Puttering with PC Gaming

For a number of years now I’ve been a console gamer. I mean I have, and always have had since buying my first Atari 400, a computer capable of decent gaming but at some point I started finding the simplicity of turning on a console and flopping down on the couch much more enjoyable than tinkering with settings while spending another few hours per day in an office chair.

The Steam Deck has really shaken up my life in some positive ways. Honestly I don’t even USE it a ton but I love the damned thing and the knock-on effect of having it is that I pay more attention to the PC gaming world. There are (as y’all know) just a ton of games that come out on PC that never make it to console, and for some genres mouse and keyboard is just so much better than a controller. (I know for a lot of you a controller is always inferior but I’m talking about my personal preferences and a controller at this point just feels totally natural to me.)

The Deck also has me reevaluating my opinion of Valve. I have never liked that Steam dominates PC gaming like it does. This isn’t a feeling really specific to the company; I just didn’t want any single entity to have so much control over gaming. But with the Deck, Steam’s benefits start to outweigh those concerns.

And finally, with the Deck being so hot it feels like finally “controller support” isn’t an anomaly in Steam games any more. Maybe this change isn’t new but it is new to me. I used to try, once every few years, to bring PC gaming to the TV to get the best of both worlds but it has always come with its own set of issues, generally having to do with winding up with a keyboard and mouse on the living room table cluttering things up.

The other day I dug out the Nvidia Shield, which I had purchased for GEForce Game Streaming (which Nvidia is about to drop, by the way). Back then Steam Link was kind of a glitchy mess (for me at least) but Game Streaming worked pretty well. It didn’t really stick at the time, though, because too many games required me to jump up and run upstairs to the host PC to click a button or type something in. Also the controller that came with it wasn’t great and I had trouble getting 3rd party controllers to pair and stay paired with it. It didn’t take long for the Shield to wind up in the Closet of Forgotten Tech.

Fast forward to today. GEForce Game Streaming is being phased out, but Steam Link has gotten so much better. I will say I attempted to use the Link app on my Samsung TV, which was terrible, and even tried it on my Chromecast With Google TV, which worked better but suffered from input lag. But on the Shield, which has a pretty beefy CPU for a streaming device, it works great. Somewhere along the way 3rd party controller support got better so now I can use an Xbox controller. Steam Link now offers a “virtual mouse” option for those games that require a mouse click here and there (I wouldn’t want to play a whole game using it) and generally everything just works really well. My only real complaint is that my PC runs stuff at 1080P and when that gets blown up to a 65″ 4K display it looks a bit ‘soft’. I need a better monitor because my PC is capable of more than 1080P but I don’t have a monitor with better resolution.

The other thing I want now is Steam Controller 2.0. Basically a controller that replicates the track pads on the Steam Deck, and maybe the back paddles too. I think this is something that Valve wants to eventually offer (I think I read that somewhere) but for now they’re so focused on the Deck that there are no concrete plans.

So now I have an ecosystem where I can play a Steam game on the PC, or on the TV in the living room, or on the Steam Deck. Same game, same save file. To be fair this isn’t really new, not even to me (I can do the same with Xbox or Playstation via in-home streaming), but it is new for me for PC games and it makes the whole experience more appealing. At least in theory. I’ve spent a lot of my holiday break getting stuff set up and watching a ton of YouTube videos about PC gaming but so far I haven’t really PLAYED many PC games. I have some ideas about why that may be, but I think I’ll save them for another post.

Steam Deck and Xbox: BFFs 4 Eva!

Header image: My Xbox Series X mirrored on the Steam Deck via in-home streaming. Sorry for the poor image quality. It’s tricky getting a shot that doesn’t have a ton of glare/reflections.

I finally got a Steam Deck and so far I’m quite happy with it. But there are a million reviews of the thing so I’m not going to bother.

As an Xbox gamer one of the first things I wanted to do is get the Deck and Xbox talking to each other. There’re two ways to play Xbox games on the Deck. The first is just using xCloud, the Game Pass Ultimate streaming service. Microsoft themselves have a post up on how to do this:

Xbox Cloud Gaming in Microsoft Edge with Steam Deck

I followed those steps and everything worked fine, with the one caveat that after the initial setup I had to reboot the Steam Deck before the controller would work while playing games (which admittedly is a pretty huge caveat).

Unfortunately xCloud has never worked that well for me. I think I am just in some kind of Azure dead zone or something. Stadia (RIP), Nvidia, & Amazon Luna all work well. But xCloud I’m constantly getting pixelation and stutter.

Greenlight running on the Steam Deck, ready for some Xbox in-home streaming from the living room Xbox

But I do have an actual Xbox of course, and I can stream from that just fine. But the Microsoft solution listed above won’t help with that. Fortunately the open source community provides. I found a few guides to get this set up but in the end this is the one I followed. It’s a video, unfortunately. Well maybe not unfortunately, this is a case where it being a video kind of helps for certain steps.

To summarize the process, you need to install two bits of software on your Steam Deck

1) AppImageLauncher & specifically the -x86_64.AppImage version. I used version 2.2.0. You just download it and run it from the console with the “install” parameter.

2) Greenlight, and for me specifically I used 2.0.0-beta2. Download the .AppImage version, drop it in the Applications folder that AppImageLauncher created. Add it to Steam as a non-Steam game, and you’re basically done, though the video goes into details like recommended controller configurations and so forth.

Greenlight can be use both for home streaming and for xCloud so if you’re going this route you don’t need to follow the Microsoft instructions for xCloud streaming.

Greenlight ready to stream some xCloud games to the Steam Deck

Fair warning, when you first start Greenlight you’ll get an empty window for a few seconds and you might think something has gone wrong, but this just seems to be part of the boot up process.

The only real issue I have so far is that Greenlight doesn’t seem to be able to turn the Xbox on, even from ‘Stand By’ mode. If the Xbox isn’t on I get an error. This isn’t too big an issue for me but figured it is worth mentioning.

Ideally I’d love to see Microsoft come out with an officially supported way to do in-home streaming to the Steam Deck, though so far Greenlight seems to work fine.

There are certain games, like Pentiment, that I just enjoy more when playing on the handheld. Pentiment has a lot of written dialogue and it’s more comfortable to read the screen from a handheld than from across the room.

So far I’ve barely used the Steam Deck to play Steam games. I’m having too much fun playing my Xbox games on this thing!