Gabe Newell doesn't just spend his time making himself look like Austrian Santa Claus - he also heads up gaming software titan Valve. And, soon, gaming hardware titan Valve. Their 'Steambox' PC-as-a-console concept isn't a secret anymore, and indeed Newell now claims the first units might well be in the wild within the next three to four months.
The BBC grabbed Gabe at last night's gaming BAFTAs and encouraged him to talk about time-scales, design and what stops it from happening right now. You should watch the whole video, both because of the Austrian Santa thing and because there's a whole lot more about the Steambox concept in there, but here are some pertinent quotes.
“We’re working with partners trying to nail down how fast we can make it. We’ll be giving out some prototypes to customers to gauge their reactions, I guess, in the next three to four months,” he told a surprisingly gaming-informed Auntie. He says "yeah, your average gamer has a pretty good idea of what it will be like" in response to questioning about whether it's basically a PC in a box or not.
However, “There are noise issues and heat issues and being able to [deal with] that while still offering a powerful enough gaming experience is the challenge in building it.” This suggests to me that there's some pretty saucy hardware in there - given you can stick a low-to-midrange system in a reasonably thin and quiet laptop these days. He acknowledges there'll be a lot of solid state bits in there to try and keep heat and noise down.
Gamepads - or whatever brave new hand-based world they're trying out - are also presenting obstacles, apparently. "We have a couple of different controller prototypes that we're using, and that's one of the things that we're giving to customers."
Outside of button pushing is the wearable computing concepts Valve's long been talking up, which will apparently play a part in the Steambox. "You need to actually be able to directly measure how aroused the player is - what their heart rate is, things like that - in order to offer them a new experience each time they play." Er. I am NOT COOL with Valve knowing how aroused I'm feeling, nor am I sticking any tubes into Little Alec.
Newell also reckoned the biometric stuff would be available outside of Steamboxes too, which is good news for us true-blue PC players. Presumably this means I might be wiring my heart up to a spare USB port any month now.
He also refuses to talk about Half-Life 3 in any way. Boo!