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New patent from Valve appears for "instant play" of games and more

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Published today is a new patent from Valve that (amongst other things) might allow for an "instant play" feature for games being downloaded from Steam. Credit to SteamDB's Pavel Djundik for the find on Twitter.

The patent was submitted back in March 2020 from developer Pierre-Loup Griffais, who has been heavily involved in the Linux side of Valve (with Proton and the Steam Deck) but it only got published live today. Not only is it targetting letting people get into games a lot faster, but it also seems that it could be used to help free up disk space. As the description notes:

Client machines running game executables of a video game(s) may utilize a file system proxy component that is configured to track read operations made by the game executable during a game session, to generate access data based on the tracked read operations, and to report the access data to a remote system. This telemetry approach allows the remote system to collect access data reported by multiple client machines, to catalogue the access data according to client system configuration, and to analyze the access data to generate data that is usable by client machines to implement various game-related features including, without limitation, “instant play” of video games, discarding of unused blocks of game data to free up local memory resources, and/or local prefetching of game data for reducing latency during gameplay.

Some of it actually sounds a bit like how the current shader pre-cache system works, with it gathering data from multiple machines to then give out the shaders to other people when they download the game. In fact, that could be partly what the bit about prefetching of game data could be but it seems to go further with it dumping some elements into RAM for even faster access.

When it comes to the "instant play" feature, it's something other launchers sort-of have where you can hit the play button before the full download is done and this does sound similar. With the system that Valve are proposing here, it seems developers won't need to change their code either as the features would be baked into the Steam client and the way it downloads games with it predicting what you would need first in terms of the data involved based on the telemetry gathered from others.

See the full patent details for more.

Article taken from GamingOnLinux.com.
Tags: Meta, Steam, Valve
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24 comments
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Hori 21 Sep
I don't need this, but I always found it really cool that you could play certain games before they are fully downloaded (e.g. StarCraft II).
My internet connection is fast enough to not worry about having to wait for the games to finish wholly, but not everyone has such speeds, and I appreciate it when a game takes that into consideration and tries to improve the lives of those that could benefit from this feature.

For example, a few years ago, when I lived in a student dorm with abysmal internet performance, this feature made the difference between being able to play SC2 and having to wait until the next day, or worse. That's a big deal, and I was very thankful for it.
If Steam will have that, and a larger number of games will be able to use it, I think it's absolutely great. IMO this should be a top priority feature to improve the experience of playing games and making them more accessible, for every game store.

And I can see this being very useful on a Deck. If I am on the go and have no WiFi, I could just turn on my phone's hotspot and download games that way and quickly being able to start playing. Whereas, if I had to download them fully, I might not even bother, depending on how fast the connection is in the particular area I would be in at the moment... and of course the size, as not everyone has unlimited / cheap data.


Last edited by Hori on 21 September 2021 at 9:52 am UTC
CatKiller 21 Sep
So all those games that people never finish, you might never have to download the final levels in the first place?
skye 21 Sep
Makes me wonder if the fast play data could also be used to pre cache data to ram for faster game loading in general since they both would need to know which data is used at what points during gameplay. I know nothing on the subject though...
Eike 21 Sep
Quoting: skyeMakes me wonder if the fast play data could also be used to pre cache data to ram for faster game loading in general since they both would need to know which data is used at what points during gameplay. I know nothing on the subject though...

Absolutely:
Quote...discarding of unused blocks of game data to free up local memory resources, and/or local prefetching of game data for reducing latency during gameplay.
TheSHEEEP 21 Sep
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I can never press play on these launchers before everything has been downloaded.

Just feels wrong to me
Arten 21 Sep
So, theoreticali if game is bundled with multiple texture resolutions, with this only one in use stay on disk? So even 64 GB steamdeck is little more useful even without SD card :-)


Last edited by Arten on 21 September 2021 at 10:20 am UTC
Ardje 21 Sep
Nice.
I hope that means we get proper replacements for kludges like httpfs. I still use it for massive installs of intel architecture based PoS systems from a cheap ARM.
skinnyraf 21 Sep
Do we like software patents now, because Valve submits them and they serve Linux gaming community?
Arten 21 Sep
Quoting: skinnyrafDo we like software patents now, because Valve submits them and they serve Linux gaming community?

We still don't like patents, but what can be achived with this patent look promising.

Another think is, if somebody else submit this and Valve begin use it, they can be sued for patent infringement. So we don't know why they have this patent. They can have this only for protection and for bargaining if somebody else sue them for another patent infringement. That is valid use from my perspective. I'm not ok with this, if they have it for attacking others.
Salvatos 21 Sep
If it works anything like the shader pre-caching, I’m not looking forward to it. 2+ hours of processing for no noticeable gains and it has to do it again every time the client is updated (or whatever the actual trigger is)? No thanks.

Though to be fair, that last part seems to have gotten better with the implementation of their new Downloads page.
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