Gamers, rejoice. With Valve teasing the imminent announcement of their PC/console hybrid aptly called the Steam Box, a mysterious website with a timer appeared. And with the timer ending, it led to the announcement of the Steam Operating System (OS). The OS itself is a combination of Steam’s current platform and Linux.
As the new generation of consoles inches its way ever closer, that gaming industry seems to be taking a significantly more advanced approach in bringing us the games we want to play. Today, companies are focusing on the possibility of cloud computing and live games streaming, with initiatives such as Nvidia Shield and Gaikai being developed for these specific purposes. The PlayStation 4 also claims to support this feature by allowing players to gain access to their favorite titles from previous generation consoles without natively running them, thanks to their new PlayStation Cloud service. With so much talk about this new niche of gaming, it came as little surprise when the digital distribution service Steam threw their hat in the ring and decided to unveil their new services specifically tailored to the gaming community’s needs.
Steam announced that it was working on the next generation of gaming consoles, and followed it up with three major announcements. The first of these was the unveiling of the Steam OS, brand-new operating system currently in development at Valve headquarters. The Steam OS is touted as an operating system designed specifically for gamers, ale to incorporate multiple features that gamers require while providing tight integration with the hardware and software of a given machine. Based on a modified version of the Linux kernel, the OS would have all the basic functions of other operating systems, and needless to say, would provide users with access to Steam’s extensive catalogue of games that can be perused, Players would be able to steam their game content already installed on a Windows, Mac or Linux computer to one that is running Steam OS, and would allow for home sharing as well as Steam’s upcoming Family Sharing model.
The OS is being built around the concept of living room computing, which means that the interface will be simplistic and well structured, highly intuitive and easily accessible to players, much like the Steam Bid Picture feature. More importantly, the announcement for the new OS also stated that its source code would be open to all, allowing developers to customize all aspects of it and tailor it to their own liking. The OS will be completely free for users to download to their computers if they so desire, making it possible to have a dual-boot system that houses Steam OS as a secondary operating environment. The news of the announcement has been welcomed with praise by the community, and numerous publishers have pledged their support for the system.
The announcements from Steam didn't stop there however, as the next unveiling introduced the world to the Steam Machines program. Valve has stated that it was designing hardware systems that would be capable of running its new OS and will fit into the living room environment to provide access to Steam’s wealth of software, from the comfort of your couch. The program was stated to contain somewhere close to 300 prototype systems, each with their own varying specifications, that would be shipped to special candidates who had enrolled in the beta program to test them out. Once mass-consumer testing is completed, Steam would then begin to release the systems commercially, and would partner up with manufacturers to create a line of machines for mass-market penetration. The systems designed require a minimum criteria of specifications to be fulfilled, which include certain CPU and GPU models, RAM, hard disk drives and power ratings. Machines can be bought reconfigured from vendors, or can be assembled and customized by consumers to suit their individual requirements and needs, and all devices will support modifications. Packaged with the systems will be the third surprise that Valve unveiled a few days later, the Steam Controller.
Designed to support each and every game from within its vast catalogue, the Steam Controller breaks tradition by introducing two clickable track pads, in place of the standard analogue sticks – to allow for precise movement and control. Each trackpad will measure the intensity and force of the input, with three different levels of measurement, and will also allow for haptic feedback to relay information to the user. The controller also sports sixteen buttons and a high resolution touch screen right in the middle to simulate mouse movement, and is designed to work with the Steam OS as well as the Steam application on other operating systems. The philosophy behind the controllers is to allow players who are accustomed to the precision and finesse of a keyboard/mouse setup to play their games with ease without sacrificing control or utility. The systems are expected to arrive in the market sometime in 2014.
By introducing the Steam OS and moving forward with its hardware solutions, Steam looks to become the most preferred system of choice for most gamers the world over. Accessing your saved games from your friend’s machine should not be a hassle any more, and the same experience that was once confined to swivel chairs can now be taken to your comfortable living couch. We have a major contender in the market as the eighth generation of video game consoles draws near to release, and if Valve has something to say about it, it looks to be a very successful venture indeed.