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What we want to see from the possible SteamPal handheld from Valve

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You've all seen the rumours by now, and apparent confirmation from Ars that Valve has been working on the SteamPal, a Linux powered handheld that could be released this year. Here's a short list of what we want from it.

Steam Machines and SteamOS were ultimately a failure, for many reasons. The whole thing was confusing for both users and consumers with multiple models, and most of them wanted far too much money. What will be different this time? How can Valve actually make it work?

This time around at least, it looks like Valve are entering a market that's still relatively in its infancy. However, it's clearly popular with more hardware vendors showing prototypes and the GPD Win series continues showing how a smaller vendor can make it happen. If Valve really do enter, they would be positioned well considering they know how to produce their own hardware after the Steam Controller, Steam Link and now the Valve Index too. Doing it directly with only one model or perhaps two with a higher model would already solve a lot of their original Steam Machine issues. Let's say that's the first thing we want: make it clear. Get the marketing right this time, and actually continue marketing it unlike before.

Game support is something that suffered originally. We had porters like Feral Interactive and Aspyr Media come onboard thanks to Steam Machines but they simply weren't enough. This time, we have a vast library of supported indie games, a couple AA/AAA and then there's Steam Play Proton too. However, realistically, we still need that direct support and porting effort from developers to ensure the games work as good as they can on the hardware, especially since this won't be top-end stuff. Still, with Proton, there is at least that ability to play more than what's supported and the ability to is vitally important to make a SteamPal actually worth even thinking on to purchase.

Having good game support is the single most essential thing. People don't want to wait around for shaders to compile when you hit play, stuttering while Proton/DXVK builds up a cache will be very noticeable on the hardware too and no doubt be the source of many poor reviews. Having developers build and optimize for it will end up essential to making it a win overall.

Another serious point to think on is online gaming. This is a sore spot right now. I can only imagine the reviews of "you can't play x or y, the most popular online games" which will be due to the likes of Easy Anti-Cheat and BattlEye. Perhaps though, since Valve will fully control the kernel they can have it all signed in a particular way that anti-cheat systems can hook into it. However, that could then split things between desktop Linux and a SteamPal. It's both exciting to think on for support and concerning.

A Steam Game Pass, yup, something like that I think would be in some way needed. Other consoles have a form of it, Valve allows it on Steam already with the likes of EA Play, it would make sense for Valve to have one to not only pull in even more money but to give users access to a library of games right away for a SteamPal when they signed up. Either that, or team up with a bunch of developers to give free copies to those who buy one.

Keep the desktop mode. Please. That was actually a highlight of SteamOS originally. You get the console-like experience, with the option to dive into a normal desktop if you want to do other things. That would extend the possibilities of what you can do with a Valve SteamPal. I think removing that would be a mistake, as long as they lock-down the SteamPal SteamOS side of things so that users can't break it and as easy system-refresh option to set things back to normal.

Send loads out to developers long before release. Gosh I hope they're doing this. How do you get people interested in supporting it? Give them developer kits. Other console makers do this for good reason.

Some form of external streaming media support out of the box. Yes, I know, that the main point is gaming but we're long past the point of such single-use devices. People will expect the likes of Netflix and others to work. So get it sorted before release. It was a sore spot for the original Steam Machines.

I don't think I really need to put down "use a Linux operating system" as a thing we want from it do I? It's pretty obvious it will be. So, SteamOS 3? Let's say I want that to be real and to still allow others to download it and install it just like they could before. Oh, and duh: please don't be a failure.

Don't be too big. I can't stress this enough. The Nintendo Switch is just about right (except the terrible to hold Joy-Cons that is when in portable mode). Any bigger and it would be far too unwieldy and likely defeat the point. That is one thing I am genuinely worried about. Valve could get a little too screen-happy with it but I hope they're being smart about this one.

Just a few thoughts to get it out there to stop the mind from spinning on it, no doubt we will all have more we want and expect from it over time. They key though is to not expect too much. It is, after all (if real), a handheld! We can't expect magic from it, as it will be limited in terms of what power it can cram into the casing.

Over to you in the comments: what do you want from it?

Article taken from GamingOnLinux.com.
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jrt Jun 11, 2021
I think it needs to be on store shelves and on Amazon if they want to get some share of the console/mobile game market. Advertising it on steam is limiting the success because people who have steam, probably already have a PC that can run games.
fagnerln Jun 11, 2021
I only wish that Valve make a separated storefront only with curated games to keep a good experience. It's like the early years of Steam Linux where you only see games that didn't run on the OS.

I'm curious to see about the storage and battery life, games on switch are generally smaller than games in other systems, and the battery isn't that great even using ARM.
Beamboom Jun 11, 2021
QuoteValve are entering a market that's still relatively in its infancy.

I was quite surprised to see this rather odd claim. Infancy?? I would rather say the direct opposite: That this is a market that's long past the adult years of its life span. Hand held consoles USED to be big. Gameboy or PSP, anyone?

Then came PS Vita and demonstrated for the whole world that this market had dramatically changed - and it has not returned to former glory ever since. So, infancy!? It's rather a market that long ago entered it's senior citizen stage of the life cycle.

I also strongly believe that if they are to succeed they can't just run regular PC games, they will need games that utilise the format properly. This has been the case for ALL gaming device, from consoles to PCs to VR to mobile to arcade machines: They need games built for THAT platform.

Last edited by Beamboom on 19 June 2021 at 9:59 pm UTC
kuhpunkt Jun 11, 2021
I just want them to do one model as a single target for developers and if it's not a flop, do a revision every 2-3 years.
Liam Dawe Jun 11, 2021
Quoting: BeamboomI was quite surprised to see this rather odd claim. Infancy?? I would rather say the direct opposite: That this is a market that's long past the adult years of its life span. Hand held consoles USED to be big. PSP, anyone?
We're not talking traditional consoles, we're talking what's basically a portable PC here.

I stand by what I said there. The market for portable PC gaming handhelds has nowhere near hit the proper mainstream yet.
0aTT Jun 11, 2021
I read in an article with this new AMD APU ("Van Gogh"), it should have the performance of a PS4 (slim). Can that be true and how power hungry would such a device be?

I wonder if Valve will subsidize the console. There was talk of $399. That would be hard to calculate I think.

Last edited by 0aTT on 11 June 2021 at 10:36 am UTC
omer666 Jun 11, 2021
Quoting: Liam DaweWe're not talking traditional consoles, we're talking what's basically a portable PC here.

I stand by what I said there. The market for portable PC gaming handhelds has nowhere near hit the proper mainstream yet.

As someone who's once been really passionate about handheld consoles, I second that.
Also, the time when developers had to craft their game for a specific platform is long passed now. Optimisation before this mostly multi-platform era was something else entirely, even more when dealing with handhelds.
Liam Dawe Jun 11, 2021
Added a further paragraph for online gaming, as it's totally needed to think on.
CatKiller Jun 11, 2021
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On shader compilation: Steam already downloads pre-compiled shaders if your machine has a familiar configuration. This would definitely have a familiar configuration, so it shouldn't have to compile its own shaders for games from Steam.

On streaming media: BPM has easy access to a browser using the shoulder buttons. Valve will likely just lean on that rather than picking and choosing services unless the providers of those services put something in the Steam Store. They will have to make sure they have hardware accelerated playback and decryption for DRM out of the box, though.

On the OS: gamescope has features that are perfect for this kind of device. In particular, automatic decoupling of render resolution and refresh rate from display resolution and refresh rate, with automatic upscaling. I expect the device will be running Wayland and gamescope for those features.

On the size: I think that bigger than the Switch will be the sweet spot. 8 inches and 1080p. That gives more room for battery and cooling, and game designers struggle with low resolution interfaces. 1080p is a resolution that they already test for. I'd personally prefer 1920×1200, and there is movement back to 16:10 displays, so that would be good, too. That combination would have a sharper image than the Switch, but not so tiny that it's hard to see, and not so high a resolution that you're burning battery for things you can't see.

One thing that they really have to change from what we've heard is the name. "Steam Pal" is a terrible name. It sounds like something made by the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation.
on_en_a_gros Jun 11, 2021
Seeing the Nintendo switch being sub 300€ on Amazon,for me the steam pal should be at 399€ if can run AAA game discently, or 299€ if it target's indy games or game streaming services.

An HDMI output and a way to use a mouse keyboard would be a nice addition.
Software wise having some kind of preconfigured graphic profile at least for the flagship games, so you can choose to launch a game performance mode to have steady 60fps, eco to maximize battery life, and max graphic with a 30 FPS target.

But honestly I'm absolutely not interested in a handheld console / pc, and I don't really see what the target audience is for these product.
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