So as many of you are aware I’ve been following the whole SteamOS / Steam Machine initiative and while I’m still some what hesitant about certain aspects of it I love the concept and had wished that I had been selected to receive an official Steam Machine beta from Valve. Sadly I didn’t but I didn’t let that get me down especially since I happen to build my own custom gaming PC’s for myself as well as for other gamers. So with my knowledge at hand I went ahead (Finally!) and built my own Steam Machine that allows me to boot directly into SteamOS and Windows 7 running Steam on start-up in Big Picture mode. For those interested in building their own Steam Machine be sure to check out my build I did for the site last week, it’s basically the same machine with a few differences such as 16GB of ram, Windows 7 (as the local PC shop was out of Windows 8 licenses and it was a weekend) and a MSI 750 Ti OC that I picked up for way below cost thanks to someone who returned it.
So how did it go?
In a word, as expected. From reason the forums I knew there were issues and well this is still a beta, but it worked well enough. I was able to run several games from my main PC over to the SteamOS enabled machine and since I was only 5 rooms down I didn’t notice any lag or latency issues. Sadly the issues I did encounter will deal breakers such as not being able to stream several games that were just released onto Steam, namely Strider, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 and Hawken. When I attempted to steam any of these games the system would start to steam and then simply black screen although I could hear the sounds in the background. To get back into SteamOS I had to walk back to my main PC and turn the game off. Sure it was disappointing but again I had to remind myself that it is a beta and beta’s have issues. I also did play several games that were native to Linux; Serious Sam 3, Metro Last Light, Left for Dead 2 and Team Fortress 2. For the most part if you didn’t know I was running the game on the Steam Machine then you really couldn’t tell and I had more fun than I original thought when I fired up a session of Left for Dead 2 and played it with my Daughter and Son that were in my office while I played on the SteamOS version in the family room (Note to self: I need to arrange for more family frag sessions).
Throughout the sessions I did notice from frame drop but it was for a split second, nothing that you would notice except I’m used to 60 frames-per-second and when a frame drop occurs I usually will see it. All in all it was a fun experience though since this is my own Steam Machine creation I didn’t have the pleasure of using Valve’s Steam Controller which only game bundled with the original Steam Machine or from Steam’s Dev Days so I had to make due with an Xbox 360 controller for Big Picture mode and other than the issues with Metro: Last Light which has incorrect mapping issues it all worked fine. I had originally also tried a Wireless Xbox 360 receiver but wasn’t able to get it recognized in the SteamOS though I’ve seen reports of some users having better luck. I’ll revisit that issue again later. Hopefully the SteamController will become available sooner or later or maybe someone (Valve?) would love to provide me with one so I can continue testing…er, gaming.
Back on the Windows + Big Picture front everything worked as intended, no surprise there. I was able to use my Wireless Xbox 360 Controller with no issues (well other than the install for the receiver) and was soon playing just about every game in my catalog and even had my Daughter playing with me in Assault Android Cactus (Freaking love this game!) Nothing major there, I installed what I wanted and played it. Still the only problem I have with this setup is when a game launches and either crashes or doesn’t fully launch which drops you back into Windows, requiring you to reach for your keyboard to focus Steam again. It’s a bit annoying and I wish that there was a time out or some auto sensing to correct that. So yes it was a fun experience and I’ll keep playing with SteamOS and I’m eagerly awaiting the next build and hoping that the amount of games that supports steaming is upped and that the media streaming is introduced as I really want to try that out. Could be a game changer for most HTPC / XBMC users.