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A closer look at Steam’s Big Picture mode

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On Septemeber 10, 2012, Valve released the newest beta for it’s popular digital games service – Steam. The beta brought an interesting feature for the service, a feature that many in the industry saw as a surprise. This was Steam’s Big Picture Mode.

The idea behind Big Picture Mode is that gamers can hook up their PCs to a television or oversized computer monitor and use Steam with a much more user-friendly interface. As consumers are cutting the cord on cable and purchasing home theater computers (HTPCs), Steam’s Big Picture Mode is the next logical step not just for the service but for PC gaming as well.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday Valve held its August Sale on Steam. For six days, games were on sale from 40 to 60 percent off. Some games were included in “flash” sales that knocked off prices even further but for a shorter amount of time. Addictively, I watched the sale hoping to knock off some games on my wishlist. I was terribly behind on playing indie games.

When all was said and done I probably spent more than I should have but I accomplished my goal of thinning out my wishlist. In total, I spent $49.92 on 14 games. After I installed my newly purchased treasures I noticed something in the top right hand corner –BIG PICTURE MODE.

I remembered hearing about it but never tried it and since I had just purchased a bundle of games I figured why not? I hooked my computer up to my television and clicked the Big Picture Mode button. Instantly, Steam transformed its interface into something reminiscent of Hulu or the Apple TV interface.

Using my keyboard and mouse in front of the television was a bit awkward. Instead I opted to use an old SixAxis PS3 controller and map it using MotioninJoy. Steam picked it up easily and offered button maps to help navigate. The right trigger brings up your friends menu and the left trigger takes you to your web bookmarks. You can browse just about any site here; lock in Hulu or Netflix for something to watch after you play a rousing game of Borderlands 2 for instance.

Typing things in search bars brings up a wheel with several four-button packs. Select a pack and you get an Xbox like button layout with letters to use. It’s not ideal but not the worst solution I have seen before. You’re library can be viewed one game at a time having you scroll horizontally through each one or you can opt for a full screen view of your games similar to the option in the regular PC mode which has your games listed in an Apple TV-like icon layout.

After you decide which game to play is where things get a bit tricky. Some games take well to using a controller and others do not. The Binding of Isaac opens in a window instead of full screen (you can fix this in the options) and only has controller support for Joy2Key not MotionJoy. Cave Story on the other hand; worked near flawlessly – it recognized the controller, kicked into full screen, and looked great. Bit.Trip Runner didn’t recognize my controller profile either however and that’s been ported to Mac, Linux, and Nintendo systems. For laughs I tried to play Deus Ex, it was ported to the PlayStation 2 after all. Alas, no go. There wasn’t even a gamepad option in there. Torchlight couldn’t be played either. Pressing the Home button brought the Steam UI up and Home + RT took a screenshot.

The feature is still in beta so shortcomings can be forgiven for now. This does expose a problem Valve will have though – can it entice developers to code their games to make use of Big Picture Mode? Could something like Big Picture Mode cause game developers to return focus to the PC market?

It’s not a stretch to consider Valve the Amazon of games at this point. There have been rumors about Valve jumping into the console business for a long time with the latest rumors telling of a box that runs on Linux, the latest OS in which Steam has just been ported to recently.

A life in Big Picture Mode has promise though. The idea of people ditching their consoles for upgradable PCs connected to their televisions which are directed by controllers is a far cry from reality right now but as console manufactures try more and more to limit purchase options for games (digital downloads through one portal), it’s a real possibility down the road. Even if it doesn’t create a big impact on how we game, it is a fun experience.

Also Read [The Verge]

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