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Steam Machines unleashed: Impressions from one week in a Steam-powered living room

Hayden Dingman | Oct. 16, 2015
When I abandoned the living room, I did so willingly.

When I abandoned the living room, I did so willingly.

I was a console gamer for many, many years—heck, I still am for certain games—and I know first-hand how comfortable a couch can be. But eventually I was swayed by the PC and all its myriad benefits. A perpetual game library I’d never lose access to or need to repurchase on new machines. More powerful hardware, meaning better resolutions and frame rates and textures. The precision of a mouse and keyboard. Steam sales, glorious Steam sales, which have led me into a dark backlog hole I will likely never dig out of.

A part of me yearned for the couch, though. Not just my butt. There’s something very special about TV gaming—about divorcing yourself from the machine you typically use “for work” and playing in a space solely reserved for entertainment. It’s, at least for me, a different mindset.

And a more social mindset. Playing games on a PC is an inherently isolating experience, insofar as you’re sitting in a chair staring at a relatively small screen. Sure, you might be sitting in the same room as someone or talking to friends through TeamSpeak/Ventrilo, but the computer is a solo experience. It’s meant for your eyes only. The TV is shared.

valve steam machine arsenal
Valve’s Steam Controller, Steam Link, and Alienware’s Steam Machine. Credit: Hayden Dingman

All this is to say that when Valve declared “We’re going to bring PC games to the living room,” I was intrigued. Not that living room PCs were impossible before, but they’ve never been as elegant as Valve’s vision—small, quiet machines built to mesh with your entertainment center, running an operating system that worked without need for a keyboard/mouse or traditional desktop.

Then Steam Machines fell victim to Valve Time and hit a year-long delay and I kind of lost interest. And then Valve announced a $50, streaming-only Steam Link box and I got back on board.

Now? Well I’ve been living in Valve’s living room future for the past week, and I’m loving it—with some major caveats.

The Steam Controller

A lot of discussion has been allocated to Steam Machines and Valve’s Steam Link, and for good reason. Those are the boxes that drive this whole living room environment Valve’s pushing into. They’re the “consoles,” for lack of a better word.

But it’s the Steam Controller that’s actually the most exciting piece of hardware. It’s the key to Valve’s vision: A machine that can play literally every PC game ever made, from Battlefield to Civilization to Cities Skylines to Type Rider to Stanley Parable to Papers, Please to Wasteland 2, all with a single input device. Not just a console, and not just a PC, but both. Without a strong controller it all crumbles apart.


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