Valve's Newell hints at Steam Box prototype release

March 6, 2013 | 10:27

Tags: #ben-krasnow #console-gaming #gabe-newell #jeri-ellsworth #linux-gaming #pc-gaming #steam-box

Companies: #canonical #steam #ubuntu #valve #xi3

Valve founder Gabe Newell has declared that the first official Steam Box prototypes, his company's Linux-based PC-cum-console, will be with testers within the next four months.

The first hints that Valve was looking to branch out from software development and publishing into the hardware side of things came in early March last year, suggesting that the company was working with hardware partners to produce a PC-like games console which would come bundled with a version of its Steam digital distribution platform. The rumours intensified throughout last year, until Newell put an end to it all with official confirmation that the Steam Box was real.

The Steam Box, Newell has explained, would be based around Linux - likely a customised version of Canonical's Ubuntu platform, for which Valve has already released a Steam client. Valve won't be alone in this endeavour, however: the company has already indicated that it plans to licence the concept to other manufacturers, allowing companies like compact computing specialist Xi3 to produce their own Steam Box devices to be sold alongside Valve's own-branded offering.

One thing Newell has been quiet on, however, is a time scale for when the device would launch. Although early prototypes from numerous manufacturers were on display earlier this year at the Consumer Electronics Show, these were not production models - and Valve engineer Ben Krasnow has previously stated that a device is unlikely to launch into the market before 2014.

While that's a long time to wait for the device, some may be getting their hands on Valve's first hardware significantly sooner: speaking to the BBC following the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Games Awards last night, Newell stated outright that 'we'll be giving out some prototypes to customers to gauge their reactions, I guess in the next three to four months.'

Those customers, before you get too excited, will be games developers and other publishers who use Valve's Steam digital distribution service - not gamers. The hardware, it seems, has a way to go before being ready for a retail release: 'There are noise issues and heat issues,' Newell admitted, confessing that packing enough processing power into a tiny, affordable box to play the latest Steam games is somewhat troublesome.

Newell also hinted at the potential to include biofeedback capabilities into the device's as-yet unfinished controller design - tying into comments he made last year about just such a device. The company has been beaten to the punch here, however: numerous games over the years have looked to monitor the player's heartrate, most recently Cabela's Dangerous Hunts 2013 which integrated a sensor into the bundled Fearmaster light-gun peripheral.

The company may have trouble hitting its milestone goals on the project, however. Even ignoring the possibility that Newell's biofeedback project is feature creep - assuming that it was always the plan to include such technology, and not something he sprang on the Steam Box team at the last minute - the company's recent decimation of its staff, which include noted hardware hacker Jeri Ellsworth, could leave it short-handed as it works to solve the design challenges and get the device out to market next year.

In the meantime, those who want a Steam Box-esque experience without having to become a big-ticket game developer and beg Newell for prototype hardware could do worse than building their own.
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