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.

Black Desert Online and Steam In-Home Streaming

Last week I ranted about how I wished I could play Black Desert Online on my TV in the living room. Then a few evenings ago I stumbled on a Reddit post about getting the game running through Steam and then using In-Home Streaming to pipe it elsewhere.

And so my willpower crumbled. Yesterday I purchased a copy of Black Desert Online. So far I’ve mostly had headaches. First I couldn’t get the store to work in Chrome. Switched browsers and bought the game. Then I started patching and left for the afternoon, and the patcher crapped out about 3 seconds after I walked away from the system, as far as I could tell. It was late last night by the time I got a chance to play. I built a Berserker who looked rough but OK in the character creator, but stumbled around like a muppet in game. So I deleted him, only to find out it takes a DAY to delete a character. He’ll finally be gone sometime after midnight tonight.

This morning I created a new character (at least they give us 4 slots) and got him logged in, then I set to work getting the game running through Steam following the steps in that link above. Unfortunately Step 2, “Make sure you enable the Steam Overlay. This is required to recognize the controller.” isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. I bounced around a bunch of links before I found a system that worked for me, outlined in another reddit post.

So at that point I could launch BDO from Steam, open the Steam overlay and close it again, and everything seemed peachy. Going back to reddit post #1 I proceeded to the final step. I started streaming from the Steam Link. I’d already attached a bluetooth keyboard, wireless mouse and a PS4 controller so I was set for controls. I minimized Big Picture and alt-tabbed over to BDO and the game was running. I could move around as expected but… I had no audio.

Three hours later and about 40 trips up and down the stairs, I still have no audio. I’ve found posts where people claim they don’t even really use Steam. They start the stream, minimize Steam and just launch BDO normally. That works for me too but still no sound. Basically Steam refuses to transmit sound to BDO or the desktop or, I suspect, any non-Steam game.

[Update: I should point out that when I stream bona-fide Steam games, sound works perfectly. It just seems to be when I get outside of the Steam ecosystem that I have problems.]

So I’m stumped. I’ve found plenty of posts from people who say that they have this working in a number of ways but I just can’t get it to work. When the stream starts, Steam mutes sound on the host computer and is supposed to pipe it to the client. It does do the mute thing, and I’ve even tried unmuting sound on the host but it doesn’t help. I just want a straight pipe to the Steam Link; I don’t care if audio continues to play on the host.

I figure there’s a setting somewhere that I’m not finding but like I said… 3 hours of trying different things. Life is too short. I guess I just flushed $30 down the toilet, at least until someone smarter than me comes up with a solution.

Anyone have any experience with this? So very frustrating (though in fairness I’m trying to do something not officially supported by Steam or BDO).

[SOLVED: OK this is embarrassing. I discovered the problem and it was all me. I mentioned I hooked up a wireless mouse to the Steam Link. When I did that, I picked the Link up to plug in the wireless dongle for the mouse, and I guess I jarred the HDMI cable loose. It FINALLY dawned on me, after hours of messing around, that the Link wasn’t making any clicks or anything while I was moving through menus, even before I connected to the host PC. Which finally led me to think about why it was totally silent and finally went to what should’ve been Step 1: check the cable connections.

Boy am I embarrassed but at least it is working!]

Gaming download services (eg Steam) have assimilated me

Last night I was checking out what looks to be an interesting new indie game: Lone Survivor. It’s a post-apocalyptic tale told in a retro 8-bitty style. You can play a demo on Kongregate to get a feel for it. This isn’t really a post about Lone Survivor (though I have to give a cheer for using Kongregate as an easy-access demo platform).

The point is, there was enough there for me to make a purchase. So I looked in Steam, and I looked on Desura, and couldn’t find it. Finally I did what I should have done first: I went to the game’s website. And they had a “Buy Now” button, but Jasper Byrne, the developer, has opted to totally self-publish without using any kind of service, which I can certainly understand.

But it made me hesitate and so far, I haven’t bought the game.

Here’s why: I buy a lot of these little indie games and more often than not I don’t play them right away. I’ve got too many games on my plate now to start a new one. But I buy indie games as soon as I find them because otherwise, frankly, I’ll forget about them in all the hype-fests coming from the big publishers. But I buy them, get them in my Steam/Desura/Origin/Amazon library, and then some day in the future I’ll see them and go “Hey, I forget this one, let’s play it!”

If I buy Lone Survivor I’ll (I assume) download a zip file once the purchase is complete. Then I’ll have to put it somewhere that I’ll remember it. And then I’ll have to stumble on it at some point in the future, at which time I’ll unzip and install it and them maybe go see if there are patches/updates I need to get.

Steam, in particular, has molded me into someone way too lazy to do this. I can’t remember the last time I had to go looking for a patch for a PC game, or even manually run an installer. I let these download services do all that for me.

I feel kind of bad about this, honestly. Hopefully this blog post will remind me to buy and play Lone Survivor at some point in the future, or maybe Mr. Byrne will opt to partner with Desura or some other service. I sure don’t mind buying direct from him if the result of my purchase was a Steam or Desura code I could plug into my library. I’m just too fat and lazy to worry about backing up and tracking my own install files. That’s how far I’ve fallen as a gamer.

Steam Weekend deal: Peggle for $5!

We interrupt this mostly MMO blog to announce that this weekend, Steam has Peggle Deluxe for a paltry $4.99.

If you’ve never played Peggle… well you better stop reading and go play it (there’s a free demo). I mean… IT HAS UNICORNS! I know you all love unicorns!

Kidding aside, this is a seriously addicting puzzle/pachinko style game. I won’t describe it because it just sounds dumb when its described. But it’s pretty popular…I know I’m often weird in my gaming tastes but this one is pretty mainstream and fun. Great for playing with your kids, too.