Valve announce beta for Steam’s Big Picture feature

Valve finally reveal their sinister plan to turn PC gamers into console gamers.

For a while this year it seemed every gamer, games journalist and their dog was certain, beyond the merest wisp of a shadow of a doubt, that Valve were going to jump feet-first into the console market, and many poor misguided fools remain convinced we’ll see a “Steam Box” in the not-so-distant future. With the unveiling of Valve’s impressive trailer for Big Picture they should be asking why Valve would bother risking so much money on a console. Not when Big Picture appears to offer everything you might want from a console experience on your existing PC.

The pitch for Big Picture is that you might want to play your spangly, super high-res PC games from the comfort of your couch. You can do this already of course if you have a decent enough rig, a nice HD telly and an HDMI cable, although you still need somewhere to plop your mouse and keyboard. They’re designed for desks and other flat surfaces after all, not your podgy lap, and while you could feasibly get away with propping the keyboard on your doughy thighs there’s still the mouse to consider. I suppose you could buy a small end table for it but therein lies the possibility of arm-cramp. Compared to kicking back with a controller in your hands it’s hardly ideal.

Valve states that Big Picture has been designed with controllers in mind to make Steam easily navigable with your dual-stick input device of choice. If you’ve played any modern console you should be right at home flipping between panels for Store, Library and Community, browsing the Workshop for hats and basically doing all the stuff you can do on Steam right now except with a controller. From your couch, like the Emperor of some technocratic Neo-Roman empire. For me Big Picture’s most impressive-seeming feature is the “Daisy Wheel” keyboard, which looks so intuitive and “clean” I’m still puzzled why it hadn’t been done before.

Not quite as impressive is Big Picture’s dedicated web-browser, again designed specifically for controllers and described by Valve as “the world’s first first-person web browser”. At least with the Daisy Wheel I can see how it differs from other on-screen keyboards and how works. All I see in the footage of Big Picture’s browser is a console-y browser similar to any other (albeit with a targeting reticle), and some pandering to that subset of Reddit who cream their pants whenever the site gets referenced somewhere. I’m not saying the browser obviously sucks or anything like that because I can’t make that judgement until I try it. I’m just saying the clips of it in the trailer don’t do it much justice.

Browser gripes aside Valve have clearly done their homework and the interface appears more than comparable to its console counterparts, although a cat stapled to a mop would still be better than the 360’s current atrocity of an interface. However while it’s a nice idea being able to browse the Steam store, bimble around the internet and message your Steam friends with a controller from the comfort of your couch, the overwhelming majority of PC games are not designed for controllers. If I want to play Civilization V on my hypothetical big living room telly I’d still need a keyboard and mouse, somewhat defeating the purpose of Big Picture.

PC ports of console games are a different story of course – a controller is mandatory for Super Meat Boy – and these would be great showcases for Big Picture. It’s a pity then that most console ports are lazier than King Bone Idle of the magical realm of Sloth, while the few ports that actually take full advantage of the PC’s capabilities – such as Alan Wake – are a miniscule fraction of the total games available on Steam. Perhaps Big Picture’s greatest potential then is to encourage more developers to make their ports actually worth a damn. Maybe it could even convince Rockstar to port Red Dead Redemption to the PC? Imagine that little beauty in glorious eye popping high-res AND on a whopping great screen in your living room.

Hey, a man can dream can’t he?

We’ll all be able to see and decide for ourselves later today when Valve launch the Big Picture beta. Those of you with big tellies and whopping great gaming rigs better warm up your muscles because you’ve got a PC to cart into your living room. Oh you say you won’t, sure, but we all know you can’t resist forever so you might as well get it over and done with.

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Matt is the irresponsible degenerate behind and the sarcastic writer, editor, director, presenter and tea boy of Pixel Burn.