Back in April, game maker and online retailer Valve promised that it wasn’t finished with its Steam Machine PC gaming platform, determined to create the alternative to Microsoft’s Windows. Now, Valve has found a shortcut: emulating Windows games.
Clever Reddit users (opens in new tab) have uncovered within the Steam client’s graphical user interface files, via a ‘Steam Tracker’ through the GitHub open source code base (opens in new tab), references to an unannounced ‘Steam Play’ system for essentially emulating games that weren’t built for Valve’s own Linux-based SteamOS operating system (OS), ArsTechnica reports (opens in new tab).
"Steam Play will automatically install compatibility tools that allow you to play games from your library that were built for other operating systems,” the uncovered text reads.
The uncovered text goes on to suggest that this Steam Play function will offer both official and unofficial compatibility through the tools it provides, which is suspected to be based on the Wine emulator, which allows Windows apps to run in Linux.
For playing Steam games from your library that aren’t officially made compatible with SteamOS, you can always try it out yourself with the existing tools, but Valve warns against its use possibly causing crashes and lost save files.
If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em ... sort of?
This move to essentially emulate Windows games both officially and unofficially would certainly bring better parity between the game libraries available on SteamOS and Windows, though it’s rather subversive.
Before this discovery, Valve seemed intent on inspiring PC game developers to use the open source Vulkan graphics application programming interface by Khronos Group, rather than the Windows-exclusive DirectX tools that all, but dominate the industry. This would eventually make more PC games compatible with Linux, especially SteamOS.
Well, clearly that is taking too long, and so Valve looks to be trying out a shortcut. However, shortcuts almost always have their pitfalls. Here, it’s that emulation always requires a certain amount of additional processing power to drive the emulated environment in which the app operates.
This could in turn require more powerful, and therefore more expensive, hardware to run emulated games on a Steam Machine to achieve a similar experience to playing on a Windows PC. This would in turn fly in the face of Valve’s original position of Steam Machines being generally cheaper to buy and own than Windows PCs, on account of the free OS.
Faster pickup of Vulkan could help alleviate this, but it likely won’t be fast enough for Valve’s ambitions.
Of course, there is no indication by this leak that Valve intends to publicly release Steam Play or when it will for that matter. We could be waiting for months – or perhaps even years – to see Valve’s emulation solution come to SteamOS.
But, considering Valve’s current stance on “striving towards a competitive and open gaming platform,” as said back in April, and Valve founder and CEO Gabe Newell’s well-publicized resentment of Windows as it serves PC gamers, we can’t be that far off.
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