Steam Updates: New L4D2, & SILK Voicechat

By John Walker on March 23rd, 2011 at 12:57 am.

It looks quite warm, as it happens.

If you were to restart your Steam account, you’d notice that your copy of Left 4 Dead 2 would start updating. This is to add in the beta for a new campaign, Cold Stream. It has a few bugs, but that’s why God gave us betas. Wow, that’s such a succinct news story I need to add another.

If you were to restart your Steam account, you’d notice that it would have updated to change its voice chat technology. As anyone who’s ever used Steam Voice will know, it wasn’t exactly as good as it could have been. It’s now been replaced with SILK, an audio codec developed by the Skype peeps, with what I like to call a “dynamic bit rate protocol”, meaning it can vary its bandwidth up to 30kbps (twice as much as Steam Voice would use.) Valve adds that the voice chat connectivity and reliability has also been improved, which is mighty fine news as we were increasingly finding ourselves opting for using non-Steam chat when playing together. Isn’t that all smashing?

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73 Comments »

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  1. Vinraith says:

    Traditionally I’ve used skype when playing Steam games, so I suppose they made a good choice there.

    • Skull says:

      Same here, this needed doing along time ago. The less applications running in the background the better, especailly as alt+tabbing to add people into the convo got fustrating. Skype also did something wierd where adding someone would minimise everyone else who was in the convo games, not good when you are in the middle of fending off a spy with your wrench!

    • Shih Tzu says:

      Actually, my friends and I seemed to have better luck with Steam Voice than we did with the L4D2 in-game voice chat, which half the time would result in Player A able to hear Player B but not Player C, and Player C able to hear Player A but not Player B, etc. Granted, I don’t think that’s happened in a few months.

    • Daave says:

      I’ve noticed Skype becoming slightly more annoying in recent updates. I guess it’s just going through the lifecycle of most popular programs; provide good software, become popular, get carried away with features, lose popularity. It happened with Azureus and VLC among others.

    • Premium User Badge

      dog says:

      VLC isn’t popular anymore? theres a better alternative? please spill the beans….

    • Daave says:

      Media player classic

    • Premium User Badge

      kregg says:

      You can’t really compare Media Player Classic to VLC.

      VLC is like a massive monolith that can do DVD playback (including bypassing the DVD ads), streaming (files or your own desktop), conversion of audio and video file formats, and playback of many media file formats.

      Media Player Classic just does the multiple media file formats playback. Personally, for watching different different videos, I’d prefer Media Player Classic, but I wouldn’t say VLC is unpopular. If you know what to do with it, it’s an absolute lifesaver.

    • Collic says:

      Last time I checked media player classic still required codecs, while VLC requires nothing aside from a small download. So VLC still wins for me. It plays anything; it’s a brilliant bit of software. That’s without mentioning dvd playback and the other stuff.

      I use it for everything, even as a jukebox when i play music over a game. It still has a tiny footprint, and stuff like opening a folder and having it magically queue up all the tracks as a playlist is a godsend. There has been some traditional open source in-fighting lately, and a few more bugs are cropping up, but it’s still the best around imo.

    • rayne117 says:

      You can take my children, but I’ll be goddamned if you’re going to take my VLC.

    • whydidyoumakemeregister says:

      Er, I think he meant Media Player Classic Home Cinema, which blows VLC out of the water in nearly every way imaginable.

  2. Shih Tzu says:

    So, just to clarify, this is one of the user-made campaigns?

  3. Premium User Badge

    TheTourist314 says:

    I still think it’ll be hard to convince my friends to use anything other than Skype still.

    • passingstranger says:

      I just don’t understand this. Vent? Naturally. X-fire voice? Of course. Mumble? Sure.

      But Skype? Why Skype? Why ever Skype?

    • skinlo says:

      Because it works?

    • Palodin says:

      Because people are too lazy to learn to use another program, even if it is superior to what they currently have.

      This update doesn’t affect me anyway, the only people I care to voice chat with whilst gaming are on a Mumble server anyway.

    • Thants says:

      Just think of it as an opportunity to make newer, better friends.

    • Ushao says:

      Because when everyone who is going to play is already in a Skype IM conference it’s easiest to just hit the call button rather than make sure everyone is logged into the right Vent/TS server and in the right room, etc. Plus to be honest I’ve been on a lot of TS and Vent servers, even running both of my own on dedicated hardware for a while and Skype just seems to work right and the audio quality is great.

    • Milky1985 says:

      UNless they have fixed it since i last use it (a few years back) skype is a serious resource hog, vent just sits there happily not using much CPU or ram, whereas skype gobbles as much as it can.

      Oh and theres the whole skype can use your bandwidth to service other peopels calls thing, generall if your playing games you want all the bandwidth ot yourself!

    • AdamK117 says:

      Skype eliminates feedback. A feature you only realize is so important when you go back into vent and constantly hear the echo of everyone going through eachovers speakers. Sure, you can buy a headset but why bother when theres software out there that does the job well, for free, and eats up slightly (insignificantly slightly compared to the total resources of a gaming rig) more processing power?

    • theSAiNT says:

      Doesn’t skype sit in the background and EATS YOUR BANDWIDTHSSSS?

  4. Calneon says:

    What happened to TS/Vent/Mumble? Everyone seems to be using Skype these days.

    • godkingemperor says:

      kids etc

    • Palodin says:

      These kids are too cheap to dish out the £1 a month it costs to rent a mumble server (Or £2.50 for vent/TS), too lazy to host one themselves too it seems.

    • LionsPhil says:

      All of those options are terrible.

      Why in the hell would you use an external tool at all and lose the coupling with the game server you’re on and the ability for the game to provide cues as to which player is talking. You’re all crazy.

    • Vinraith says:

      It all depends on what you’re using it for. Yes, if you’re playing with random strangers you probably want an in-game client. If you’re playing with a real life friend or two, not having your voice client tied to your game is a good thing. It lets you bounce freely between different games, lets you decide what game to play that night and so on.

    • Palodin says:

      Cross game chat? If I’m relying on the games own voice comms I can’t talk with a friend doing something else. Also if I’m playing a multiplayer game I often don’t want to talk to anyone on the server, just my friends.

      As for cues, not that I need them (I can recognise my friends voices), all good voice comms software comes with an ingame overlay these days which will helpfully tell me who’s talking.

      Not to mention the better quality found in the likes of ol’ Vent and Mumble, and the feature in the latter where it quietens the game when someones talking (Optional, of course). Especially handy when someone has a poor mic.

    • Jockie says:

      Most of the external voice applications have optional UI overlays anyway, so you can see whose talking.

  5. Turfster says:

    This new campaign is just sadistic.
    We gave up after 9 consecutive deaths on the bridge map.

    • skinlo says:

      What difficulty you playing? Me and my friend did it with 2 bots on advanced. We went up to the top of the bridge.

    • dux says:

      Yep, it definitely seemed tougher than the Valve campaigns, but I just about managed to scrape though on advanced with a few random peeps. What was curious was the apparent lack of hero closets. One guy died and it was only a good 15 or 20 minutes later that we realised he still hadn’t respawned. This may be deliberate, but the campaign seemed hard enough without having to deal with being a man down for half a level.

      I also don’t know why Valve chose to add this as a quasi-official campaign, since to me it just feels like any other community made campaign, of which I’ve played quite a few already. It certainly doesn’t have the polish of the Valve-made campaigns, in both the gameplay which offers nothing unique over any other campaign, and in visual style which is pretty bland to say the least.

    • Turfster says:

      We started out on advanced, which worked for the first 2 maps.
      Then we started lowering it, until we managed to get over the bridge.
      The god damned mast killed us way too many times tho (and the zombie that’s ALWAYS hiding under the scaffolding turned out to be a charger twice and a tank once)

    • Qazi says:

      I assume, as it is still beta, they’ve not worked out the tempo of the campaign yet, thus where best to stick the heroclosets.

      Perhaps they’ll be using this to collect a heat map for deaths, or something.

    • Turfster says:

      … Sacrifice runs to the chopper DO NOT WORK.

  6. Fragman says:

    Detest Skype for games – no push-to-talk baffles me. Mumbles the ticket

    • tremulant says:

      Indeed, Mumble is superb, can’t say the idea that anyone would ever use skype for gaming voice chat had ever crossed my mind.

    • Palodin says:

      Skype has PTT… of a sort. You could sort of fiddle the Mute Microphone button to function as one, keep it muted most of the time and unmute when you need to I suppose.

      Awkward though, and I doubt most people know to do it, these the same people who listen to music or have loud families and oversensitive microphones

    • skinlo says:

      Need to communicate more then! Push to chat is irritating if you are constantly talking.

    • Ushao says:

      In games we tend to communicate too much for PTT to be an asset. If anything, it’s a hindrance. Larger groups I can understand but in games where my typical team is 2-4 PTT really feels worthless.

    • Njordsk says:

      Mumble + push to talk on the mouse button = win.
      It’s getting on my nerves when I hear people breathing or talking to their cats.

    • DiGi says:

      Great is Mumble with “button for mute”. And use ScrollLock as mute button.

    • Optimaximal says:

      You do understand that they haven’t used Skype’s interface or mechanisms, just it’s audio protocol/codec. Nobody should really notice any functional difference.

    • Dominic White says:

      Well, there should be SOME functional difference. The difference being that it functions now, instead of bombarding you with incoherent warbling noise masquerading as the human voice.

    • tremulant says:

      You do understand that they haven’t used Skype’s interface or mechanisms, just it’s audio protocol/codec. Nobody should really notice any functional difference.

      I doubt that anyone imagined they were going to, we’re talking about the trend for people to use full-blown skype over other dedicated gaming voip apps.

    • Fragman says:

      As far as “no PTT is handier” goes, that’s really a matter of taste. I’ve gotten so into PTT that I hold down the button while on on the phone in a game haha.

      I saw a PTT user made patch for Skype actually, but again, it should be there anyway. Ca’t exactly be a huge feature to include, and the number of people using it for gaming does seem reasonably large.

      I honestly don’t like voice activation because when it’s on, if someone in the house shouts to me, or I get carried away on the keyboard, or start grunting ( CSS and LoL, eh?), I don’t want to be annoying my mates. Bugs the hell out of me.

      Not that voice activation is wrong, just my preferences

      Oh dear. [/rage]

  7. Gazanator101 says:

    A new campaign? Swee-tah.

  8. Pointless Puppies says:

    Can I have a separate chat channel between in-game chat and chat with friends? Because that’s the only reason why I’m using XFire, and I was really disappointed to learn that all chat was equal in Steam back then.

    • Optimaximal says:

      Start a voice chat in Steam before you launch the game?

  9. Memph says:

    *minor spoilers*
    .
    .
    .
    Had a quick run-through on advanced, taking just under 50mins. Some pretty nice, if a little overdone (slomo belongs in alien swarm, not so much in l4d and never that slow for that long) setpieces, notably the bridge tanker and tunnel of bloom.
    Fun bug on the finalé where i spawned outside the safe room and was killed during the helicopter cutscene, much to my friends’ amusement. Other than that and a few pathing issues, where tanks and horde could be confused by survivors clambering onto props, it was a nice campaign to play through, with a decent amount of pickups in good places and some very nasty spots for vs, clearly with death charges in mind. There’s gonna be some rage.
    Finalé felt a bit Parish-lite, quite easy to rush though with a couple biles and pipes, which i’m not too much a fan of as standard finalés helped change the dynamic of moving from A to B, to hunkering down and making a stand. 2 thumbs fresh all-in-all though to more free DLC, though i can’t see Cold Stream overshadowing the arrival of the original L4D1 maps. Dead Air is wot i want!

  10. DOLBYdigital says:

    Once I got my mic working with Steam (which took a bit of tweaking) I’ve had no problems with in game voice. Hoping this new update helps doesn’t change that and helps others join in. L4D is much better with voice chat. Glad to see Valve still working with the modders and helping get the good ones pushed out to all. See everyone online this weekend!

  11. skinlo says:

    I’m hoping Valve does more of this type of thing by releasing more community maps. It saves them work, and means we get more releases more often.

  12. Eukatheude says:

    Just tried the new campaign. It’s not bad at all, i expected much worse, since how horrible The Sacrifice was.
    Some design issues, it’s often unclear where to go, and most of it is a Serious Sam-like corridor.

  13. edit says:

    Until I can play this uncensored I’m just not bothering. Thanks broken Aussie politics.

    • Wulf says:

      I’m guessing that the AUS version of Left 4 Dead (and 2) uses a different Steam ID which is locked to region. So hey, here’s an idea – what would happen if you had someone from a region which doesn’t have the censorship built in gifts it to you? Essentially, would you get the one with the ID of the region of the person gifting it, or would you get the one which is censored?

      I can’t say since I haven’t tried, but it might be worth someone trying when there’s a sale, next.

    • Premium User Badge

      Hideous says:

      It works, I *have* tried.

    • mda says:

      Yep someone in uncensored country gifting to AU works, me n all my mates got it this way :)

  14. Captain Hijinx says:

    Wow!

    The voice chat on Steam is actually fucking useful now! Tested it last night and holy crap there is a world of difference. Nice one Valve!

  15. Premium User Badge

    Hideous says:

    Happy happy spam fun time, yes!

  16. Wulf says:

    I like the way the spambot says ‘surprise’ at the top of its post.

    “We got past your security. Surprise! Now, here, have some spam.”

    They’re like surprise plague-bearers. Which would be an absolutely hilarious idea for a bizarre comic book villain.

  17. Hoaxfish says:

    In my day, we typed everything, now get off my lawn!

    • westyfield says:

      That was back in the day when speech was in black and white.

  18. mr_faemir says:

    I’m disappointed that Valve didn’t use Mumble’s CELT or at least Speex, which are far superior to Skype’s SILK.

    It would cost them less too >:|

  19. B0GiE-uk- says:

    Now we need positional voice audio in game with moving mouths on players when they speak!

    How awesome would that be!

    • Premium User Badge

      shaydeeadi says:

      I know Rainbow 6: Vegas 2 had the mouth moving thing, was pretty cool.
      Positional audio would be pretty funky, but I would want it optional, for some games it would be more of a hindrance.

    • Dominic White says:

      Nah, that’d be pretty terrible for L4D/TF2. A large part of why the style of those games works so very well is that you’re controlling a character, rather than actually being one. If the voice of a slurring, gravel-voiced texan starts coming out of Rochelles mouth, it’d shatter the fragile illusion more effectively than you can imagine.

      Having player voices as these disembodied things that exist seemingly outside of the characters works nicely.

    • Eddeman says:

      While I don’t really care for the moving mouths part, I’d love to have the positional voice thing as an option at least, maybe as an added feature at the highest difficulty. Of course you could just use vent or something to bypass it but it would be interesting, forcing you to stick together to be able to communicate. Lag too far behind and you might just find yourself in a bit of a pinch without being able to tell anyone about it. Like getting nabbed by a smoker (which would mute your voicecomm for added fun, you’re being strangled remember?).

      And it would be damn funny watching 3 people running around screaming: “Dave! Where you at?!?”
      I guess you’d need some kind of volume normalization for people close to you though, since screaming and voicecomm is not the same as screaming in real life.

  20. Premium User Badge

    Colthor says:

    “It has a few bugs, but that’s why God gave us betas.”
    Not because it’s a L4D/Alien Swarm crossover, then? Aww.

  21. Premium User Badge

    Malibu Stacey says:

    People actually use the Steam voice chat? In game works fine for Source games when you’re playing public & for everything else e.g matches/scrims/general community tomfoolery there’s Mumble (or Ventrilo if you’re still using that).

  22. Stephen Roberts says:

    Can you turn off the voice acting in L4D2 yet? I bought that game ages ago and like it, except I can’t stand to play it because of the voice acting. When the story is in it’s entirety ‘zombies’ there’s no need for characters other than… you know…the players. Real people.

    Also can you buy friends to play it with?

    • theSAiNT says:

      But the characters are actually a really nice part of the L4D lore.

      Valve has quite a well developed backstory for them and all the maps are tied together in a single story arc. You don’t have to look if you don’t want to but it’s there.

      I’d recommend checking out the comic for ‘The Sacrifice’ campaign for instance: http://www.l4d.com/comic/comic.php

  23. Shih Tzu says:

    Sure, you guys make fun, but I can’t help it. I really have a thing for shoes forking.