Steam: Further Impressions

I hate Half-life 2.

I hate it because one night I found that I was still playing the game at 3AM, and I was supposed to be waking up in only a few hours to get ready for work. When you have to worry about using the words “tonight” or “today” to describe “now”, you stop worrying about finding a good place to stop (there isn’t one. It’s like a well-written novel that way).

I can’t believe I’ve been missing out on playing this game for so long. I’ve played Quake 4‘s single-player campaign a bit, but it isn’t the same feeling. In Nova Prospekt and City 14, I feel like I’m dealing with a post-apocalyptic world. There’s hope hidden everywhere, and it feels like a idealistic fight. In Quake 4, I had one exciting fight against a giant mechanical insect, and later encountered a similar one while crawling under some tunnels. I remember being afraid as I crawled past it, thinking that at any moment the glass will break and it would be right on top of me. Still, the conversations and emotions didn’t feel real. I felt like I was playing a game. Half-life 2 is a really great game. Well, it’s not as if most of you didn’t already know.

And you know what else I like? That I don’t have to worry about finding my CD when I want to play the game. Unless I want to resort to using cracks, I still need a CD to play Starcraft or any number of games.

One of the things I remember worrying about with Steam was the problem of losing a network connection. When it was first launched, customers found that the network was overloaded and so they couldn’t play the game they already paid for. Well, that sucks for the people who ordered the game through Steam and couldn’t download or update it, but what about the smart people who bought the game at the store? No, they couldn’t play either because Valve decided that the store-bought version needed to be authenticated as well. I had sent an email asking about this, and after three replies in which I didn’t feel I received a satisfactory answer, I was told someone would get back to me and no one did.

So let’s do a test. I’ll disconnect my network connection and try to start Half-life 2. I get a dialog box that says Steam couldn’t connect, but I was able to start it in off-line mode. Nice. Half-life 2 loads up, but when I try to play, it crashes. Huh. Well, wait. Last time I played, I was in the middle of a firefight in “Anticitizen One”, and the game crashed to the desktop. If I use a save game from a few minutes earlier, the game loads fine, and my squad mates are yelling about the man in the mask who is shooting us from the street.

And now it’s 30 minutes later. Oh, yeah. I was running a test. I wasn’t supposed to keep playing.

Also, last night I received an automatic update for the Steam client. Oh. I, uh, didn’t know you were even downloading anything. What if I didn’t want the update? As mentioned years ago on Valve, Steam and DRM:

Steam pushes new versions whether you want them or not. Sure, you can decline to update, but you won’t be playing anytime soon. While this may look good on the surface solving incompatibility between revisions, the reality is much harsher.

The author mentioned Counter-strike 2 and the bots that were being developed for it. He loved them. Then an update came out that removed the bots completely.

Normally, you just don’t update and keep playing like you always did. Now, you don’t have a choice. Your entire gameplay experience is in the hands of some programmer. Whether you thought their previous effort was better is irrelevant. Whether you like an old feature or weapon is no longer your concern. Welcome to the DRM age.

As you can see, the DRM world isn’t as rosy as the pro-DRM lobby make it out to be. Technical glitches and decisions made by the copyright holders are turning the simple act of buying a game, installing it and running it into a minefield of checks, any of which can stop you from playing your rightfully purchased game or software should they fail.

Well, so far I haven’t had anything that I didn’t want changed, but the idea that the creator of the software I’m using still has control over what I can do with it after I’ve installed it makes me uncomfortable. Because of these concerns, I would still prefer to play games natively on my Gnu/Linux systems. For the most part, I can trust those computers better. It just makes me sad that I feel like I have to choose between really good games and really trustworthy games.

Also, I haven’t looked into this, but if I plan on purchasing The Orange Box, and I do so through a retail shop so I have a physical product in my hands, is there still a complicated activation process through Steam, or do the games play out of the box without requiring a network connection? I remember Half-life 2 needing some kind of decryption process for the game data that could take hours, although downloading the game in my experience didn’t seem to need extra time after I got it. Also, if I buy a physical product, will it require a CD in the drive to play, or does it associate the game with my Steam account and let me have the convenience that I’ve grown accustomed to?

2 comments to Steam: Further Impressions

  • loken

    Steam really bites if your on dialup.. nothing like buying a game in a store and being forced not to play it because it has to download over a 100 megs of patches before you can even play the single player game..

    I love HL2, but hate Steam.

    What really spurned me is that I’m no longer allowed to even play the single player campaign. Why? Valve accused me of cheating and blocked my account. I’ve never even played online! I have dialup!! So my only thoughts were that someone had somehow stolen my account.

    After contacting Valve, showing them the proof of my receipts, photos of the boxes with S/N’s (I had Episode 2 as well), they refused to believe that my account could be compromised. They told me in brief that I’d have to buy it again if I ever wanted to play.

    Pretty much put me off Valve products for the time being..

  • I don’t know the rage about the Orange Box! Portal is innovative, yes! TF2 is fun for a while but HL Episode 1 and 2 are downright annoying! Again the same old stuff like in HL2, fighting countless numbers of headcrab zombies and ant lions again and again in too dark areas is not my definition of fun. And Steams permanent slow updating (even on broadband) is annoying too!