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The mighty Gaben has spoken! Over the better part of a week the gaming world waited with baited breath to see what Valve had up its sleeve. Rumors had been floating around for years about some secret project deep within the Valve offices that would change gaming forever, and three cryptic announcements whipped the press and gamers into a frenzy of speculation. Is it the fabled Steambox? Would it be a new revision of the Source engine? Maybe, just maybe, it’s finally Half-Life 3!
The real announcement was, in many ways, much more radical than any of the above. SteamOS, a freely available open source gaming operating system developed out of Linux, is meant to be the computer gaming platform of the future. Coded specifically to make maximum use of gaming hardware and provide an environment tailored specifically for gaming needs, SteamOS isn’t just the software on a proprietary Steambox, but an OS anyone can install on their custom rigs.
It is tailored towards bringing gaming away from the desk and into the living room, but this is a transition that PC gaming has been making over the past few years on its own. The OS is to have tailored made features to make PC gaming more directly communal, allowing family sharing features, the ability to access other media such as music and movies, and stream games only compatible from other operating systems from your old setup onto SteamOS device. This last option also opens up the ability for gamers to build a cheaper lightweight machine and simply stream gaming from a more powerful computer over the local area network.
You’ll be able to get your hands on SteamOS for free and build your own machine around it, but there will be premade options available preinstalled with the operating system. These Steam Machines will come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and a beta model will be available to a select few after October 25th.
The final announcement concerned the most radical of the three. A console style controller designed around being able to play traditional keyboard and mouse games. With two dual trackpads, it mimics the precision of a high quality gaming mouse with full x and y access control. Combined with a brand new haptic feedback technology that dynamically gives your thumbs the “feel” of a physical button layout across the trackpads using weighted electro-magnets, this controller looks nothing like any other gaming controller ever made.
As a bonus to the way it gives haptic feedback, the trackpads can also be used as a small stereo speaker set. In the middle is a full blown touchscreen with game specific functionality as well as OS specific functions, four face buttons, two bumper buttons with two triggers behind them, and two buttons in the back of the grips for maximum ergonomic potential. On top of this, the controller can be seen as a traditional keyboard and mouse and custom bound so that all older PC games within the steam library can use the setup and, like SteamOS, is fully open for hacking and modding by the community at large.
SteamOS and its peripheral are poised to forever change PC gaming. In some ways it “consolizes” PC gaming, but any many more ways it brings the openness of PC gaming to the console environment. You aren’t locked into a specific device, and you are free to build your own machine and tinker around with all if its software and hardware bits, even the special controller! Change can be scary, but perhaps Gabe has shown us a new way… and in his light we shall all prosper.