put up with it for long is an insult to everyone's intelligence.

But it's just a game right?  Of course it is but it seems like we never get what we're promised unless we keep paying.  Extras are fine but don't screw up the basics in the process guys.

It's like going to a movie and 10 minutes before it ends the lights go up and the ushers came around demanding another $10 to see the finale.   

Personally, I'm getting a little tired of games trying to have their own ecosystems.  If the extra content is that great then it either should have already been in the game or been put into a sequel. 

If a game needs all this periphery crap to be successful then maybe it isn't that good to start with.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Retro Gaming: Syndicate (1993)

Let's take a trip back to 1993 when cyborgs were all the rage and Windows 95 was still a rumor!

This is Bullfrog's Real Time Strategy game from 1993 called Syndicate.  Quite an accomplishment for a DOS game with mouse control and decent graphics for its time.


Friday, September 20, 2013

Linux, the future of gaming....Gabe says so!

1.52%              7.28%              91%

Numbers, that's all those are and by themselves meaningless.  So let's add some context.

1.52% is your number if the PC you're reading this on happens to be running Linux.  

7.28% if it's got "Mac" somewhere on its badge and 91 for pretty much everyone else in the world running some flavor of Windows made in the past 10 years.  

Oh yeah and 2.46% for you weird people still running BEOS and OS/2. 

So what?  Those numbers haven't changed much in the past decade or so.  But wait!  Ol' Gabe's at it again.  

This week at the 2013 LinuxCon  Valve chief Gabe Newell proclaimed that Linux is the "Future of Gaming!" among other things.

He bases his belief on what he deems closed and incompatible ecosystems across gaming platforms from the likes of Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo.  Linux will apparently put an end to all of that by embracing a more "open" and collaborative gaming experience.  "Blurring the line" between gamer and developer.

He also pointed to the release of the Steam Client for Linux in February this year and the 198 games currently available.  Exciting titles like "Euro Truck Simulator", "Towns" and a port of the now 4 year old zombie shooter "Left for Dead 2."  By the way, if you've got a version of Linux that isn't based on Ubuntu, good luck getting the client to work. 

Bemoaning the "friction" of getting his wares on traditional and mobile platforms was another barb hurled by Newell at the likes of Apple's App Store certification process.

Thing is, if Linux is the future of gaming in your living room, why does the platform have less market share than the "other" category of Desktop OS's? (1.52% to "other's" 2.46%)

Claiming that many of the world's game servers run Linux is one thing but actually playing a game on Linux is quite another.   Oh, and that whole thing about game servers running Linux?  A quick glance at Steam's own forums belies Newell's claims of greater stability and access.  Any regular user of Steam whose lost their saved games due to "cloud sync" can attest to that.

 Trying to make the platform more user friendly with the release of customized libraries, interaction with hardware developers and the eventual emergence of Steam branded hardware will help but there's still a problem.

It's that whole "open" thing. 

As distasteful as it may be for him to admit it, Newell will have to recreate a very Microsoft like ecosystem for his ambitions to bear fruit.  At some point to make Linux gaming commercially viable he'll have to tighten the reins to move things along.   Which means less democracy (aka Mob rule) and more tyranny in the eyes of the open source community.

It's the same problem that's plagued open source since its conception.  Everyone has a vote and if they don't like it they can go do something else.  That's fine but it also leads to a splintered platform with devotees to branches defending "their way" with an almost cultish fanaticism.   In the end it leaves users confused and weary.  The open source world has to face facts and stop developing for eachother and start taking "real" users into account.  Quite a hurdle for the APT-Get and RPM types.

That's why after 2 decades Linux is still not a player on the desktop.  It's also why Newell will have to step on a few toes to have any hope of Linux gaming even being a tertiary choice.

Thus  the world of Linux Gaming has largely been limited to minor titles and either emulated or buggy ports of Windows games.

The current offerings for Linux are primarily translated from other platforms like Windows or indie  wares that rarely rise above the level of a cult classic.  Being a game developer, Valve is certainly in a position to add content to the Linux platform but aside from a few hits like Half Life and Portal the company isn't exactly known for pumping out blockbusters on a regular basis.  Which is a big reason why you don't see many triple-A titles on the Linux side of Steam. 

Another reason?  Let's face it, Linux has less than 2% market share on the desktop.  Mobile platforms are hostile to Steam and the only chance of increasing market share for Linux gaming is to produce....what?

Of course, a gaming console.  One that will have to be as reigned in and locked down as any Xbox or Playstation.  One that cannot be just another homebrew PC running a weird Linux distro like MythTV. 

Warning Linux faithful, you may have a wolf in your midst.  The sad thing for you is that it may be your only chance to have a decent gaming experience.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Gaming Videos for everybody! Grid2 & X-wing

These are the latest Gaming Videos from my channel at:

The first is from the new DLC for Grid 2 called Demolotion Derby which is actually a carryover from the original Race Driver: Grid.

The Second is a trip back to 1994 to LucasArt's X-Wing courtesy of the latest (.74) version of DOSBox.  Even my USB joystick works and you get the MIDI music as well.  Quite a treat if you want to play a classic PC game without digging up old hardware.


Friday, September 13, 2013

Latest Borderlands 2 Golden Chest keys

With credit given to these are the latest Borderlands 2 Keys for PC, PS3 and Xbox

I verified them as of September 10th 2013 for the PC
Key Description          DATE              PC                                 PS3                              XBOX

Wayfarer Wizard (Gaige Head) Aug 14 CBKBJ-6ZJW6-HKH3T-B3T33-F5ZRSKTKTB-HTXFW-KK6CT-SB5JT-3R6XZKB53B-TH5BB-KBB5R-WXT33-6HR9R
G0ry Gh0ul (Zer0 Head) Aug 15 CT5BB-XTW5X-9CSBT-3BTTJ-FT5X55T5BT-ZKRRC-556WB-9TWJJ-ZXWWHKB53T-3T6JB-W3T5F-K6B33-Z9W5R
Elven Eliminator (Maya Head) Aug 16
The Beast Within (Salvador Head) Aug 18
@GearboxSoftware - 3 Keys Aug 24
Facebook - 3 Keys Aug 24
Ultimate Upgrade Pack - 5 Keys Sept 3
PAX Prime Shift Code - 3 Keys* Sept 3
PAX Prime Shift Code - 3 Keys* Sept 3
PAX Prime Shift Code - 3 Keys* Sept 3