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pedrovay2003 avatar 12:17 AM on 12.06.2012  (server time)
Seeing the Big Picture through Steam

That was a horrible joke, and I'm ashamed of myself.

I'm not primarily a PC gamer. For reasons that I won't deviate to here (and probably because I've made them well-known around here, anyway), I'd much rather just play games on a console. I'm not a fan of using the keyboard to play games, and holding a controller is when I feel the most comfortable. Valve recently realized that a lot of gamers feel the same way, and so they introduced the "Big Picture" mode into Steam with their latest update. The point is simple: Turn Steam into a TV-oriented console, or, at least make it feel like one. And what a good job they've done.

While Steam can still be used with a keyboard and mouse, the main draw is the ability to fully control the platform with a controller. The Xbox 360 controller is natively supported (or, I know it works when I tell my PC that my PS3 controller came from my 360), and you get a nice, clean UI change when a controller is connected. The keyboard icons all turn into standard controller buttons, and everything is very sharp and easy to look at. Navigation is as easy as pressing the d-pad in whichever direction the options are presented, and the triggers are used to flip pages. It's all pretty self-explanatory, but it's really smooth -- much smoother than I expected it to be when I tried it for the first time. In Big Picture mode, I actually PREFER using the controller over the mouse.

The UI is absolutely gorgeous in Big Picture mode. While I don't feel the need for photo-realistic graphics in my games, I do appreciate the little things. In Steam's new TV-oriented mode, smooth animations and subtle sound effects make for an extremely pleasant experience. There was no lag using my wireless controller with the system, and loading times were non-existent despite being a complete UI overhaul. Every single feature of Steam's regular UI mode is present here, including web browsing and chat. The in-game UI can be accessed simply by pressing the Guide button on the 360 controller, and screenshots are set to Guide+RT by default. The UI works so well, that I'm actually a bit surprised it took Valve so long to release it. It seems like it should have been there all along, and I can't imagine NOT being able to access it now.

Typing is an interesting experience in Big Picture mode, but it was really easy to get into. All you do is hold the left joystick in one of eight directions, and then use the face buttons to choose the letter to type. It's obviously nowhere near as quick as using a keyboard, and there's no way in hell I typed this blog using that method, but for some quick Google searches or text chats during a game, it's quite sufficient. I found myself typing rather quickly without making any mistakes within a couple minutes, and the shortcuts to type stuff like ".com" in one click made things a lot easier, as well. The browser loads fairly quickly, although the scrolling can be a bit jarring -- You use the left joystick to scroll the page, but the focus is actually dead-center, so rather than scrolling the page around, you're technically scrolling the screen itself around. You need to find what you want to read, and put it in the middle of the screen. It reminded me a bit of using an iOS or Android browser, but without touch sensitivity. (To be honest, I won't be surprised if touch support happens in the future.)

Overall, I'm really pleased with how Steam's Big Picture mode worked out. I have a laptop, which I literally put on my lap when I use it, and even then, I wanted to pull a controller out and use it instead of Steam's original UI. In fact, I think it actually runs BETTER than the original interface.

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