Excitement continues to build over Valve’s long-awaited Steam Machines -- PCs that will come preloaded with the SteamOS. Many fans, though, will have to wait a little longer for their own machines as the first line of pre-orders for Steam Controllers and Steam Links have already sold out. October 16 is the expected shipping date for Steam’s first public venture into hardware.

In a major overhaul to Valve's digital distribution platform, Steam will now offer refunds under more open conditions, the company reported today. Previously, Steam's refund policies have been “once per account” and “we'll take a look,” but the Valve-owned platform now promises refunds for products under these conditions:

  • Simply didn't work.
  • Minimum hardware requirements not met.
  • Game played for fewer than two hours and disliked.
  • Game purchased within two weeks and one of the above conditions is met.

Note that Valve has offered to “take a look” if none of these conditions are met. An example of this, for instance, would be if a patch broke a game that you've invested minimally into.

We’re approaching that time of year again. Dota 2’s “The International” is beginning with its announcement of the invited teams and the playoff stages are firing-off early. As with the last two years, Valve is selling Compendiums to build hype and money for the prize pool. Last year, the tournament set a record prize pool with $10,930,698. Compendiums went live just a month ago and, with two more months to go until the event, there’s already $10,012,360 in the pool. Just the same as last year, Valve initiated the pool with $1,600,000 -- the other $8,412,360 has all come from the fans.

On April 25, Valve revealed to the public a collaborative effort with Bethesda and a handful of selected modders, aiming to bring monetized mods for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim to the Steam Workshop. The concept was received with brutally negative feedback from the community and, less than a week after the release of the system, Valve and Bethesda decided to shut it all down.

When the issue was still hot and the outcome unclear, I made two albums regarding the quality of these mods. You can check them out on imgur here and here. We have rehosted just a few of the dozens of images.

It’s easy to see where Valve is coming from with the original concept: The company solely exists with thanks to mods. The GoldSrc engine was not the first to provide modding capabilities, but it stands as a significant milestone in the existence of this intensive and appreciated gaming niche. It was on GoldSrc that we saw the first cases of free community mods transcending their amateur roots and evolving into full-fledged, professional games. The list is long, but some of the best-known PC games are rooted in this background: Counter-Strike was a Half-Life mod, Team Fortress Classic was a Quake mod remade in the GoldSrc Engine (itself a Quake engine mod) then in Source, Dota was a Warcraft 3 map, Killing Floor was an Unreal Tournament mutator, and the list goes on. With the recent explosion of free-to-play titles with monetized User Generated Content, like Team Fortress 2, Dota 2, and – to some extent – CS:GO, it’s no wonder Valve decided to give Skyrim a shot of the same business model.

Valve is known for taking its time on projects. The “Steam Machine” was announced a couple of years ago as a joint hardware-software PC solution for living room set-top gaming with, perhaps more interestingly, promised inclusion of a haptic-enabled Steam controller. This controller would be the cause of many delays in the pipeline as Valve faced design unique design and usability challenges.

Stepping into Valve’s full-room virtual reality experience resulted in a nervous excitement that's rare to come by. Seated quietly in the center of the room, HTC’s “Vive” HMD, a pair of controllers, and a headset all awaited my arrival.

Having surpassed 125 million users, Steam is the largest digital distribution platform in gaming. Given that Steam offers 4500 games and 400 million pieces of user-created content -- such as skins and weapons for your Valve games -- the attraction is no surprise.

Every year in Seattle, Valve holds its yearly DOTA 2 tournament, called “The International.” Valve ponies up $1,600,000 of its own money for prizes, but that’s not what makes the funding for this tournament interesting: The last two years have seen Valve’s sale of “DOTA Compendiums,” the profits of which go toward the prize pool. Fans raised an additional $1,274,381 last year; this year, with over a month before the tournament, fans have already raised an extra $6,332,765 (as of the time of writing this article).

dota-2-blue-logo

Valve announced today the Beta for Steam Tags, a new way to help players discover products. The player community and game developers now have the ability to tag games with genres, themes, and attributes.

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Tags will only appear on games if a certain amount of other users have also applied that tag to a product, reducing the chance of flooding products with countless irrelevant tags. If you can't think of a tag, but agree with one that already exists, you can reapply those tags. Also, if you were thinking of tagging something less-than-friendly, swear words are automatically filtered out and will not appear.

Right then. We'll see how long that lasts.

The timing for this advancement in augmented reality is particularly convenient, given our content plan to publish a large virtual reality article in the next day or two. Ramping into this article, though, we'll talk briefly about Technical Illusions' castAR glasses.

cast-AR-sliderThe castAR system uses light and holography to produce an interactive, real-world 3D projection.

As opposed to the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality head-mounted display (HMD) that enhances gaming experiences by improving player immersion, castAR takes the augmented reality approach. Augmented & Virtual Reality are similar in their dedication to immersion and fidelity, but differentiate themselves in implementation; AR devices generally augment the real world (already used in psychiatry and psychology), while VR tends to stick with digitally-rendered environments.

Up until castAR, there wasn't a whole lot out there in terms of modern AR on the consumer-level. Technical Illusions' kickstarter video offers insight as to what the pair of glasses could be used for, showing two of its developers playing chess in "real life" without use of any physical pieces:

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