Steam Machines will start launching next year. One of Valve's proprietary Steam Controllers will ship with each one. And you shouldn't expect to get your hands on any of Valve's prototypes... unless you're one of the 300 lucky people selected for the beta this year.
Over the past few weeks, a bunch of media outlets went and visited Valve's Bellevue-based HQ, and today they've published a whole bunch of impressions and details surrounding Valve's living-room-centric PCs. We've gone through them all and picked out a bunch of interesting tidbits:
1) Half-Life 3 won't be a SteamOS exclusive.
Don't expect any games to be SteamOS exclusives, really—Valve told IGN they have no interest in making "killer apps" that would sell people on their new Linux-based operating system, which will be attached to every Steam Machine. They don't want to convince anyone to make games just for SteamOS.
"Whenever we talk to third-party partners, we encourage them to put their games in as many places as possible, including not on our platforms," Valve's Anna Sweet said to IGN.
2) The Steam Machines on the market will likely be made by third-parties.
Engadget reports that other than the 300 beta prototypes that will be given out to testers later this year, Steam Machines won't be made by Valve—they'll be made by outside hardware manufacturers.
"We're really building this as a test platform, and there are many machines that are gonna be made by third-parties," Valve's Greg Coomer told Engadget. "They're the ones that will be available commercially in 2014."
No word who's making these boxes or how much they'll cost, but Valve plans to make some official announcements CES in January. We imagine they'll fall into the good/better/best camps described by Valve boss Gabe Newell earlier this year.
3) Valve is crowdsourcing controller button-map schemes.
If you don't want to put in the time to figure out what button configurations work best for playing each game with Valve's crazy new haptic-based controller, you'll have another option: a list populated with player-chosen and voted button configurations.
When you start a new game, as Wired reports, you can just pick the highest-voted control scheme instead of futzing around on your own.
"This is the kind of thing that is the nightmare for most PC controllers, because you start a game and then you're in this screen for half an hour before you ever get going. We believe we've designed a way around that," Coomer told Wired. "Steam users [will be] the ones driving the proliferation of configurations for all the games. We think that as we start our beta, immediately the entire Steam catalog is going to fill up with very high-quality binding sets for all the games that were never meant for use with a controller."
4) Valve admits their crazy controller isn't perfect for every game—even one of their own.
Dota 2. That's the stumbling block, Valve says. Their free-to-play MOBA is too fast-paced and complicated to be played without a traditional mouse and keyboard.
"We have an internal joke. You can play Dota with the controller; you just can't win," Valve's Eric Hope said to IGN. "Unless you're playing against everybody else who has a controller, and then it's a tractable problem."
5) Valve tested out a lot of different controller prototypes.
All are weird-looking:
(Photo via Seattle Times)
6) That weird controller was almost a weird pair of gloves.
Coomer, to Wired: "The very first thing we did was a pair of gloves. There's actually a tremendous amount of fidelity you can get out of gloves. But that wasn't really product thinking."
Eventually they went with the current controller, which uses two trackpads and a ton of buttons on both its front and back.
7) Other crazy peripherals could be on the horizon.
Although Valve has already scrapped at least one augmented reality device (that later became a Kickstarter), they may have more plans in the works. "The company also is tinkering with wearable computing systems and headsets for augmented-reality and virtual-reality gaming that could emerge next year," writes The Seattle Times.
8) Valve is actually working on a system that will tell you what kind of hardware configuration you need to play each game.
This might be one of Steam's coolest upcoming features: as The Verge reports, Valve plans to launch a system that tells you which games your current hardware configuration can run and what you'd need to run any given game well.
"It's one of these places where Steam is particularly and perhaps uniquely positioned to be able to actually help customers," Coomer told The Verge. "We're sitting at the nexus of these hardware specs, so we can harvest data about what's going on, and repeat it back in a digestible form to every Steam user who cares."
That feature is planned for next year, and it could be a game-changer—one of the biggest barriers in PC gaming is the wide variety of moving parts. Both new and old PC gamers will certainly welcome a service that tells them exactly what to do if they want to play, say, Skyrim on the highest graphics.