The Steam Review

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

Full xStream launch (and new name) in the wings

March 16th, 2006 :: Other services :: 11 Responses

You may remember xStream, Steam’s first true competitor (that is, a digital distribution platform that offers more than just the downloads) and the service to which 3D Realms has signed Prey. It’s been dormant for the best part of a year, but in early February a somewhat optimistic post was made on the practically empty community forums, wisely announcing that ‘xStream’ had been dropped and inviting users to choose a new name.

They’ve just had their first response, so I think it’s time for some publicity. After all, a bit of competition never hurt anyone! Head on over and see if you can help out.


11 Responses to this post:

  1. Ed Says:

    Well, I gave them a great damning reply. I think its all true though.

    Copied here incase they delete it:

    Well, judging by the huge response this post has got I’d say xStream represents how not to make an online content delivery platform. I think you’ve got larger things to worry about than your name – you need some users. If you’re serious about this hire a marketing, PR or corporate design company. Asking your users is the last thing you want to do, particularily when you’ve got nothing to offer them beyond some hype.

    If you’re going to have a stable system up and running in 3 months time for the release of Prey, you’ve got a lot of work on your hands. Look how long it took to get Steam up to a stable standard – almost 2 years? You’ve not even released a beta yet…

    Good luck, but I think this is going to be a big flop.

  2. DiSTuRbEd Says:

    This is how I see it, go look at the EA Downloader, it has a lot of issues, especially since the EF release this past week, not to mention it ONLY works on XP. I suppose the same thing will happen, VALVe did the smart thing and started testing out new technologies via the community, which in the end has worked out wonderfully. xStream shot themselves in the foot when they went quiet and whatnot. Hell I didn’t even know Prey was coming out anytime soon, I thought it was going to be a few more years because 3DRealms was making it ;), just kidding.

    Like Ed says, they’ve yet to produce any kind of worthy “beta” and the one that is around isn’t updated just sitting there, I wonder if you can even download it anymore. EA and xStream makers have months maybe even a year or so to catch up to what VALVe has now, if that’s what their trying to do, of course.

  3. Andy Simpson Says:

    People may bad mouth Steam, but the great advantage of it compared to many of the other systems is that it’s pretty mature, and the number of actual serious game launches on it is satisfyingly high.

    In other words… if it can cope with the HL2 launch, it could deal with Prey just fine!

  4. wizpig64 Says:

    Steam sure got a lot of users by forcing everyone who got HL2 to use it 😉

    But besides that, I don’t think you can make this kind of product withought something else behind it. Like the reputation of a company who made the best PC game of all time, for one. And besides that, XStream doesn’t really have much to offer.

  5. Tom Edwards Says:

    I wouldn’t say it didn’t have much to offer. It streams content *within* maps, which is far more advanced than Steam’s load-by-load method. It had Tray-and-Play long before we heard anything about the same feature being in Vista, and given their deal with MS for Windows Media Center edition it may be DiStream’s code in the OS!

    Like Steam, it can do all that without any input from the game’s developers.

  6. Andy Simpson Says:

    Thing is, you’re pretty much speculating on what Steam is or isn’t capable of. Unless you’ve actually seen the Steam Filesystem API, and if you have, please tell me where I can! Currently, we can only infer what Steam can do from what Source/GoldSource games have done with it.

    The feeling I have is that XStream does some clever stuff by hooking the filesystem, which is how it can work without modification of existing code. Problem is, it could be trying to be too clever. The more clever something is, the harder it is to get it working reliably. What if during the profiling stage, a certain model or sound never gets encountered, so it’s never loaded, so XStream doesn’t know when it’s needed. Then on your play-through, the game tries to load it and… bang. You get a freeze or something when it isn’t ready to download. I mean sure, it’s an edge case, but it can happen if you try and be too clever!

  7. Tom Edwards Says:

    I’ve seen the tools they use, that’s good enough for me. I don’t think I should be distributing a presentation with “Valve Confidential” written on every slide though. 🙂 You can find it through Google, that’s all I will say.

    xStream does indeed hook in, using a system driver. I can’t imagine how that works, though…

  8. Andy Simpson Says:

    Wow, Google kicks ass. But old – painfully old, a lot could have changed since then. What’s immediately striking is that internally – Steam looks a heck of a lot like xStream. More than I realised.

    Anyways, I can start by saying that I know nothing about filesystem drivers especially, but I do know that if you’re writing an application, it doesn’t so much matter to you where the file is, on a network share or whatever, as the OS abstracts all the details away from you.

    xStream seems to work by providing a virtual drive system just like a network share is a virtual drive. It’s not on your PC, but you can access it like it is. Steam does an incredibly similiar thing, but rather than just hooking the filesystem, it actually requires you to use the Steam equivalents. In many ways, it’s a better system because you can do more intelligent things, like have Steam be aware of the context in which you’re loading stuff, or the game can more intelligently give clues to the Steam API, like, if you’re in a multiplayer map cycle, it would be a great idea to get cracking on the next two/three maps in that cycle! Or if you’re in single player, begin to load resources for every map you can reach from the map you’re in.

  9. Andy Simpson Says:

    Oops. Forgot to include a major point. They both seem to do the same kind of profiling, redundancy, similiar systems. If this stuff all still holds true today, I’d say you’d have to be a madman to use xStream. Steam does everything identically for almost the same effort (if you can’t search and replace fopen with STEAM_fopen you’re in trouble) and is the more mature and proven product.

  10. Tom Edwards Says:

    a lot could have changed since then

    I think we might have noticed something like that…

  11. RP Says:

    Well, I wanted to check xStream forums to see if anything change, but apparently the forums are dead, sadly it seems this program won’t be going anywhere, unless a miracle (read “DNF”) will happend…