The Steam Review

Comment and discussion on Valve Software’s digital communications platform.

Red Orchestra load times traced to Steam

New filesystem harms performance :: April 18th, 2006 :: General :: 36 Responses (Feed)

Since this post, the Steam virtual drive has been dropped and loading times are no longer abnormal.

The long load times that currently plague large numbers of Red Orchestra: Ostfront 41-45 users have been traced back to Steam and its new ‘virtual drive’ system, used by Ostfront to access its GCFs.

Red Orchestra: Ostfront Stug tank
Red Orchestra: Ostfront is a testbed for new Steam technologies.

In a post on the official Ostfront forums, users experimented with extracting the contents of the game’s two GCFs and found that standalone versions, which can join local games when steam.dll is copied to the /system folder, saw load times three times shorter than the unextracted version of the game run through the Steam interface.

The Steam Virtual Drive was introduced with the release of Ostfront, currently the only game using it, to allow use of the GCF filesystem without developer input. Whereas the standard implementation involves replacing file calls in a game’s source code with Steam versions, the virtual filesystem allows the game to see its GCF as a collection of loose files on the disk. Why developers Tripwire Interactive decided to use a new and untested system when the established one was readily accessible, especially when VAC integration shows they were prepared to implement other Steam features, was revealed by Tripwire rep Yoshiro, who described Red Orchestra as a testbed for Steam technology during an impromptu IRC session last week.

When Tripwire staff replied to the thread, they defended their decision to distribute through Steam but did not mention loading times or their cause, suggesting that the users’ findings are accurate.

Let me say this right now – there would be NO Red Orchestra: Ostfront if it weren’t for Valve/Steam, period. Tripwire as a company exhausted all our possibilities for standard distribution initially. We were about to go out of business and just become a footnote in modding history – The team that won an engine license but faded away before they ever got a chance to do anything with it. With Valve/Steam we were able to get the game into gamers’ hands, attract the attention of a standard retail publisher, and become a sustainable game studio.

I’ll be the first to admit there has been some unexpected bumps while Steam expands to handle other 3rd party software just like there were some initial issues with Steam back when they first introduced it for their own games. The truth is though, the majority of the tens of thousands of people playing RO have a pretty smooth time with Steam. And for the people that do have issues, those issues are getting sorted out rapidly, just like the AOL issues, “connection failed” issues, ZoneAlarm issues, etc.

Tripwire’s ‘exhaustion’ of distribution options before talking to Valve echoes both Garry Newman’s situation, where Steam distribution gave the stalled development of Garry’s Mod a new drive, and Introversion Software’s near-bankruptcy before negotiating a Steam deal for Darwinia. How many other games and developers could be saved through digital distribution?

Having defragmented my hard drive, RO load times have now returned to normal on my computer.


36 Responses to this post:

33 Comments

  1. Andy Simpson Says:

    Hmm. Shows that Valve are going to have to start taking their responsibilities as a platform provider really really seriously. It’s one thing if it’s for your own use, but if you’re selling it on you need to make sure you’re sharp on things like performance.

  2. Matthew Says:

    I watch ur feed and can i say great post dude. I think the RO devs got it right with their reply … this is relatively new territory that is a lifeline to many aspiring dev houses.

    And i totally agree with Andy Simpson, it reinforces how Valve has to take their position very seriously … its one thing to throw a lifeline but if it breaks under the strain, and customers aren’t impressed, then it could have come to nothing in the end.

    But i tend to think Valve is on the right track.

  3. RP 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