All-round platform update
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.
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.
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?
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 Entries in supportdb.txt range from checks for port accessibility, system specs and outdated drivers to warnings about adware, software firewalls, connection-limiting tools, and web server and P2P applications which can choke bandwidth.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.
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.