Steam: SL on your TV?

SteamGabe Newell, co-founder and Managing Director of Steam’s parent company, Valve, is aiming high.

On December 3rd, 2012 the company launched the Steam Big Picture mode, with the slogan The revolution will be televised, which had been in beta since earlier in the year.

The services was announced thus on the Steam website:

Heading to the living room—or anywhere there’s a big screen—is Steam’s soon-to-be-released big-picture mode, offering simple, easy-to-read navigation designed specifically for TV. With full controller support, big-picture mode will let gamers kick back and enjoy their favorite games on the biggest screen in the house.

Gabe Newell, co-founder and MD at Value

Steam’s big-picture mode doesn’t require any additional development from you. Just ensure your game works well with a controller, and we’ll take care of the rest. And don’t worry, keyboard and mouse aren’t going anywhere—users will be able to switch between input devices at any time.

Nothing beyond a physical connection between a computer and TV is required for the new service to work.

The move is just the start of Valve’s living room revolution”. Speaking to Kotaku’s Jason Schreier (who also did the in-depth write-up on The Big Picture mode) at the Video Games Awards last week, Newell confirmed that in 2013, he expects companies to start selling “Valve-approved” PC-based systems designed to hook up to a TV and run Steam straight out of the box – and which will be able to go toe-to-toe with traditional console offerings.

“I think in general that most customers and most developers are gonna find that [the PC is] a better environment for them,” Newell said. “‘Cause they won’t have to split the world into thinking about ‘why are my friends in the living room, why are my video sources in the living room different from everyone else?’ So in a sense we hopefully are gonna unify those environments.”

The big picture: could it also include SL? (image courtesy of Steamworks)

There are significant hurdles to be overcome for this to work – the PC boxes won’t be as open to tinkering, for example, as Newell notes in talking to Kotaku. There’s also the case as to how well some games may translate from keyboard to controller – although the company is, interestingly, working on a “moddable controller” with elements which can be switched around to allow for customised gaming, as well as a system by which the controller can be used in place of a QWERTY keyboard for conversing in role-play based games.

Lotus: using an XBox 360-style console as a replacement keyboard (image courtesy of Kotaku)

So, with Second Life expected to arrive on Steam “pretty soon” TM if not possibly “real soon” TM, these moves could yet see Second Life itself make the move from the computer screen to the big screen – and possibly broaden its appeal in the process (although that is perhaps an awfully big “possibly”).

Michael Abrach (coutesy Techcrunch)

Michael Abrach (coutesy Techcrunch)

Valve are also moving ahead in other areas of hardware development which may also benefit SL. Newell’s interest in wearable computing options such as motion sensors, etc., is well-known. It is an interest shared by Michael Abrash, in a blog post on the matter also revealed he has a common source of inspiration as Philip Rosedale. Wearable / motion sensing systems have been connected with SL for some time now, particularly where Kinect is concerned. If Valve develop a system which works out-of-the-box with SL, it could well have a major impact on carious combats systems / environments in SL and potentially further leverage SL as a games enablement platform with the attraction that the environments in which the games themselves are played is totally configurable via SL’s content creation options.

Does this really mean that Second Life is coming to a living room near you? Well, maybe, maybe not. Part of this may come down to how the TV in your lounge is used (and what you get up to in SL vs. who else is around in real-time to witness it!). However, the TV was itself long ago freed from the lounge. It can be found in the bedroom, the study, the den … so one can see a certain attraction in sitting up in bed and spending time in-world (as some do) with just a hand controller and the TV rather than a laptop perched on legs…

Time will tell, as they say. In the meantime, these developments from Valve, if successful, could be of major impact to gaming as a whole, and are doubtless going to be watched with interest.

With thanks to Kotaku.

5 thoughts on “Steam: SL on your TV?

  1. Wolf Baginski

    My TV doesn’t have the resolution of my monitor.
    Text is so important in SL that I do wonder if the current Viewer UI design would be adequate. A giant screen is best watched from further away, which is almost the point of it. OK, so a revised UI could be a good thing for all of us, but past experience doesn’t give me confidence in the prospect.
    I have seen controller+keyboard combinations. Bluetooth, I suppose, and the results would be interesting whatever display we use. There are bits and pieces of SL, such as vehicles, which would benefit from a better control system than keyboard piounding or the wild swoops of mouselook. That all implies additions to LSL, or what we have is no more than a built-in version of the game-controller-to-keystroke converters that exist. Not that such a feature would be a bad thing as a first step.

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    1. Inara Pey Post author

      tbh, I wondered about screen resolution in general. I assume the Steam solution is aimed at HD televisions – although some issues would remain.

      I’ve no idea as to how gome controllers might be made to work – just the Steam seem to be coming from it left-of-field, and given there have been some efforts vis general movement & SL using Kinect, this may open the door to further tinkering – LSL allowing, etc., as you point out.

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      1. Wolf Baginski

        The SL Aviation community seems to have noticed JoyToKey recently though I haven’t tried it yet.

        Since I have seen at least three different ways of doing gear changes on ground vehicles in SL, there is not going to be a single correct set-up. I can think of several possible ways of setting up things for an aeroplane, and some might need some keystroke-to-chat-command gestures.

        I used to run Flight Simulator a lot, and the flight models in SL can’t really benefit from analogue control. I get the feeling, at times, that you have to unlearn a lot to get the best out of an SL ‘plane. Though there are some superb models out there.

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        1. Inara Pey Post author

          I wonder how Valve’s “moddable” controller will fit into the scheme of things? OK, so it’s primarily aimed at “traditional” games, but how “moddable” will it be it terms of both customising the positioning of buttons (which seems to be the major element with it from the diagrams appearing elsewhere) and in terms of customising button functions a-la something like JoyToKey (ta for the link btw).

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  2. lokieliot

    It might be that he experience of Second Life might be a different one on steamTV than it would be on a PC due to lack of controls. SL on Steam might make features such as click to move & interact and voice chatting a more prominent experience rather than rummaging through inventory and building content. Will be interesting to see how SL is used on Steam.

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