The Steam Review

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All-round platform update

Movies, error-handling, more :: May 6th, 2006 :: New products, Steam updates :: 15 Responses (Feed)

A Steam platform update has been released enabling the downloading of videos, adding a new error-handling system, making various other tweaks, and introducing a range of glitches.

Media

The new Media section is the biggest addition in the update. It currently features trailers for most of the recent Steam releases and Zombie Movie, a fifteen-minute short directed by Valve staff. While all of the media in the Store today is free the framework is clearly in place for paid media in the future, with only the question how the files would be protected remaining. The kinds of paid media that would interest Steam’s user base is unclear, but we may perhaps see products like OSTs, or content similar to, say, GameSpot’s E3 coverage, alongside a healthy dose of trailers.

Zombie Movie still
Zombie Movie is the centrepiece of Steam’s new Media function.

The Steam Media Player launches the videos by default (a system’s default player can be used if desired), but as a wrapper for an unmodified Windows Media Player control it has the frustrating limitations of both preventing any form of streaming and being unable to read from Steam’s GCF format. This second point means extracting the entire video file to a Windows folder, doubling up hard drive usage as well as taking a significant amount of time for large files like the 346MB Zombie Movie. What stops the wrapper from using Steam’s new virtual drive?

Support

One unannounced feature of the update is a new error-handling system, found in winui.gcf/support/. There are two files: support.dll, which presumably detects the issues, and supportdb.txt, which contains a list of some or all of the problems detected. Entries in supportdb.txt range from checks for port accessibility, system specs and outdated drivers to warnings about adware, software firewalls, connection-limiting tools, and web server and P2P applications which can choke bandwidth.

In what is probably a coincidence, it was only a fortnight ago that error handling was discussed in the comments thread for a previous post. While the new support feature doesn’t provide any evidence that the examples given at that link have been resolved, it is certainly going to prove useful for a program where almost all serious issues are caused by either the user, or the environment in which the user tries to operate – indeed, some 90% of all support requests fall into those two categories.

However, what is not clear is whether the system is enabled yet, particularly considering the fact that it does not appear to be available in any language other than English. Has anyone had a prompt?

Tweaks and Glitches

Many small changes have been made throughout, mostly UI tweaks, including various examples of fallout that won’t begin to be fixed until Monday. An estimated download time has been added to install prompts for games (but not media files), which seems useful. If it looks optimistic, bear in mind that the figure is KB/s, not the Kb or Mb we usually measure connection speeds in, and does in fact seem to be quite accurate. The same can’t be said for the updated choice of connection speeds, which now skips over 1Mb connections and still don’t provide for the other common speed of 512Kb. Lastly, a new Metascore column has been added to the Games tab, expanding the recent implementation in the Store.

Problems begin to arrive with the Rag Doll Kung Fu demo shows up whenever the full game is installed, when it should be hidden. Furthermore, Gameinfo.txt metadata is no longer read for third-party games. Major issues are thankfully limited to only a handful of users, but include HLDM:S and HL2:DM being removed from accounts until a re-log (probably related to the Episode One pre-load) and joining a server somehow being translated into installing the game’s Dedicated Server.

It takes me back.

The Rest

Finally, Shadowgrounds has entered its pre-load phase for the unusually short period of two days, and perhaps not coincidentally with an unusually large discount of 20%. Steam has never been this busy in terms of product numbers before, serving up SiN Episodes: Emergence, Half-Life 2: Episode One, Shadowgrounds and the new media content simultaneously. Bandwidth usage has increased noticeably since yesterday yet the framework (including the client) is handling the load with ease. It all goes to show just how far Steam has come…even if it does get the odd Friday update.


15 Responses to this post:

14 Comments

  1. Andy Simpson Says:

    The rouge Browse Games button is a bug in the Flat skin. It’s fine in the default and Sin Episodes skins.

    Anyways, this update does seem to be pretty impressive, they’re really added a whole bunch of fit & finish to the thing. Long overdue maybe, but welcome nonetheless.

    I’d guess that it’s still early days for the Steam media player. I’d guess to protect any paid for content they could look at integrating Windows Media DRM. There’s also no technical reason they couldn’t read the movies right from the GCFs or streaming, but it’s been a while since I’ve played with the Windows Media SDKs but I remember they’re pretty flexible. There are a number of possible solutions. I’d guess the limitation at the minute is that the Windows Media control is hardwired to being given a string path, and it loads that up straight from a logical path and because there’s no source code for the control they can’t go in and make it cleverer.

    Hopefully the minor glitches should be patched up on Monday, but at least they’re minor annoyances.

  2. Tom Edwards Says:

    WMVDRM is the obvious option, but it might be a job to integrate it to an acceptable level with Steam – I can’t imagine the DRM SDK being very flexible, regardless of how the other ones behave. And even if it is, as we know Valve often like to do things their own way. πŸ˜‰

    On an unrelated note, if you played the Shadowgrounds demo before it turns out that the Steam version has at least one extra level. The story being pap I’m not entirely sure where it is supposed to be, but it’s a blast. If you find the right switch you can turn one central arena into a dancefloor with flashing disco lights and silly techno music. Genius!

  3. Garry Says:

    I used the media thing to check out the trailer to Shadowgrounds – it looks pretty good – what engine is that?

  4. Tom Edwards Says:

    [Comment ID #812 Will Be Quoted Here]

    Frozenbyte’s incredible 3D engine, according to the PR blurb.

  5. Andy Simpson Says:

    I’m going to research it now, but from memory… you can download the locked file just like any file, then when you try and play it WMP sends you to a webpage to get the license. In that case, it’s just a question of a custom web application that authorises if you can have a license against your Steam account. That seems pretty easy to me and doesn’t need anything too complex. There might be other possible integration possibilities, though.

  6. DiSTuRbEd Says:

    Tom, I don’t think VALVe can wait till Monday to solve some of the bugs like not being able to open Steam to the Games list, not the Store, because the Store has now crashed. It needs fixing, I don’t think it can wait till Monday.

  7. Tom Edwards Says:

    You don’t need the Store loaded to go to the games tab.

    I get you. It’s down because everyone is viewing the page when they load Steam!

  8. DiSTuRbEd Says:

    Well I know you don’t need the store, but if people want to see media pages and/or VALVe packs they want to order, they can’t.

  9. Dwarden Says:

    strange …
    i got pre-loaded Shadowgrounds already now i see there is Demo so i try download it and it seems it download all again not utilizing anything already pre-downloaded …

  10. Tom Edwards Says:

    Shadowgrounds’ content is lumped into a single package within the GCF, so the demo can’t use the full version’s data.

  11. Dwarden Says:

    yah i assume it’s locked like previous preloads … oh well …
    let’s hope one day in future Valve will solve this too
    just to save bandwidth and download times πŸ™‚

  12. hahnchen Says:

    I really can not understand how a Steam media store would take off. I like my movies as unrestricted as possible, without the limitations of DRM, I want to be able to burn them onto DVDs etc. I’m guessing that if Steam ever did a pay-for movie release, it’d be tied down to the Steam system for DRM reasons.

    This would make it more restrictive than any other form of direct to drive video right now. Things like the Apple Store and Google video give you a lot more flexibility for videos. I can’t see it becoming anything more than a game-trailer section.

    They really should put more demoes onto Steam too, it’s going to help sell a game better than a trailer does. Yes, anyone can go get the Earth and Shadowground demoes, but that requires effort, whereas Steam doesn’t.

  13. hahnchen Says:

    Oh wait, there is a shadowgrounds demo. Still, more wouldn’t hurt.

  14. Tom Edwards Says:

    Catchable fatal error: Object of class WP_Comment could not be converted to string in /home/varsity/steamreview.org/wp-content/plugins/quoter/quoter.php on line 464