It’s been more than 5 months now that I wrote about my experience with SteamOS Brewmaster (2.0), and since then there were many changes and slight improvements that deserve a new post. If you want a TDLR from my previous article, here’s a quick bullet point summary:
- Overall: I found SteamOS to be pretty great as an experience. Games launch fast, drivers are already included and get auto-updates. It’s seamless in many ways. Vsync issues from the desktop Linux Client are pretty much gone, too.
- Issue: The catalog used to show Windows Games.
- Issue: The Xbox360 controller had a blinking light (not the proper behaviour).
- Issue: Some games were broken and did not work with SteamOS at all.
- Issue: There were some crashes when going in the Specials menu.
- Nice to have: auto-setup for games configuration.
- Nice to have: More AAA games. Nothing specific to SteamOS, of course.
- Nice to have: Local video player.
Since then, the Steam Machines launched (with bad press), SteamOS was released as a stable distribution, and patches have been delivered fairly rapidly - even the interface was improved, even though that’s basically very much on the client side. The current stable version at the time of writing is 2.49. So, is it all good yet ?
Well… not yet.
It’s still getting better, but there are still many things to fix and improve. Don’t mistake the following for a hate post about SteamOS - it’s not. I am very much enjoying SteamOS every single day, I just wish Valve and Collabora and whoever else is involved manage to fix and improve the existing base and iterate further.
I’ll start with the aspects that have improved so far:
- Library: Sorting and looking for games made specifically for SteamOS has improved massively. There are now dedicated filters for most menus, but not all. For example, “Specials” still shows games regardless whether or not they work on SteamOS. And since there are no icons in that view, you need to click on each game one by one to know whether it’s supported for your system. Honestly, that sucks a little.
- Xbox360 pad: it’s now properly supported, and the central light does not blink any more. There were some issues in a previous stable version, where two Xbox360 controllers would make the system completely freeze (had to hard reboot!) - but they fixed that since then.
- Client stability: I have not encountered unexpected crashes just by navigating in the client menus any more. Most of these issues have been fixed and now it’s pretty much working as expected.
- AAA games: While there’s still a number of expected titles missing from 2015, the library of AAA titles has been growing progressively and there’s now a lot more to play than 5 months back. Not all of them are quality ports, but I’d say most are acceptable as long as you are not on the lower end of hardware specs.
- Steam Controller: I have been using my Steam Controller for over a month now, and it’s been working great together with SteamOS. The possibility to load up controller configs from other users is solving a number of issues I had before (For example, Oddworld now works fine with a community config) and once you get used to it you can enjoy more games than when you just had a “normal” pad. I’m still not sure it’s the best way to play FPS for example, but at least it’s somewhat feasible.
- Killing Applications: That is not a new aspect of SteamOS, but something I have noticed only recently. Even when a game freezes or crashes, unless the whole system is frozen, there’s a good chance that you can still call back the Steam Overlay and “kill” the frozen game and return to the Steam Client. It works very well and everything is actionable from the gamepad. It’s great.
And for the remaining, annoying issues.
- Local Time is Wrong: I know, it’s almost an non-issue, but it’s something that should be so simple to fix, I am wondering why it takes so long for Valve to correct this. The current fix requires you to go in desktop mode and fiddle with the desktop timezone options…
- Outdated nVidia drivers: The current SteamOS (2.49) still runs the 352.x branch of nVidia drivers, which is almost ancient since it’s about 5 months old already. There were two stable releases since then, 355 and 358, and while 358 indeed caused some regressions, most recent ports (Alien Isolation, for example) require at least 355.x. This is SUCH a shame to see that a system that has the capability to update itself on the fly to get the required drivers does not follow the minimum requirements of the most recent AAA titles. It’s like if every party is working in isolation or something - Feral’s Steam page for Alien Isolation proudly shows SteamOS among the supported systems, but require nonetheless 355 drivers which are not available in the 2.49 stable release. This just screams of an awful lack of consistency. And nobody has been acting on it.
- Still, some broken games: the situation has somewhat improved. Most games I tried recently just work fine right after install. I say “most”, because just yesterday I installed The Talos Principle for the first time, and at first launch is completely crashed the client, which restarted itself automatically. Relaunching the game worked fine. It could have been worse, but it could have been better too. On top of that, I have noticed that in Dying Light, probably because of the outdated drivers, NPC’s lips are immobile during conversations. Again, this is happening on a game that’s clearly supporting SteamOS in the market - and obviously with 2.49 this issue has not been fixed and has been reported in the community forums. Again, more recent drivers would probably go a long way to fix some of these bugs.
- No Auto-Configuration for Game Settings: I don’t expect this to be fixed any time soon, but it’s still something that would go a long way to render a console-like experience. Every single game I have played so far does NOT recognize the client resolution properly, does not realize that my hardware is powerful enough to go above “LOW” details for about everything. The Devil is in the details, and SteamOS/porters are definitely not getting these kind of details right. On Linux, it’s trivial to access the hardware information (CPU, GPU model, GPU drivers) - you could at least have some pointers on how to define good default settings even across a variety of hardware. Again, I think this would be better if Valve did that with an overall API to help developers define performance profiles, but in any case the current situation is not perfect.
- Still No Media Players: It’s been 2 months now since the official launch of SteamOS, and there’s still nowhere in sight local video playing capabilities or specific Youtube/Netflix/Hulu clients integrated. This is very much given nowadays when you buy any console (or even any so-called smart TV), and the fact that it’s missing sticks out like a sore thumb, especially when you have a reduced AAA game library. I ended up installed Kodi on top of SteamOS and adding it as an application shortcut, but it feels like adding extra layers to an interface that SHOULD be able to do it in the first place. There may be patent issues (hinted by Guy Lunardi), distribution issues (I believe some countries tax media players as a category), that may prevent Valve to do that. I really hope they find a way to do it soon.
Based on the SteamOS Github activity, it looks like a new update is going to be in the pipes as soon as the latest nVidia driver (361) goes stable, so we will see what kind of other changes they plan to bring at the same time.