Steam Library Update is Here!

In beta form at least. But it’s open beta! So if you want to take a play for yourself, you can. (Settings -> Account, click ‘Change’ under Beta Participation to ensure you’ve enabled Beta updates.) The news struck that it was out while I was at work yesterday, so I itched all day to give it a go.

Now that I have, it seems my earlier excitement from back in June was well warranted. The library update is every bit the revolutionary update (for Steam) that the earlier Chat update was.

There’s kind of a lot going on here even just on the main screen.

Starting from the top and possibly the most obvious changes — there is a view of recent updates and recent games. These two rows can’t be toggled at the moment and are always on. There is plenty of feedback on this already though, so I expect we’ll see a change here.

The updates are kind odd in some respects and I’d be curious to know what the algorithm for selecting them is as it appears there is more going on than just freshness of the update. You can hide individual updates, but there isn’t currently a way to hide updates for games as a whole. I thought at first it might be looking at the games I ‘follow’ but this doesn’t seem to be the case as some titles that show I don’t follow presently.

The updates row I find of dubious utility then, and I’ll likely continue to use the general ‘Activity’ log for a review of updates I’m interested in for games I own and for those I don’t. Still — I don’t think I’d turn it off even should that option become available. Entirely possible something will catch my eye.

The recent titles list however may become my most common game launch point, with it showing games both recently added to the library (Hai2u last Humble Monthly titles!) and your actual last played on a timeline, which you can scroll back for further history.

The Library ‘Shelf’ Space

This is where you start getting to customise. Ohh yeaah. By default you’ll have an ‘All games’ shelf, but you can add others based on your categories (now revamped to ‘collections’, which I’ll get to shortly).

You can then sort the display order within an individual shelf on any number of criteria. Stock standard alphabetical, played time, games which have the most friends currently playing, release date, etc. Can even sort by metacritic score if that way inclined, or perhaps just looking for something to pick up next.

A particular shelf will always display one row of titles no matter what — but you can toggle between that one row only and a full display of every title within that category/collection.

In the screenshot above you can see I’ve added my ever optimistic ‘Play soon?’ category (although I guess at least I was self-aware enough to add a question mark to it). ;)

I may also end up adding an ‘Uncategorised’ shelf to the view simply so that I have a visual reminder not to let this group grow too excessively large again.

But particularly if you weren’t one to categorise your games previously — then this shelf concept may not be of too much interest yet. Which brings us to the new collections — specifically, Dynamic Collections.

Category Improvements and Dynamic Collections

Before — if you wanted to categorise your titles, it was by hand. And it involved a few clicks too many to do it. (Right Click, Set Category, tick the categories you wanted, click OK.)

It was tedious, in short.

And error prone too. Not sure entirely how I missed this given they would’ve been right next to each other all along, but I had both a ‘CCG’ and a ‘CCGs’ category. <facepalm>

Now at least — and I hope you’re seated for this, because it’s some really revolutionary tech we’re about to talk about here…

…You can click and drag from one category to another.

Wizardry!

I jest. And of course it does demonstrate just how far behind the times parts of Steam’s interface was before. But whatever the before state was like — this? This is nice.

You can multi-select (which to be fair, was possible before too), and then drag those items into the new category you want (or to the top to simply remove from the category you’re dragging them from currently). The UI has some really nice visual feedback about where its going, with even the border in the visual display on the right turning solid to indicate the currently hovered category.

So if by-hand curation of your categories is your thing, this is now a relatively painless task even for big libraries.

But if you’d prefer, you can create and define ‘Dynamic Collections’ and I’m seriously considering converting my categorisation system over to this.

My old categories, plus opened the Filter options display — which is how you can create Dynamic Collections.

There are a number of ‘built-in’ filter toggles as it were. If you want to create a collection of only co-operative RPG games that feature trading cards and achievements — you could do that. Any new game you purchase or add to your library in the future fitting this criteria would be automatically added to this collection, too.

If — like me — you want to get a little more specific than the broad genre categorisations allow for, you can also add any number of Store Tags to your filter. Want a dynamic collection that lists your completely unplayed games that the store tags have listed as having ‘Great soundtrack’? You could do that.

Being possibly a bit more practical (for me, at least) I’m more likely to create collections of things like ‘Multiplayer titles I have installed’, add that collection to my home page and then sort it by friends playing. Gives an easy launch point for jumping into things with buddies.

I’ll also likely switch my current genre manual categories over to dynamic collections using a mix of the prebuilt/base-line criteria and store tags. Not having to manually curate any more would be a Godsend. xD

Overall Impressions

Very positive, if you couldn’t tell.

I appreciate that even the classic style ‘list’ on the left was not removed immensely. It has received the benefit of updates to searchibility, sorting options1 and the filters used to create dynamic collections will also pare down this list.

Switching to the Library view is snappy, and scrolling even a list of hundreds of games poses no performance issues (in my experience). I even flicked the scroll wheel around the place with smooth/infinite scroll mode toggled on the mouse itself and no problem. As soon as the scrolling stopped the thumbs appeared snappily, despite loading from a standard HDD as opposed to an SSD.

I’ve certainly offered some feedback on the odd thing I’d like to see added (there is a beta feedback in the top right of the Library’s homepage), but even in its current beta state — it is a night and day improvement over what came before.

Post Publish Update: The Actual Game Entry Pages

Paeroka’s comment made me realise I missed out on a glaringly large piece of this update — the game entry pages! They’ve been given a bit of a spit-shine as well.

Each game receives its own mini-activity page, specific to the game itself. It now shows a log of news updates, achievements and shared screenshots from friends and yourself.

As a nice little piece of visual flair, any achievement where less than 10% of the game’s population has achieved it will be given an animated golden border.

Unsure yet whether this will change my general habit of consuming update news through the main ‘Activity’ page, but I could certainly see it being handy when interest strikes out of the blue for a particular game to see how it’s come along since I last checked it out. I used to go direct to the game store pages for that, but now wouldn’t need to. :)

It’s a Bit of a Fixer-Upper

Before the Beyond update, the last time I played No Man’s Sky was at launch. Back then finding a spaceship wreck on another planet was a fairly common occurrence. But also an experience lacking any kind of excitement. They were always the same ship — a carbon copy of the one you started with. In fact, the whole space around them screamed that you’d simply found another potential starting point for another player.

So I hadn’t really noticed their lack this time around. Until I found one.

I’ve managed to get this thing off the ground and flight worthy. Just. There is still a load of damage to repair, though.

Off the bat, I could tell it wasn’t the same design as the starter ship. It looked about as close to an X-Wing design as the lawyers of Hello Games were willing to let them go.

Intrigued, I jumped into the cockpit to see the damage. From outside it was visibly sparking, with parts of the fuselage torn.

It’s a rainbow! I didn’t even know they’d added these as a possibility!

I was greeted by a series of alerts and warnings from the ship’s auto-diagnostic scan. Shields were inoperable. Launch drive busted. Pulse drive out of action. Photon cannons kaput. Hyperdrive broken. Through all this I almost entirely missed that underneath all the muck and destruction, was an A-Class ship, compared to my C-Class. Also? It had an S-Class (Legendary, basically) ranked Launch System Refueller mod. A mod that would slowly recharge the launch drive when the ship was inert. (Or perhaps at S-Rank, not so slowly.)

The Refueller sealed the deal. You see, without one of these, it’s a constant battle to keep the fuel-hungry launch drive ready to go and able to answer your beck and call should you so wish it. I had to make this thing mine. It was time to setup a base on this planet and fix it up.

Repair of the basic systems was not too difficult. Placing down a portable refinery, I was able to synthesise the more basic compounds on the spot.

The more advanced materials I still can’t manufacture on my own. But with the basics I could at least get into the air with it and navigate to the in-system space station. There I could purchase the necessary microchip components and nanoweave-type materials to bring the remaining systems online.

All systems but one.

The Launch Thruster Refueller required technology not available in this system. Namely, a Carbon Mirror. I’ve seen them on offer before but I had no requirement for one previously. And they were expensive. That plus 3 additional Antimatter will do the trick. That I can make on my own steam next time I jump in to play.

After this? Well, the work still isn’t done. A lot of the storage space is also wrecked. A mix of containment leaks from elsewhere in the ship to sections torn to shreds like I mentioned before. On top of this, all the additional technology spots are in need of expensive repairs.

It’s entirely possible I’ll take this ship to market and check on its resale value against another functional ship with the modification I want. But who knows… Everyone needs a project. :)

Hello Games

So begins Week Three of Blaugust 2019. Developer Appreciation week. The title isn’t giving greeting to Games in general. Rather it is indicating that we’ll be talking about the developer behind the once much maligned No Man’s Sky.

There is no denying that mistakes were made in the marketing around No Man’s Sky. Gamers as a bunch while not happy about it, have certainly come to expect some… ‘flux’ between developer promises and end product. There are whole rafts of reasons why something discussed early on in a development cycle might not make it to the launched product.

Waking on a new world. This shot doesn’t show it obviously, but planets can have more than a single biome/texture type now. I can’t begin to express how happy this makes me.

But Hello Games (and in particular, Sean Murray lead dev and face of the project) took this to some really extreme places. The one that everyone typically recalls is multiplayer, but there was more. Much more. I would argue some of those additional missing aspects to be even more impactful of the overall experience, too.

The difference in this case though, isn’t that it was just early video or promises latched onto.

A month out from launch, Sean was out in front of media, launching new footage and in general hyping up a version of No Man’s Sky that simply did not exist in any playable form.

I don’t think this narrative should be allowed to be retrospectively altered. I don’t think that people angry about this should be cast as merely ‘entitled’, as if there was no legitimate reason to be upset about what happened. Nor do I think it is OK to blame the consumer for being suckered into believing there would be multiplayer.

Having said all that though…

Sean said it very well in an interview last year:

“The internet is really good at knowing when somebody has made a mistake, [but] it’s not necessarily the best at determining the most appropriate response,…”

Sean Murray, talking to The Guardian (2018)
Visibility conditions were amazing before the storm hit. In this shot, I’m no longer even sure I’m still heading toward the shelter I saw as the storm rolled in.

And this is exceptionally true.

Death threats were made against the team and Sean personally for how things unfolded. It should probably go without saying — but that’s never OK. The entire interview is well worth a read. Even though Sean was understandably reluctant to dredge through the details of the launch era the insight into the pain and worry caused is clear to see.

But They Didn’t Give Up

And this is where the ‘appreciation’ part of this post really begins.

I don’t know commercially how they’re even funding these updates. I haven’t looked into sales figures around each update but while I would assume there to be a spike I also struggle to imagine it’s sufficient to break even.

Perhaps I’m totally wrong — maybe the early cycle of refunds of NMS meant there was much left money left on the table after all.

But whether it’s commercially viable or not. When this sort of thing happens, the usual response is to head for the hills and maybe one day return under a new banner. Or to simply move on to a new title and try put the last one behind you.

Ringed planets might not have been in at launch. But they certainly are now. And they look even better from the surface.

Hello Games has stuck around and put in some huge effort into bringing the original vision if not all the way, then at least closer to being reality. Reading the Reddit post I referenced earlier is actually quite amazing. It puts into context how much of what was missing at launch is present now.

There might be some line of sight to eventual monetisation of this work. Some sort of expansion or full on NMS 2. But after bringing in true multiplayer, controllable Freighters, base building and technology research, improving the flight model, expanding planet biome diversity and just a craptonne more. All for free. At this stage I’d say they’ve earned the right to it. I’m extremely appreciative of the work Hello Games has pumped into NMS.

And if you’ll excuse me a moment, I need to go jump back in with a friend! :D

Steam Library (finally) to get Overhaul

I just saw this from a Steam blog post from a few days ago. The blog post is mostly about getting game developers and publishers ready with the new art assets required to support the new look.

Fortunately, it also referred to the March 2019 GDC Talk1 where this was actually first announced. Unfortunately, very little about the proposed feature set has been discussed so far. Although Steam did also say that we’re now only ‘weeks away’ from a public beta being available — so it won’t be too long before we find out, at least.

Last years chat update though was amazing, but in some respects possibly too late. A lot of what Steam chat now solves for we’d already found a solution for in Discord. This means a lot of the group and voice functionality goes unused by us (and I would imagine in many other circles, too). Still — it is nice to know that should the business model of Discord suddenly change that we have another option.

It’s almost difficult to recall just how antiquated and tired looking chat was, now. And despite the group functions largely going by the by with us, the degree of thought and design effort put into it gives me great hope that they know what they’re doing and are likely running co-design sessions or some other form of human centred design framework to get where they do.

I’m pleased the left-side classic list of games is still present, though.

The main usability feature added that I can tell so far is the additional ways to sort and categorise. The ‘tags’ feature that has been present in the Steam Store itself for a while now can be used to sort your games. From the screenshot above there looks to be a time based sort option too. I believe this is reflecting last played — but I would really like to see a time filter based on last updated too.

I currently have a boat load of custom categories based on game genres and played state. My hope is that I’ll no longer have to manage these by hand and the tags will handle it for me. If I get even just that — I’m going to be pretty happy. Anything else on top is gravy.

I’ll certainly be giving the beta a go once its available in any case. I’m curious to see how games are handled that don’t have their library assets updated to the newly requested specifications. I would expect there are going to be a number of older (and possibly some not so old) titles where for whatever reason the update doesn’t happen, so I guess we’ll see!