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O Steam! or: The Ways I Love Thee

I've been a Steam user since Half-Life 2 was released in 2004, but back then, I still had bought the game on DVD and thought the mandatory Steam process was silly and unnecessary. Things were different back then. My rural town had just barely began offering broadband in any capacity, but the idea of downloading a game - NOT having a physical copy of it with a snazzy box and handy-dandy instruction booklet - seemed strange and somehow less satisfying to me back then.

Then I discovered a nifty perk of Steam. I could go to a friend's house, install Steam, and download Half-Life 2 on his computer within hours. No penalty. Of course we couldn't play online together, but I simply wanted him to experience the greatness that was HL2. And he could. And he did. And he wasn't the only one. [Ultimately I had to change my password, because one jerk gifted my extra HL copies to some random person.]

When Episode One rolled around, I bit the bullet and pre-ordered it through Steam. I distinctly remember coming home from work on the day it was released, finding it had pre-downloaded and installed itself... and having to do absolutely nothing but launch the freakin' thing. Amazing.

Now, I'm not a major online gamer. I haven't logged hundreds of hours into Team Fortress 2 like my hometown buds did, but I've logged a few. The Friends system and Stats that were implemented around that time made joining games with the people I wanted so easy; it was like the polish of Xbox Live, with the convenience of a keyboard and mouse. And free. Wonderful.

I've insofar neglected to actually purchase a 360 or a PS3, and the Wii's internet capabilities are reprehensible at best. Which is strange for me - since I got the NES for my 4th birthday, I've always considered myself a console gamer who would only occasionally defect to the PC for masterpieces like, oh, Half-Life and Starcraft. But I am hesitant now. Now, many games are multiplatform. Many games are downloadable. Many of these games are excellent.

I have actually put some money on the table for downloadable games on my housemates' consoles. Worms 2, Schizoid, Bomberman Live, Peggle, Braid: these are all amazing games. It's lovely to not have to change physical disc media and wait for extraneous load times.

But what happens when your Xbox dies? Ours have (both of 'em!) and then we're shit outta luck. Or what happens when Microsoft releases the next Xbox? Hopefully we have a few years before that happens, but is there any guarantee that you can play these games on it? The idea of backwards compatibility in consoles has been played with since the PS2's launch, but only in terms of physical media.

In theory, it shouldn't be that hard for the next iteration of consoles to play these games, but it's still an issue in the back of my mind that keeps me from wanting to purchase more downloadable games for the consoles. I'm already going to lose everything I've bought when my housemates move out and take their consoles with them.

But not with Steam. I've upgraded my video card probably three times since HL2 came out - hell, probably overhauled my entire system - and every time, I've had zero problems re-downloading my games and honestly, I can't imagine a situation where I WON'T be able to play them. I don't have to take my PC with me if I feel like playing a little Half-Life at my parent's house over Thanksgiving break. I don't have to bring anything at all. That's amazing. That is a platform I can get behind: a rather intangible one, but the benefits lie in it not being tied down to any specific hardware at all.

I've bought a whole bunch of games on Steam this year: Bioshock, Crysis Warhead, Far Cry 2, Flock, Left 4 Dead 2 -- and I've even rebought games I've already purchased for other systems! Beyond Good & Evil was too tempting to pass up at $10, despite already owning it on Xbox and the disc-based PC version, and Psychonauts will eventually make it to my games list, too. Hell, I downloaded Braid for the 360, too, but ended up re-buying that on Steam as well!

But there are so many more games I would buy in an instant on Steam if I could.

Easily my most-played Wii game of the last year was Mega Man 9. I bought it the day it was released, and the DLC, too, and few games have been able to attract our whole house of seven dudes to the TV for hours on end, taking turns passing around a control. The few and the hardy end up moving to Hard Mode, then Super Hard. There's a game with a lot of replay value. But I find it a pain to use the Wii for the game; in a college sort of house where we're moving consoles back and forth to different rooms all the time, the Wii is a pain in the ass. Making sure the sensor bar is in place, making sure I have AA's on hand, having to use the Wii cursor to select a game, even if the game doesn't use the IR sensor at all -- I personally find this extremely annoying to do to play just one game. That sensor bar is a real pain and requiring it to navigate the main menus could have been avoided; hell, it probably could be with a software update.

I'd buy that game on Steam again in a second. None of that hardware hassle - it's on my PC and ready to roll. I suspect that the game would play well even on computers with lesser graphical prowess. My Bluetoothed, wireless PS3 controller is ready to play this game, CAPCOM!!!

That controller is also ready to play a shit-ton of console games that I absolutely adore from the past - games I love but play because it's hard to justify lugging around all of my past consoles just to play a few games on each. [Actually, my Super Nintendo is hanging around our house; its durability is unprecedented and its library of games has led to a shocking number of hours logged on the thing in 2009.] Seriously: I would put down cold hard (digitally-interfaced) cash immediately for Beetle Adventure Racing, the MGS series, Chrono Trigger, Blaster Master, the Ninja Gaiden trilogy, Little Nemo: Dream Master...

Beetle Adventure Racing, specifically. There is something so awesome about that game: it's hybrid nature of high-speed racing and adventure in finding a mandatory number of points-boxes, its ingenious, multi-path-laden level design, and it's addictive car-combat multiplayer mode. This game doesn't play well with emulators. My N64 controllers don't play well with age. Somebody, somewhere, make this happen!

I guess I've said about all I can about Steam right now. The past 15 hours or so of playing L4D2, easily linking up with friends from that old rural town and having a gay old time, then leisurely poring over my stats afterwards... all from a game that I didn't even have to leave the house to buy and never have to worry about not being able to play. Ever. Steam is awesome.

So, what do you guys like - or dislike - about Steam? Do you prefer the interface of the 360 or PS3? Do you make use of the Wii's delivery service and overpriced ROMs? (Can't say I haven't bought a few.) Are there games, new or old, that you want to see on Steam?

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About Animated Toupeeone of us since 3:06 PM on 07.25.2009

My website... here.
I'm on Steam: Toupee!
I would like to talk to you via AIM at: Toupee09
Also, I like music.
And here is some that I help produce. It's called The Uke-Uza.

I also write blog entries for my local environmental center, and maintain a photo-a-day tumblr.
Steam ID:Toupee


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