Tag Archives: Valve

Steam Review-Bombing: Tech Companies’ Regulation With Tools Instead of Humans

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The brouhaha over how Valve has chosen to handle review-bombing on Steam looks like just another chapter in how tech companies are trying to solve human problems without humans.

I’m going to talk about Valve specifically in this post, but there are similarities to how people have reacted to chosen solutions for harassment from companies like Twitter or YouTube. All of them try to solve these problems with new tweaks, features, or AI to try to guide how people use their services. Continue reading

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The Necessary Decentralization Of Steam

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I’ve already done a couple posts about the way Valve handles what it lets onto Steam and how it manages the store, but Valve seems to want people to know some major changes are coming. I’m also still trying to figure out how I even view Steam as a store and a platform at this point. Continue reading

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Is The Xbox App More Of What Microsoft Should Be Doing?

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Maybe I’m really late on this one, but I haven’t really seen anybody talk much about the Xbox app in Windows 10. I only recently started using it a lot, and to be honest I’ve started booting up all my games through it more often than through the Steam client. Continue reading

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Steam Machines: What Actually Defines Success or Failure?

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The recent numbers Valve released for sales of the Steam Controller seem to include those that came with Steam Machines, which means from that one can infer total Steam Machine sales to be somewhere under half a million in seven months. It’s pretty easy to call that an abject failure of the Steam Machine initiative, but I have a question to ask about that:

A failure compared to what?

One of the biggest issues with Steam Machines has been public perception of the idea. I think a lot of people have shown a huge misunderstanding of what Valve’s intentions even were with Steam Machines. Maybe part of that is on Valve since its messaging with them was never crystal clear or very loud. In any case, I always thought comparing Steam Machines to consoles in terms of numbers and even audience to be a grave mistake. Continue reading

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A Little Bit On Secondhand PC Game Keys

A story that’s going around a little bit right now centers on some stores that focus on reselling activation keys for some PC games without any of the money going back to developers. It’s basically like the used game conundrum but for PC games. There also questions of how the stores obtained the keys. This is actually a subject (or is at least related to a subject) I wanted to write a paid feature about for a while now, but it just never got off the ground. I think here I can at least talk a little bit real quick on what I discovered about second hand keys for people who still don’t know. Continue reading

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Valve’s For-Pay Mods Will Be Back. Just Look At How Valve Operates

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I don’t think anyone happy or disappointed with Valve’s decision to remove Skyrim’s paid mods should expect them to be gone forever. Discussions and think pieces are already suggesting Valve will try again in some form later on. It’s just a matter of how the company plans to do it. We can probably already make some guesses based on how Valve has introduced Steam features in the past. Continue reading

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Why Do People Dislike Origin And UPlay?

It’s pretty obvious at this point that Steam is the most popular distribution client of PC gaming, but from time to time you hear concerns about how ubiquitous it’s become at the expense of competing clients. Every once in a while I also have experiences that remind me just why most people would rather get their games on Steam than anywhere else on PC.

The two most notable direct competitors are Origin and UPlay, from big game publishers EA and Ubisoft respectively. A lot of people dislike those clients and others wonder why. The most straightforward reason is that Steam is far more feature-rich as Valve has been at it for far longer than the other two companies, which I guess isn’t fair to them. EA and Ubisoft have every right to compete with Valve, but if they’re going to do that they have to actually compete. Let me go through some recent experiences I’ve had installing games outside Steam.

After downloading Splinter Cell Blacklist from UPlay (which came free with my graphics card last year), I had to then install the game as a separate process. After that, upon booting the game an auto-patcher showed up and had to download the 1GB 1.0.1 patch. Then because of an error with that particular game I had to separately download and install the 1.0.2 patch from the web like I was back in the FileShack era. It’s as if UPlay simply downloaded the retail setup files instead of how Steam automatically installs the latest build of a game.

A lot of people have had problems with Origin but it actually isn’t quite that bad. It at least auto-installs and auto-patches games (even if the auto-patching happens after installation). Origin just doesn’t really do anything that Steam doesn’t.

One feature of Steam I really hope Origin and UPlay one day adopt is a backup utility. Some of the games I’ve recently downloaded are around 20GB each. I can tell Steam to backup an installed game on a disc or hard drive so I never have to download the whole game again. It’ll even split the files up to fit on DVDs or CDs. It’s technically possible to do this with Origin and UPlay games, but requires some trickery.

I think a big part of the difference between Steam, Origin, and UPlay is the original reason each one was made.

Steam is mostly known today as a store, but Valve originally designed it as an auto-installer and auto-patcher. That’s why today the process of acquiring and playing a game on Steam is pretty much just buy-download-and-play. It’s far easier than installing a retail disc which is why I’ve actually re-bought games on Steam on occasion.

UPlay on the other hand was originally a rewards and loyalty program for Ubisoft games, then a DRM program, then a store. That’s why the actual process of installing a game from UPlay seems like an afterthought compared to its other features. Again, Origin is at least sort of okay in comparison, but it doesn’t really have any advantages against Steam either. And that’s what other stores are going to need to compete — unique advantages.

The only reason most people install Origin is for exclusive games like Titanfall and Battlefield 4. The only reason most people install UPlay is because it comes with some of the games they buy on Steam or got for free with a GPU. How many people actually go out of their way to buy games on Origin or UPlay that are also available on Steam? I’ll admit Origin has had decent sales in the past. I got a half-off copy of Tomb Raider there a few weeks after that game came out, but only because it was a Steam key.

UPlay probably has some potential if it could leverage its loyalty program more aggressively. Give people opportunities to spend UPlay points, and maybe attach UPlay points to non-Ubisoft games. Just look at how far Valve has come with the Steam Market. EA set up a roadmap for Origin features back in 2011 with interesting things on it but it’s about two years behind that schedule. Right now I see EA and Ubisoft as stagnant in those areas though, likely because their PC game clients don’t occupy their entire business.

An example of a good competitor would probably be GoodOldGames. For starters GOG doesn’t compete 100% directly with Steam, instead carving out its niche of DRM-free classic and indie games and getting them to run well on modern operating systems.  Then there are the digital extras that come with every GOG game. To be fair, I also haven’t had problems with GameFly’s PC download app (which has some games that aren’t on Steam).

It is pretty impressive how quickly Steam has pulled so far ahead of its competition, but in my opinion a lot of that is because of how slow some of that competition has been.

BULLETS:

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The Steam Controller VS Console Controllers

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Watching Valve’s better-late-than-never demonstration of its controller made me realize something about a fundamental split between different kinds of games and how they’ve been effected by control inputs. I started wondering if major changes need to happen on the console side as well as on Valve’s end.

We know Valve’s controller was primarily built for PC games. That means certain genres like strategy games, but what hit me was how well this controller seems to work for shooters — better even than a traditional console pad.

The player’s performance in that video in Counter-Strike Golbal Offensive looked nearly perfect — better than a newcomer to the game like me is with a keyboard and mouse, and probably better than what you see most of the time with analog sticks. More importantly, they did that even with a controller that has extremely odd face button placement. The face button placement has been one of the biggest concerns with Valve’s controller, but it doesn’t really seem to matter for shooters. In fact it might be one of the things that improves the controller’s performance with shooters.

Console game design has historically been centered around use of the face buttons, but shooters, at least first person shooters, probably prioritize the right stick and shoulder buttons more. There are specialized FPS controllers that even prioritize them over the face buttons. This is essentially what Valve’s controller does, and it makes sense because despite FPSs being more popular on consoles now, they still originated on the PC.

For a look in how this affects gameplay just look at the Xbox 360 control scheme for Call of Duty Black Ops II. Any function mapped to a face button, particularly reloading and switching weapons, can’t be done while using the right stick to aim. The same goes for selecting items with the D pad while moving with the left stick unless you do some thumb gymnastics. I hear there are COD gamers who actually use modded controllers to change this and get an advantage. And of course you can do those things on PC because on a keyboard all functions except look, firing, iron sights, and grenades, are accessible with one hand. On Valve’s controller however, one could map some of those functions to the left face buttons or even the extra buttons on the underside of the controller, changing the experience. On top of the supposedly superior aiming of the touch pad, this theoretically make’s Valve’s controller the best official controller for FPSs.

If shooters are so popular on consoles, wouldn’t that make it reasonable to start taking a hard look at how controllers are designed with them in mind? The current format of a console controller came about largely because of Nintendo’s influences. The D pad and face button layout was made to accommodate 2D games with a single analog stick added for 3D movement in traditionally console genres like platformers and brawlers. Shooters eschew this, and influence in console gaming has shifted from Nintendo.

On the flipside though, you also have to consider Valve’s controller in relation to games on Steam made for console-oriented genres. The face button placement still worries me when it comes to platformers like Super Meat Boy, or fighting games, or other games that were essentially brought over from the console world. These kinds of games are becoming increasingly common on Steam, and right now I feel like if I got Valve’s controller I’d be switching back and forth between it and a standard 360 pad.

Valve is still tweaking the controller, but I honestly don’t know how they can compromise while keeping the trackpad-centric design. Maybe add a couple more buttons to the underside of the controller to make up for the face button placement. I know the right trackpad can be mapped to replace face buttons, but it wouldn’t be quite right. I also have no idea how Valve can shimmy the D pad on there, and one of the things I’ve wanted for a long time is a good D pad for PC games.

Still, I’m anticipating Valve’s controller for one big reason: instead of trying to make developers conform to a standard like the 360 pad’s Xinput, Valve basically just made a controller that’s really good at mimicking a mouse and keyboard, which automatically makes it compatible with all PC games to a certain extent. I think that’s a major step up.

BULLETS:

  • Ikaruga coming to Steam. http://t.co/RKXByxLSzW
  • Apparently UK PSN has Siren Blood Curse for £6. https://t.co/Oo4FXSiimN
  • Kill la Kill is every American stereotype about anime distilled into one anime. It is exactly what average Americans think anime is.
  • If anyone else took advantage of the Resident Evil 6 Steam deal, remember to read the “real” manual for the game. http://t.co/Dj3LjgbLod
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So I Installed Garry’s Mod. Now What?

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If Steam’s trading cards have accomplished one thing, they’ve gotten me to actually install and boot up some of the games on my backlog. One of those has been Garry’s Mod, which I surprisingly only just bought this year. I’m still not sure what I’m going to do with it.

The thing is, I’m not really too keen on what I’d call “total sandbox” games. I used to love making my own fun within the constraints of conventional games, but for some reason I can’t really bring myself to do anything in games designed explicitly for me to make my own fun. This is exactly why I haven’t gotten into Minecraft.

The thing that finally prompted me to buy Garry’s Mod was the recent creation for it, “gmDOOM” which basically let’s me play through Half-Life 2 with weapons from DOOM and DOOM II. And that’s basically what I’ve done with Garry’s Mod.

Going through Valve’s superb level design with the feel of id Software’s excellently-balanced guns is a refreshing experience. Having to fight Combine soldiers with the Super Shotgun, use conventional rockets against gunsihps, and kill striders with the BFG9000 adds legit new challenges to the game.

After doing that I tried to look up some other mods and noticed the prominence of “Trouble in Terrorist Town,” which is apparently the reason people boot up Garry’s Mod these days. See, I don’t really get into too many multiplayer games, not when dominant ones already exist in my life. The only multiplayer Source engine mod I’ve come back to more than once is NeoTokyo, but multiplayer seems like almost all there is with Garry’s Mod outside of character skins. I don’t really mess around with posing characters together either.

Eventually I just found another mod that let me play through HL2 again but with all the weapons from Counter-Strike Source. I enjoyed it a lot because the weapons felt great in their own way and sounded far more powerful than HL2’s default arsenal.

I’ve tried spawning vehicles and other things into one of the blank sandboxes but I guess I just don’t have the right imagination to do much with that kind of thing. I need a little bit more structure. Garry’s Mod is probably still immensely valuable as a tool or a toy from which you can get potentially endless fun, especially for the price of $10.

BULLETS:

  • The last time I “made my own fun” in a game was probably the super sledge cheat in Red Faction Guerrilla. That one cheat is the main reason I still don’t plan to ever uninstall the game.
  • An amazing video tour of Venezuela’s infamous skyscraper-turned-slum wapo.st/11zUqpK
  • Here’s why the convergence of anime movies and U.S. jobs data often spells market volatility: on.wsj.com/17WOrwh
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My Attempts to Learn DOTA 2, Part Two

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Last time when I talked about DOTA 2 I more or less went into where it falls among online multiplayer games and their learning curve. I didn’t really talk about my own actual efforts to learn how to play the game.

I may have noted this a bit last time, but a big reason DOTA 2 is so challenging for me in particular is because I have played basically none of the games it’s related to, the closest thing being the original StarCraft back in the 90’s (that being an analogue to Warcraft, from which the original DOTA was modded). I’ve never seen a competitive action RPG rigged up within the mechanics of a real-time strategy game before. Trying to make heads or tails of DOTA 2 from that perspective has led me to look at it as something resembling the mental portion of a fighting game — the one kind of multiplayer game I understand most of all, combined with the cooperative aspect of something like Team Fortress… or something like that.

Even after I figured out which button does what, while trying to learn what the heck to do when you encounter an enemy player (read: bot, I haven’t actually played DOTA 2 online yet), I started thinking about it in terms of spacing and a perpetual search for holes in the opponent’s defense while maintaining your own. Fighters are more or less about waiting for your opponent to choke first and take advantage of that. In the few DOTA 2 bot matches I’ve played I’ve gotten a couple points by finally learning to stay behind friendly creeps and waiting for the CPU to over-commit.

Still, this ignores the most major difference with DOTA — teamwork.

I make the Team Fortress comparison because fighters are one-on-one and TF is pretty much the only shooter I’ve played where every mode basically requires a team to communicate and synchronize in order to get anything done at all. This also makes games like DOTA rare in how little you can really do in games with the CPU. You can hone the basic mechanics and have a lot of fun playing against the CPU in fighting games and most shooters, but any mode in DOTA without teammates really is just a practice pen.

For me right now one of the hardest hurdles to get over in DOTA is the whole escalation system — leveling up within each match. It started to remind me of why I don’t touch multiplayer real-time strategy games — knowing that if I haven’t built certain structures with certain weapons by a certain number of seconds into the game, I’ve already lost. Being at level 8 towards the end of a DOTA game where everyone else is at level 18 gives me a similar feeling. It’s this that also makes death especially punishing in this game since not only is there a countdown to respawn, but you potentially miss out on vital experience points, possibly making death a permanent setback.

Playing with bots means I can at best only react to what the rest of my team is doing and where they’re going, and I learned the hard way that DOTA is a game where you really can’t do anything on your own. This is probably why Valve put in the “co-op with bots” mode, like another step up from just purely playing with bots.

I still think that the very fact that learning how to play DOTA 2 requires you to read and watch so much material outside the game itself makes it possibly the most inaccessible non-simulation game ever. That’s not even counting the game’s own multiple tutorial steps like the incomplete quest mode, singleplayer bot mode, and co-op bot mode, as well as its 100 playable characters. I could not imagine a fighting game with 100 characters.

BULLETS:

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