John Gibson has been making PC-exclusive games for more than a decade. As President of Tripwire Interactive, he's helped push Killing Floor, Red Orchestra 2, Rising Storm out the door of the developer's Roswell, Georgia studio. He also happens to have a pretty nice sound system for his PC. We asked Gibson to weigh in on Valve's trinity of announcements .
PCG: What's your reaction to SteamOS?
John Gibson: An open platform OS created by a company focused on gaming and meeting customers needs--how could we not be excited by SteamOS?
Are you actively developing for SteamOS?
Gibson: We actually just learned about SteamOS a few days before the rest of the world and we haven't gotten our hands on it just yet. Fortunately Valve gave us a heads up a while back that adding Linux and Big Picture support would "be a pretty good idea going forward." So we started working on Linux and Big Picture support soon after that. We've now got three of our four games released on Linux and one of those games with Big Picture mode support. That has put us in a really good position to take advantage of SteamOS when it is released since it is essentially Linux + Big Picture + Awesome Performance Optimizations + Other Cool Stuff. We'll be working on setting up the rest of our recent titles with SteamOS support in the not too distant future. We also plan on releasing our next unannounced title with SteamOS support right out of the box.
What impact do you expect a Steam-centered OS and set of hardware to have on PC gaming?
Gibson: I believe that the combination of SteamOS, Steam Machines, and Steam Controller will be the best thing to happen to PC gaming since digital distribution, perhaps the biggest thing to happen to gaming itself in a generation. For the first time ever the entire path from game developer to the customer's hands is being created by a company focused on game development and giving gamers what they want. Digital distribution, particularly Steam, took two roadblocks out of the path--the big publishers and retail stores. Before digital distribution you couldn't get your game into customers' hands without a big publisher and retail stores--both of which in most cases didn't add value at all for the end user, the gamer. This blocked a lot of innovative games from getting into gamers hands. Then you've got the OS as another step in the path. For years we've seen the Windows OS getting in the way of game development in many ways, and Apple has been pretty apathetic about gaming on Mac OS up until just recently. Getting an OS completely geared towards gaming, with all of the OS bloat that slows games down removed sounds like a godsend to game developers and gets another roadblock out of the way.
Next you have the hardware. PC gamers have been loath to move to the consoles because they are outdated so quickly and can't be upgraded, the game prices are bloated, and they can't stand the idea of giving up the quick responsiveness of the mouse and keyboard. Console gamers on the other hand have been limited to the closed console ecosystem where modding is cut off and things like Counter-Strike, Desert Combat, and Dota would never have existed. In the closed console ecosystems games like TF2 or our own game Killing Floor that constantly put out free content and provide value to the gamer wouldn't have been allowed to do all those free updates.
Steam Machines sound like the best of both worlds. It opens the door to the living room for developers like us to get our games into the living room on a platform that is open and allows the kind of innovation that PC game developers are used to. It also opens the door for a whole generation of console gamers to experience what they have been missing out on. It sounds like there will be a wide variety of Steam Machines that fit all gamers' budgets which is great. Since Valve have done the smart thing and left their platform open that will encourage competition between hardware manufacturers, which can only serve to keep the cost of the machines down and bring value to the gamer. Finally, if the rumors going around are true and this "input" that Valve has hinted about is a controller that allows you to have mouse-like aiming and control while sitting on your couch--well that is the holy grail of gaming right there.
What are your concerns regarding adding SteamOS as a development platform?
Gibson: There are a few concerns that a developer has to look at when releasing a game on a new platform. What is the cost going to be to port/maintain compatibility and will we make our money back? How is the performance going to be? Is there good driver support? What we've seen in the past since Steam has come to Mac and Linux that about 10 percent of our game sales are now on those platforms. That extra 10 percent in sales was definitely worth putting our games on those platforms.
For our newer games we do have some concerns about maintaining two rendering paths--DirectX for Windows and OpenGL for Linux, Mac, and SteamOS. But actually the biggest hurdle for us is adding controller support to our existing games. Since they were designed to be played with a mouse and keyboard, and the interface was designed for a mouse and keyboard it will be quite a bit of work to get them functioning well with a standard console controller. We're now designing our newer games to work well with both mouse and keyboard and controllers from the start. Even with these concerns, we're incredibly excited about Steam OS and Steam Machines and will be supporting them fully. We think like most things Valve do this is going to be huge, and if I were Sony or Microsoft I would be very concerned right now.
Tripwire's known for making PC-exclusive FPSes. How confident are you that Steam Controller is going to be an improvement over the Xbox 360 controller for first-person shooters? What do you like about the device?
Gibson: Valve actually gave us the heads-up about the controller a while back although we didn't know all of the details until we learned them today with the rest of the world. We haven't gotten our hands on one yet (very soon though) so I can only make assumptions at this point. The thing about Valve though, is they don't make claims lightly. They are PC gamers and shooter players. So if they say they made a controller that works as well as a mouse and keyboard then I'd put my money on them having done it and done it right. As a hardcore PC FPS player, and former competitive FPS player I really can't stand playing FPS games on a console controller like the Xbox 360 controller. Playing shooter games with the instant aiming and precision that a mouse provides is an extremely exciting and visceral experience. It is an experience a whole generation of console shooter players have been robbed of.
If the Steam Controller can provide mouse-like instant aiming and precision then it will be a vast improvement over all previous console controllers. I actually play quite a few shooters on my mobile phone, and one of the things I had noticed was that using the touch screen on my phone to aim actually gave me pretty similar control and precision to using a mouse. So if the trackpads on the Steam Controller have that level of resolution and fidelity, I could see them working well for playing shooters.
What I like about the device is that Valve clearly took a "clean slate" approach to it's design. The ability to look around/aim as well as with a mouse was clearly at the top of the list, and I'm glad someone finally had the balls to take on that problem. Every new standard console generation I've waited with baited breath to see if any of the big console makers would tackle this problem only to be let down when I see their new controller is just like their old one. I also think the touch screen in the middle will be a really cool feature. I can't wait to talk to our design team and see what type of cool functionality we could use it for. Honestly I couldn't be more excited about this controller. I've been dreaming about something like this for over 10 years, and from the looks of it it's finally here.
Thanks for talking with us, John.