Wednesday, 25 June 2014

STEAM's 'In-house streaming' system - first thoughts

Sometimes I just want to sit in front of the TV for some casual gaming. Now, my laptop is a MacBook Pro (because I am a designer and because they are one of the best laptops out there) and while things have improved markedly by way of Mac gaming there is no questioning the fact that the PC games market is huge by comparison. 

Wouldn't it be nice to be able to run my favorite PC games on my Mac?

For this reason my PC is my main gaming rig and I already own a fairly large library of games which are exclusive to that platform. So...Wouldn't it be nice to play some of these games on my laptop without buying a PC laptop instead of my Mac?

Well, actually there are already ways to do that, Apple's Bootcamp or third-party software like Winebottler or Parallel Desktop take advantage of Apple's Intel processors to run a separate Windows partition on your Mac hard drive. The disadvantage of this is that how well this works for games relies on the power of your Mac, and high-end games - which rely of very powerful GPUs - simply won't run on a Mac system which is primarily intended for design and productivity work.

World of Tanks on a Mac! In the past I have used software like Parallel Desktops
to run PC games on my Mac. But performance is an issue and high-end games
rarely run smoothly this way, if at all.

In the past he work around has been simple - though hardly ideal, Mac professionals like myself simply buy a separate gaming PC.

Well, recently online game retailers and 'digital distributor and game library' STEAM has introduced a very interesting 'In-Home streaming system' that allows you to access your main gaming machine remotely and then play your games on a client machine elsewhere in your house. Very clever.

This circumvents - in theory - the necessity of you client machine having to be a powerful one or even it having to run the same OS!

[I should point out that this idea is not new - you can (again in theory) perform this workaround using software like Microsoft's Remote Desktop. But STEAM's system is far more elegantly designed and is specifically intended and optimised for gaming.]

I've been trying out STEAM's 'In-Home Streaming', starting with some
older classic PC titles and working my way up to see the 'breaking point'
where power-hungry PC games just won't work. You can't get more
classic than the original Unreal Tournament!

I've just been trying this system out by working through some of my PC games from my STEAM library to see what does and does not work. At length I will report on the relative success of this trial - but in the meantime I am pleased that I've had some successes (and a few notable failures).

By the way, I think it's safe to say that a good solid home network is pretty necessary here. My initial attempts were done using a Wif_fi connection to connect and stream between my PC (host) and MacBook (client) machines and I did get a lot of network drops. Interestingly these were on some of the older games from my collection (which I had thought would be less 'needy' as far as networking goes).

Ghost Recon Classic: Ironically - like Unreal Tournament - GR Classic was
available as a native Mac game. However, that was before the advent of
Apple adopting the Intel processor. Now Mac OS X users like myself find
it very hard to get these games working. Is STEAM's system a solution?

I'll post up my results after I have acquired a long Ethernet cable to directly connect my MacBook to my router (see if that makes things better). Oh, and of course games that are not in your STEAM library will not work!

One of the success stories so far has been Rebellion's 'Sniper Elite2: Zombie
Army'
. This ran surprisingly well using the streaming system.

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