Since my last update two great features have been added to the Steam Hardware beta which improve the overall experience. Steam Music and the long-awaited in-home streaming. At first I couldn’t find much a use for in-home streaming as most of the games I play on Steam are cross-platform compatible. However after a few patches support was added for streaming non-Steam games, including those which use launchers. This opens the door to games from developers such as Blizzard who create popular titles like Hearthstone, WoW and Diablo which all use the Battle.net launcher.
Wireless adapter which came with the Steam Machine.
I decided to give Diablo 3 a try wirelessly to see how it performs in preparation for the upcoming expansion. I had a few issues at first getting everything working as games with launchers can be a little awkward to setup with the in-home streaming feature. I had to keep going back and fourth to make sure the game was running on the computer in Big Picture mode before selecting stream on the Steam Machine otherwise it wouldn’t show up. It worked relatively well once I worked out the kinks, however with my router sitting roughly 20ft away between three walls there is some noticeable latency due to obstruction and distance. Without taking a look at my router settings I was streaming Diablo 3 at 1920 x 1080 at around 30ms average, although I’d frequently get spikes bringing it to anywhere between 90 and 200ms. It’s not ideal and I’m still investigating solutions to try to make things smoother.
Reaper of Souls time! Almost…
I feel Steam Music is a step in the right direction for inclusive SteamOS entertainment. The feature is very early beta and has a lot of room for potential. I would love to see support for popular licensed online radio stations such as Digitally Imported and BBC Radio 1. It would also be nice to be able to link your iTunes and Google Music library over your network allowing you to stream music from your home computer to the Steam Machine without being in an existing game streaming session.
SteamOS seems to be steadily progressing and I’m excited to see these two features be expanded upon in the coming months. If you’re interested in learning more about the Steam Music feature checkout the guide I created below.
Nobody has ever sat me down and said “James, this is how you hold a lead”. They shouldn’t have to because it’s common sense. Well apparently common sense doesn’t apply to me. The other day my Springer Spaniel-Lab mix, Magnus, managed to fracture my knuckle. How? Well apparently I wasn’t holding the lead correctly.
I was walking Magnus when I got distracted talking to somebody. Magnus saw another dog and charged at full force towards it. Before I could react I lost grip of the lead and the only finger left in the loop took the full force of the pull. The bone cracking sound I heard will most likely haunt me for the rest of my life.
It’s pretty easy to tell which finger is having problems.
The bone fractured through the knuckle, resulting in me needing surgery due to the fact that I couldn’t move it at all. I had to have multiple permanent screws placed into the bone so I’m now partially metallic, which is kind of cool.
Hes too cute to be mad at.
So let that be a lesson to all of you inexperienced dog owners. Hold the lead correctly or your finger could end up like mine.
It’s been just over a month since I received the prototype Steam Machine from Valve.
In my first update I talked about the Steam Controller and my initial struggles with it. I’ve been using the controller rather frequently and I have certainly improved with it over time. I’ve found that typing with the daisywheel is now going a lot faster and general navigation comes more naturally to me. It still takes me quite some time to configure the controller for every game I play, however now that developers have their own Steam Controllers from Steam Dev Days it’s only a matter of time until titles start to have proper support for it.
Prototype Steam Controller.
After reading reports from Steam Dev Days I’m excited to see what the future holds for the controller. The second prototype looks promising and seems like a big improvement over the current model. I’ve also heard talk of more customization options being opened up as time goes on which will help a lot. The biggest problem I’m having with the Steam Controller right now is playing competitive FPS games such as Counter-Strike and Team Fortress 2. Seeing as the Steam Controller sits within the world of PC gaming I find it frustrating playing these types of games against people with a keyboard and mouse. It makes me want to return to my desktop whenever I fail in a situation I would have usually found trivial. This is more of a personal problem as opposed to an issue with the device although I’m sure other people will share a similar view at first.
The Steam Machine itself has been great. I’ve reported a number of bugs and SteamOS is frequently getting updated showing improvements all the time. The machine has become a lot more attractive to use since in-home streaming is now an option. Steam has a large library of Linux titles but some of the more popular single player games are Windows only. I’ve had minimal issues with the in-home streaming and it works great even over wireless. I really like that they give you the option of streaming non-steam games also, making it possible to play games such as Diablo 3 or World of Warcraft from your sofa.
Front of the prototype Steam Machine.
Testing continues as usual and I hope to share more content in the coming months as more functionality is added to both SteamOS and the controller. If you’re interested I did an interview with KritzKast on my experiences with the beta and I have also written two Steam guides which give you insight on customizing the Steam Controller binds and getting started with the SteamOS beta.
Most PC gamers use some form of external software to communicate with friends while they game. Some popular examples of this would be Mumble, Teamspeak and Ventrilo. If the idea of the Steam Machine is to make PC gaming more accessible in the living room I can imagine there being a demand for this type of software.
So the question is what does SteamOS use? SteamOS has a built in voice chat function available to anybody using any form of the Steam client. While this option is convenient it has some drawbacks. Steam voice chat suffers from poor audio quality and unlike people using the Steam client you’re unable to join or invite multiple users to a group chat session. It also suffers from quite a bit of latency compared to the more popular options.
So the question that a lot of people have been asking is can you install third-party voice chat software? I’ve been using Mumble for years so I decided to give it a go. After reading through some documentation and knowing that SteamOS is built on Debian, I thought I could just run this single command in the terminal and be done.
sudo apt-get install mumble
Of course it was not that easy. The terminal told me it couldn’t find the package and I was going to call it a day until I came across this thread on the Steam forums. After spending some time typing commands into the terminal and editing configurations I had successfully added the Debian repository and I was now able to install Mumble using the previously used command. This was tricky, and for somebody who is inexperienced with Linux it was rather daunting.
After a reboot of the Steam Machine my USB microphone was detected and I was able to access a Mumble server. The microphone sounded great and everything was going well.
If it wasn’t for my friend Robert Butler I probably couldn’t have got this working.
I like to use Push-to-Talk when using Mumble, so I assigned a shortcut key with the initial thought that I could bind a controller button to that key to activate Mumble in-game. Once everything was setup I exited the desktop and returned to the SteamOS main menu. It turns out inputs sent from the SteamOS interface to the desktop side don’t register, meaning you’re unable to activate Push-to-Talk. The only workaround to this is using voice activation or open mic which is not practical for a living room environment. I tried testing this from the main menu, with a keyboard instead of the controller, and while playing a game. I had no luck despite my best efforts.
The bottom line is yes, you can install third-party voice chat software. It’s not easy to do right now and there are issues, but it’s a beta for a reason. I feel there needs to be a lot of improvement in this area before release in regards to making it easier to obtain and use for the average user. Considering that Steam is one of the largest digital distributors in the world I have faith that some form of solution for this will eventually come. It would be nice to see more free software like Mumble come to Steam and a way for the two to co-exist simultaneously on SteamOS.
Can you successfully play Dota 2 with the Steam Controller? I get asked this a lot and I’m convinced the answer is yes. I think it would take a lot of time to get decent with it, but I certainly think it’s an option for a casual player. I don’t believe you could or should substitute your mouse and keyboard if you want to play competitively though.
I’ve been determined to come up with a playable controller configuration. I have been casually playing Wraith-Night since I got the Steam Machine and I think I’ve found a combination that works quite well. With the expected release of custom game modes in Dota 2 I think the Steam Controller could be a popular choice for these types of matches.
If the video wasn’t enough you can view my bind map below. If you’re in possession of a Steam Controller you can search for “Jimo’s Experimental Dota 2 Binds” by navigating the community bind list. Feel free to use my map as a base to build and publish your own.
Jimo’s Experimental Dota 2 Binds
On the right pad I’ve chosen to use a dead zone of 30% which allows me to comfortably rest my thumb in the centre of the pad. I’ve also set the outer ring modifier to shift which allows me to queue movements and abilities.
Right controller pad.
For the left pad I’ve set the input mode to 4-way directional with blending turned on, this allows me to make diagonal movements with the camera. I’ve also set a double click function that centres the camera on my hero. The reason I chose double click is due to how many times I accidently clicked the button while moving my camera around.
Left controller pad.
I’ve put together a gameplay video of me playing Wraith-Night with the Steam Controller on normal difficulty. The video only goes up to round seven as my memory card couldn’t hold anymore space. In the video you’ll be able to tell that I struggled to react quickly to certain situations and I also made a fair number of newbie mistakes. I believe most of my struggles come down to the fact that I’m still relatively new to the Steam Controller, and making the jump from a mouse and keyboard is difficult at first.
I feel that once some more configuration options for the controller are opened up it will only make things better. The cursor sensitivity is my biggest issue as Dota 2 doesn’t allow you to adjust it within the in-game settings. If I was able to adjust it I think things would go much more smoothly.
I haven’t been brave enough yet to try out the configuration in a regular match, but once I do I’ll be sure to update. If you have any questions or requests please let me know in the comments box below.
One of the most important things to consider when configuring the Steam Controller is the sensitivity. There is no way to adjust sensitivity through the default SteamOS interface in the current build. It must be changed within the settings menu of each individual game, which can be a problem if the game doesn’t have it as an option.
Because of the way the Steam Controller simulates a mouse it can be rather sluggish if the mouse sensitivity is left at the default values. In the videos listed below I’ll demonstrate how adjusting the mouse sensitivity affects my gameplay in Portal 2. I’ve also screenshot my controller binds so you know which button does what.
These binds are a slightly modified version of the defaults.
Like most games, the mouse sensitivity slider in Portal 2 starts off at around 50%. I’ve read a lot of comments on the Steam Controller where people believe their thumbs could become fatigued from too much use of it. In the first video you’ll see that it takes me several swipes over the pad to move the gun around and it does feel tiresome after a while. For a lot of FPS games this setup is very impractical and doesn’t allow for quick reactions.
I wanted to test the opposite so in the next video I cranked the sensitivity slider to 100%. This was far too sensitive and you can even see twitch-like movements on the screen due to my thumb slightly shaking over the pad. I can see some situations where this might be useful, but for me personally I felt having it so sensitive was more of a hinderance.
In the final configuration I set the slider to around 75%. This is definitely my preferred setup, it gives you enough mobility and allows you make precise movements. I’ve tested a similar level of sensitivity on a lot of different games now and I feel that this works best for me.
Adjusting the sensitivity can make all the different to your gameplay. In future builds of SteamOS it would be great to see an overall sensitivity setting or a slider on the controller configuration page which allows you to set your preferred level for the specific game. To a lot of people it might not make sense to adjust the mouse sensitivity as it’s a controller, and not a mouse.
If you’d like to play any of the Portal 2 test chambers shown in this post they can be downloaded from the Steam Workshop.