December 31, 2016

Why Valve (Possibly) Stopped Curating Steam

Please note that the following is purely conjecture, but I do think it explains a lot.

I back Jim Sterling on Patreon. I enjoy his Best of Steam Greenlight Trailers series and hope that none of my upcoming projects ever appear on that particular series, I do happen to agree that ever since the floodgates opened with Steam Greenlight, the amount of crap that has gone onto the service has increased at an alarming rate.

Mind you, it wasn't always like this.  Back when I was working on "SiN Episodes: Emergence," Valve had a severe interest in curating games that could appear on the service.  Now, though, unless a game is likely to be rated AO or be considered pornography in certain markets, pretty much anything can get on Steam. 

What changed?  It's not the surfacing of first-party launchers like Origin or UPlay.  It's not the resurgence of the indie game developer.  It's not the rise and/or fall of indie portals.  I think what changed is that Valve started to fear antitrust litigation.  Let me explain.

Valve both owns Steam, the number one portal for computer game software digital distribution, and develops it own games.  For better or worse, they are the major marketplace.  If you aren't on Steam, you aren't visible in the eyes of most digital download consumers.

Back when Steam was only Valve's software, a case could be made that nobody else had a right to be on the marketplace.  Even with a few select titles on Steam, Valve could easily say that this was part of a publishing deal with Valve, and therefore they weren't picking winners and losers.  Up until they started allowing other publisher catalogs to appear on the service, it was still a "Valve is publishing these titles, therefore it's still a Valve product in a sense" service and could be defended as such.

The moment other publishers could put stuff on Steam, though, everything changed.  At that point, Steam was no longer a publishing platform, but a storefront with negligible distribution costs and virtually unlimited shelf space...and they not only controlled who got what position on the shelves, but they also were stocking their own product there as well so they could be seen as having a conflict of interest.

Because Steam is now a storefront as well as a developer, Valve can't be seen to be picking winners and losers.  If they say that product X can't be on Steam, if another game with a similar theme or quality bar gets on the service, the developer of product X could potentially sue.

Valve created Steam Greenlight specifically to get the "curation" part of the marketplace out of their immediate control.  The assumption was that people visiting Greenlight would take their responsibility seriously and so Valve could allow the best submissions onto the service and still have some level of quality control on the service.  Unfortunately, it's fairly obvious that Greenlight has been gamed to no end and the floodgates of shovelware and asset flips have been opened onto the service.

There are algorithmic solutions to some of these problems.  Rating games that you own on Steam will do a good job of helping to quickly bury crap games.  Using Steam refunds for absolutely horrible games will also help, because refunds also cost Valve a small amount of money in transaction fees and I'm sure that Valve factors refunds into how aggressively they shift products out to search purgatory.

However, there's only one thing that will guarantee that Valve is able to effectively run Steam without running into lawsuit bait as part of curation: spinning Steam off from Valve.  The moment Steam is independent, Steam can easily start acting like a storefront only and not have to worry about conflict of interest.

Is it going to happen?  Probably not.  Hopefully Valve is able to find a way to more effectively curate their storefront without conflict of interests being shoved to the forefront...but I'm not holding my breath.

December 17, 2016

RomTerraria and v1.3.4.4

If you are using the test version of RomTerraria for v1.3.4.3 and above and are experiencing water not rendering, please repair your Terraria installation, launch the game once, exit, then repatch.

If you are using the patch and the map is not coming up or you are stuck in a lower lighting mode, it means that an exception has been thrown.  I need to know the resolution you are trying to run at.

I'll be spending time tomorrow working on any reported issues.  Today I have to go finish my Christmas shopping and try to ignore the fact that today would have been my twenty-second wedding anniversary.

[Removed three weeks worth of outdated information]

Update 1/8/2016 12:03pm: I'm still getting reports of water and lava not properly rendering.  If you have deleted your config file, reset your resolution, then restarted the game, and you are still having issues, look in your Documents/My Games/Terraria folder and look for a file called CrashInitTargets.txt and post the contents of that.

Update 1/9/2016 7:30am: I received a CrashInitTargets.txt that showed a NotSupportedException creating the waterTarget RenderTarget.  That's really odd because that particular exception shouldn't be thrown by the RenderTarget2D constructor.  Will research when I get home tonight.

Update 1/9/2016 6:45pm: Okay, I just made a change that should free up an extra 140-210MB of RAM.  Water is working using the following values in config.rt.json (I game RomTerraria its own config file to help keep things simple:)

  "SmartCursorToggle": true,
  "MapEnabled": true,
  "InvasionBarMode": 2,
  "AutoSave": true,
  "AutoPause": false,
  "Language": 1,
  "PlacementPreview": true,
  "GoreVisualsAllowed": true,
  "VolumeSound": 1.0,
  "VolumeAmbient": 0.75,
  "VolumeMusic": 0.75,
  "UseExperimentalFeatures": false,
  "Fullscreen": true,
  "WindowMaximized": false,
  "WindowBorderless": false,
  "DisplayWidth": 3840,
  "DisplayHeight": 2160,
  "GraphicsQuality": 0,
  "BackgroundEnabled": true,
  "FrameSkipMode": 2,
  "LightingMode": 0,
  "LightingThreads": 0,
  "Parallax": 0.88,
  "ShowItemText": true,
  "LastLaunchedVersion": 188,
  "UseSmartCursorForCommonBlocks": false,
  "UseSmartAxeAfterSmartPickaxe": false,
  "UseSmartWallReplacement": true,
  "DisableLeftShiftTrashCan": false,
  "HighlightNewItems": true,
  "HidePasswords": false,
  "ReverseUpDownForArmorSetBonuses": false,
  "MouseShowBuildingGrid": false,
  "AllowUnfocusedInputOnGamepad": false,
  "LockOnPriority": 2,
  "InvisibleCursorForGamepad": true,
  "GamepadDisableInstructionsDisplay": false,
  "SettingsUnlock_WorldEvil": false,
  "SettingsEnabled_MinersWobble": true,
  "UseStormEffect": true,
  "UseHeatDistortion": true,
  "WaveQuality": 3,
  "MouseColor": {
    "R": 255,
    "G": 50,
    "B": 95
  "MouseBorderColor": {
    "R": 0,
    "G": 0,
    "B": 0,
    "A": 0
  "QuickLaunch": false,
  "CloudSavingDefault": false,
  "FilterLimit": 16,
  "FilterPriorityThreshold": "VeryLow"

I'm packaging up the build now.

Update 1/9/2016, 6:54pm: Here is my update. The big change here is that I eliminated depth buffers for all of the render targets. Users of Terraria will see this result in ~210MB of RAM being saved. Users of RomTerraria will see this result in ~140MB of RAM being saved (I used to reduce the depth buffer to 16 bits instead of 24 bits). Again, this is an EXPERIMENTAL RELEASE. Have fun.

December 7, 2016

Ten Years Out

I left the games industry in December 2006.

I've looked back, and while there are things I miss, I won't be going back into games full-time until I can go back on my own terms.