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Gabe Opens Up About Valve's Own Biometric Steam Box

It will almost certainly look nothing like this. But we can dream, can't we?

The Steam Box drama is now reaching soap-opera-esque levels. First, Xi3 announced that it’s partnered with Valve to birth a bouncing baby space grapefruit, then Valve noted that plenty of other prototypes are waiting in the wings, and now Gabe Newell’s emerged from the shadows to chat up Valve’s own Linux-powered, biometrically-controlled Steam Box. What’s next, I ask you? Will we discover that Half-Life 2: Episode 3 never died, but instead got shipwrecked on an island/overwrought metaphor/the moon, conveniently acquired amnesia, and came to believe that it, too, was a Steam Box? Or is some contrived, out-of-left-field twist going to reveal that our closest friends were Steam Boxes all along? It’s just too much, everyone. I’m not sure if I can deal with it.

Speaking (yes, Gabe still does that occasionally) with The Verge, the Valve head honcho held very little back in discussing his company’s work on its own in-house Steam Box. The big (though not exactly unexpected) bullet points? A Linux-based backend and a custom controller that’ll probably incorporate biometric feedback. You know, like from your heart and eyes and epiglottis and whatnot. Newell explained:

“We’ll come out with our own and we’ll sell it to consumers by ourselves. That’ll be a Linux box, [and] if you want to install Windows you can. We’re not going to make it hard. This is not some locked box by any stretch of the imagination. We also think that a controller that has higher precision and lower latency is another interesting thing to have.”

“I think you’ll see controllers coming from us that use a lot of biometric data. Maybe the motion stuff is just failure of imagination on our part, but we’re a lot more excited about biometrics as an input method. Your hands, and your wrist muscles, and your fingers are actually your highest bandwidth – so to try and talk to a game with your arms is essentially saying ‘oh we’re gonna stop using ethernet and go back to 300 baud dial-up.’ …Biometrics on the other hand is essentially adding more communication bandwidth between the game and the person playing it, especially in ways the player isn’t necessarily conscious of. Biometrics gives us more visibility. Also, gaze tracking. we think gaze tracking is gonna turn out to be super important.”

And that’s just the beginning. Newell also discussed the possibility of opening up Steam’s store and letting all users set up shop as they please, Valve’s forays into mobile hardware (specifically, control setups that push us beyond the “anti-game” touch screen era), and – of course – how much he despises Windows 8.

So then, living room PC gaming, biometrics, open platforms, and user-generated content. It’s pretty typical Valve rhetoric, but it’s nice to finally hear Gabe open up about how exactly it’ll all be applied. There’s still no telling where exactly the PC overlord’s roadmap of the future will take us, but I can’t really argue with the intentions behind it. As ever, though, I’m hoping for less telling and more showing. Talk, after all, is cheap. And let’s be honest: Valve’s ideas are wonderful more often than not, but execution’s sometimes another story. So I’m gonna take the watch and wait approach with this stuff for now, and – in the meantime – keep as tight of hand as humanly possible on the keys to my entertainment destiny.

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Nathan Grayson

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