Steam Big Picture Blurs the Lines Between PC and Console Gaming

Valve announced today that Steam Big Picture is currently up and running, albeit in beta.

Steam Big Picture is designed to allow Steam to run in a mode that’s designed for controllers (it even has “a browser for your TV that doesn’t suck” that’s also designed for controllers). The implication here being that you have a dedicated PC (or any moderately powerful laptop) sitting next to your TV, hooked up through HDMI.

I’ll admit that I rather like the idea. Steam on TVs is a genius idea, especially with games that support controller input (which is the only place I’d use it over my actual computer to play Steam games). That said, I should note that a handful of minor annoyances pop up from this, and it’s mainly from games either not fully integrating Steam or half-assing the controller support.

What I mean by that first thing is, mainly, that there are games out there that don’t make use of Steam’s cloud services, thereby meaning that, if the TV isn’t the only way one uses Steam, games that don’t support the cloud either have to have their save files copied through a USB every time, unless you’re using a laptop that’s your main gaming machine (highly doubtful unless it’s a desktop replacement laptop), you intend to only play that game on that machine, you go through a third-party cloud service (if there even is one that works for that), or you’re using your main computer to play on Steam, with a long HDMI cable linking to the TV from your room (unless you use one of the many unreliable line-of-sight wireless HDMI hubs). Something that should be rather obvious with this particular issue is that what problems you run into are entirely dependent on your own personal method of using their service. Still, with games out there like Recettear (which happens to be my most played game on Steam) that simply work better with a controller but don’t support the Steam cloud, it can become an annoyance quickly.

The second issue is, as I said, games that half-ass controller support. This could be an entire rant of its own, but there are many games that, wile they do support controllers, do not tell you the controls when a controller is being used at any point, instead always displaying the controls for keyboard and mouse.  My second-most-played game on Steam, Who’s That Flying?!, is guilty of this. They clearly tell you to press Ctrl when you’re using a controller and should be pressing L1 instead, etc. There’s also games like Spiral Knights and Rusty Hearts that only let you do some things with a controller. And don’t get me started with games that have absolutely no excuse for not supporting controllers, such as Brawl Busters. Games that don’t let you do everything with a controller are completely unusable this way unless you have a keyboard and mouse hooked up to the PC connected to your TV… at which point I must ask what the point is of sitting in front of your TV.

To illustrate how much of an issue this can be, let’s bring up that picture of my Steam library once more, shall we? I’ll include my non-Steam games in his, but they’ll be crossed out to denote that it’s not a problem with anything to do with Steam to begin with.

The following titles don’t (or don’t fully) support controllers (and are thereby excluded due to my reasoning above – why use the feature at all if that’s the case?):

  • Blacklight: Retribution
  • Brawl Busters
  • The Devil on G-string
  • Fallout
  • Flyff Gold
  • Minecraft
  • Rusty Hearts
  • Spiral Knights
  • Wheel Country, Sunflower Girl

The following titles have full controller support, but lack cloud saving capabilities (or an equivalent, such as saving to an account):

  • Breath of Death VII
  • Cthulhu Saves the World
  • Grief Syndrome
  • Mystical Chain
  • Nitronic Rush
  • Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale
  • RunMan: Race Around the World
  • Super Crate Box

The following titles lack both (the bolded never tell you gamepad controls, the underlined never tell you how to enable gamepad use):

  • Portal
  • Super Monday Night Combat
  • Team Fortress 2
  • Who’s That Flying?!

Four games. Four. Funny thing is that all of the ones that don’t support cloud saves do tell you the controls (or let you set them yourself) and have the capability turned on by default if a controller is plugged in at startup. The Source Engine titles require opening the console and typing in a command (which can only be found on the internet) to enable gamepad controls. As opposed having you, say, fill in a check box.

Still, it’s only completely hassle-free for Who’s That Flying?!, which, as I said, displays keyboard buttons in-game whether you’re using a controller or not (though it does tell you what the equivalent gamepad controls are in the short tutorial screens).

I’d be perfectly honest and say it’s not worth the hassle when I can play every game on a computer.

But let’s step back for a moment and think about the implications of something like this on the whole PC VS consoles debate (which I, TBQH, think is stupid, but I should note that I play on every current system except the Vita, as well as my laptop). There’s a certain demographic of gamers out there that prefers controllers, prefers playing from their couch, prefers simply playing a game without having to worry about the power of their system, etc. There are also people who simply want the best-looking games possible and are willing to shell out the big bucks to keep themselves up to date. There are those who wish to support the indie market, which mostly thrives on open platforms, etc.

Depending on what combination of traits each individual gamer has, this could push PCs above consoles for them, since they can play on their TV, with a controller. For other combinations, this could kill the Ouya entirely, since it allows their computer to be the indie gateway to the TV without the restrictions behind porting to the piracy-laden world of Android (and games on Ouya wouldn’t be able to run as well as on the average PC). Gamers that buy consoles so they don’t have to worry about system requirements and keeping their PC up to date won’t care so much about this. I must also question whether PC gamers themselves will want to move to the couch.

It’s a good idea, but more has to be done to make it an attractive one. One thing’s for certain, though – with this, the Ouya is all but dead.