Tag Archive: PC

Wildmax's valve console concept from Polycount

Wildmax’s valve console concept from Polycount, just for fun

So it was announced that Valve will be working on creating their own living room PC – a ‘steam box’ for under the telly.  There’s all sorts of theories out there about it and here’s my own to add to the noise:

This will be a PC-console second, and a cloud-gaming-device first.

Locked Hardware vs. Console Cycle

Consider how limiting and how annoying it is to be tied to the console generation cycle – a cycle that PC owners have thumbed their noses at for decades.  A console is locked hardware – and thus simpler to develop for in some ways than the multitude of different PC configurations out there.  Having a ‘locked’ PC would bring what was a moving target, back into something easier to work with.

So a locked down PC console makes a lot of sense – it will be the easiest to develop for!  It’s got all the ease of developing for the most well known, most openly discussed, least proprietary development environment in the world – coupled with not having to check compatibility with a dozen graphics cards, processors, sound cards and all their permutations.

Cloud vs. Hardware Upgrades

All well and good – but would Valve want to get into the endless race of creating new hardware boxes?  Doesn’t it seem like a business strategy out of step with such a PC-focused company?  Instead, I propose that Valve’s console will be, out of the box, a ‘cloud gaming’ device, prepared to offer as much of your gaming experience via the cloud as your internet connection can handle.

Instead of having to regularly upgrade your console to get better graphics and the next big upgrade in memory and disk-read-speed – instead Valve will be upgrading their cloud hardware, and users will be naturally upgrading their internet connections.  That same connection that enables their Netflix habit, or their Skype chats, will seamlessly improve their gaming experience.

Of course, out of the box, the Valve PC will be a competent PC-console that will be able to play a great many games (no doubt using Big Picture Mode – introduced now so developers can get used to it) but I suspect that’s just the foot in the door.

Cloud Gaming Problems

Of course, cloud-gaming is not without its issues.  It requires some serious bandwidth and hardware on the cloud end of things – something that Valve has been getting used to with Steam.  A few companies made a splash last year with cloud-gaming offerings – then disappearing without much of a to do.  OnLive mysteriously bought itself out, firing most of its staff in the process, while Gaikai was bought out by Sony – an action that won’t have been missed by the big players.

Valve’s no stranger to muscling in to a lightly-tested water, and then just toughing it out until everyone loves them – Steam used to be a dirty word, after all.  But here’s the dream:

The Dream

Everyone and their cousin have their Steam Box under the television – it’s been sat there, quietly whirring away, for years now, except for that one time it was sent for simple refurbishment.  Jenny Random finishes watching the latest episode of something on Netflix, and changes channel to Steam – Big Picture sat there waiting for her.  She picks up the wireless controller and flicks around for a new game to play – finds one and pays for it.  There’s a brief blip of confirmation, and she can start gaming immediately – on the cloud.

The graphics look amazing – she upgraded her internet connection last week (yay for Google fiber!) and the little Steam-box, talking to the Steam Cloud, have detected that and ramped up the settings on all her cloud games to match.  No hardware upgrade needed on her end – it’s all seamless – whatever her internet pipe can handle, Steam will give her.

Imagine you’re in the world of Guild Wars 2 – the Shiverpeak Mountains in particular.  It’s cold; a perpetual winter, where even the warmest parts of the landscape are barely above 0°C, birch trees and fir trees dominate a landscape peppered with shaggy bears and fantasy beasts of burden of massive size and thick dense pelts.  Nearby, the lakes are frozen solid to a depth of 10m or more, the hills are covered with thick packed snow, and the homes of the Norn have extremely pointed roofs and gigantic fireplaces.  This place is COLD.

Now, skip the video above ahead to 3:33 to see the default armor types for the 8 different Norn female classes.  Remember – it’s bitterly cold.

I picked the Engineer class.  Can’t imagine why, can you?

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Here’s a quick video tutorial on how to build an NPC house in Terraria.  The game itself doesn’t offer much help in this respect, and I noticed a few people searching for some tips.  Personally, I love embellishing the houses to be more specific to the NPC who occupies them, but the video will get you the basics.  More tips, mostly for decorating, follow:

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Terraria videogame screen shot - showing player made tree village, merchant, helper and nurse.

Player-Made Forest Village with NPC Housing in Terraria

[Updated post with a video tutorial and more decorating tips, here!]

Recently, I’ve been playing a lot of Terraria – a lovely little 2d side scrolling game where you fight monsters, build homes for NPCs, mine for ores and treasure, and explore from the top of the skies to the depths of hell.  It’s just one of the batch in a relatively recent revival of interest in games with mining and building – from the insanely brilliant (and insanely inaccessible) Dwarf Fortress, to the breakout hit, Minecraft (with Infiniminer before it), and now Terraria.  Each one takes a different graphical approach, but each one has you stepping into an uncaring, unknown, wilderness with just a few meager tools with which to bootstrap yourself to self-sufficiency.

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I admit; I’m terrible at chess, so I find it somewhat peculiar that I have a love of, and some small amount of skill in, top-down, turn-based, strategy games like XCOM and Valkyria Chronicles.  While the royal game has me getting lost in permutations, games like Frozen Synapse have me bluffing and double-bluffing my opponents like Sun Tzu himself.

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Alpha Centauri, by discurrere on DeviantArt

Discurrere's photograph, "Alpha Centauri"

Sometimes I crave a game experience that no-one seems to offer anymore.  Sometimes, it’s not the hero’s journey writ in space marines, treasure hunters or modern soldiers that I want – it’s not even caring for a farm, organizing a mafia, or matching three gems that calls me.  No, sometimes, I want to transcend from the human condition, wrestling with morality decisions that have no right answer, with the ultimate goal of throwing off my petty concerns for flesh, self or identity and elevating the entirity of humanity to something far greater than it can possibly imagine.

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