Oh, Valve: they're playing us like a harp this week, and frankly we don't mind a jot when it's this much fun. While everyone's busy nattering about the Portal 2 (OR IS IT?) ARG, they slip a little something extra into the RPS inbox. That'll be the charmingly retro-sociopathic words and pictures above, then. Which you'll want to click on right away, in order to admire it in its full bigness. The instant response from all of us, aside from excited and grateful cooing noises, was "guh? But what does it mean?" We're not very clever sometimes.
Then we worked out exactly what it means: Steam is, as has been recently rumoured (and supported by the recent move from hoary old IE to sprightly young, cross-platform webkit as a foundation for Steam), finally coming to the Apple Macintosh personal computer system. At least... so it implies. OR DOES IT?
We won't find out for sure until the "upcoming announcement from Valve" mentioned in this crypto-mail, but certainly the cheeky image closely apes olden Apple ads in both form and tone. Compare this pic to something like this, or better yet, one of you industrious web-heroes could go and browse this vast archive of classic Mac ads and no doubt you'll find one they've closely cribbed from to make this.
So: the obvious take-home message, given the Mac OS in the photo and the mention of "different types of computers... We'll figure that out later. And, years later, they did" is Steam is coming to Macs. (Sorry, penguin people - no hint of Linux, unless you want to run with 'different types of computers').
Hang on: Steam is coming to Macs. Christ.
Alright, we're a PC blog, but whether or not you think OSX falls within our generally Windows-centric remit, that's huge. Enormous. Surprisingly for such a tightly-controlled platform, gaming on the Mac is still all over the bloody place - many of the biggest games make it over eventually, but often months after the event, while many never arrive at all. No-one in their right mind buys a Mac for gaming, even though even the lowest-end currently-available desktops and laptops are more than capable of running most modern stuff. It's ripe for a takeover, frankly. Someone with Valve's status and clout coming up with a centralised distribution system for Mac games means they could theoretically corner this spotty market in the blink of a hummingbird's eye. As in, this could be a games-only App Store for OSX.
The crucial question is exactly what they've got up their sleeve, however. Is it it just their own games (Source titles have lacked official Mac version), is it the same tardy, mixed bag of games already available for OSX, or have they been quietly galvanising developers and publishers to port stuff in a more timely fashion? Given Macs' growing share of the computer market, it's way past time that the games industry took it more seriously, regardless of the fact that the more affordable Macs aren't graphically toe-to-toe with equivalently-priced PCs.
Or, and I admit this is so unlikely that even writing it makes me sound like an insane fantasist, is Mac Steam going to include a wrapper/virtualisation tech that enables most Windows games to be played on OSX, a la Crossover or Parallels Desktop? Doubtful, but God only knows what this actually entails. Whichever, my immediate concern, because I'm a selfish little snot, is whether Win-Steam and Mac-Steam accounts will be twinned - I own a Mac as well as PC. I want access to my stuff on both.
However, this might have nothing to do with OSX, at least not in its standard form. Take a look at the bottom of this image - notice those dots. They're awfully similar to the dots at the bottom of an iPhone (and possibly iPad - I really need to take a closer shufti at one of those curious bastards), used to navigate between the world-eating portable device's screens full of icons. Is that an implication the neo-Steam is related to the App Store instead? Given Apple's monstrously tight restrictions, it seems unlikely they'd hand store rights over to a third party. Perhaps the dots are simply intended to offset the vintage nature of the pseudo-ad with something more modern. Or...
...or it's nothing whatsoever to do with Steam on Macs after all, and it's another bewildering part of the ongoing Portal ARG. The choice of an ancient Mac OS in this ad seems a little obtuse in a way - it's possible they're just being playful, or it's possible it's along the lines of the GLADOS 3.11 mentions in the Portal ASCII art pulled off the Aperture Science BBS. Those dots might mean this is part one of six, and we'll see related images cropping up on other sites, which require bonding together and somehow decoding. I'm bracing myself for the possibility I'm going to look more ridiculous than a businessman on a skateboard once whatever this ad really means is revealed. Valve are notorious teases, after all. I won't be at all surprised if I've just been tricked into writing 700 words about something that isn't happening. Allow me to leave a prophetic "you utter bastards" here, just in case.
We'll find out, I don't doubt, at GDC, or close to it. Perhaps it's going to be an omni-announcement, Portal 2 and Mac Steam, and an OSX-rejiggered the Source engine collection as the vanguard for it. Either way, the veins on the internet's sweaty forehead are going to be pulsing even more than usual for the next week or so.
A note on the image, by the way. We were sent a much larger version than the fullish-size one we've got here, but our weeny servers couldn't possibly handle the strain of serving that to a squillion people. It's possible, however, that there's some secret information hidden in the big'un. There's nothing hidden in the EXIF data as far as I can tell, but if you see a hint that there might be something of note squirreled away in the original file, drop us a line (with a brief explanation of what you think it might be) and we'll see if we can share it with you.
Theorists: go theorise.
Update: the sign of six is now explained, at least. Witness further Macified Valve imagery at Eurogamer, MacRumors, MacNN, ShackNews and MacWorld. Each carry their own page dot. So that's that for now - and pretty much proof positive that this is indeed Steam for OSX.
Additional update: our own Baron of Bargains LewieP has cunningly drawn up a list of which Steam games already have Mac ports, which potentially gives us a good picture of what iSteam (ouch, let's never call it that again) may launch with. Excellent work, sir P.
Additional additional update: Portal just updated itself again, with the update notes listing simply "added valuable asset retrieval." Mystery hunters, go!