Let’s talk about Steam Deck
My first impression of Steam Deck after 10 months or so is: it’s what I wished Nintendo Switch would have been. I’ve been a very happy camper with Switch but there were a couple of annoyances and Valve just swooped in and fixed all of them, adding more goodness on top and is at this point by far my favourite gaming machine and more.
I could talk for hours of the reasons why I like this device and what makes it probably the best computer/gaming console ever made. Instead of hours, I’ve put together some of my favourite features into this handy blog post.
I got the 512GB NVMe SSD (with exclusive virtual keyboard theme; don’t ask, I have no clue what it is) model which is the flagship model. I figured, if I’m buying a system like this, I’ll just get the one with best specs. With modern gaming, 64GB and 256GB just sounded like a challenge that would come up way too fast. It is possible to upgrade the SSD to a larger one but I didn’t want to do that tinkering right now so I was happy to put in the money and have it delivered with the biggest drive to get me started.
Looking at my storage situation at the time of writing, I have 27.5GB free (I have an SD card but so far, I’ve not formatted it to be part of the Steam system, more of it later). I have 59 games/apps installed.
I do primarily play indie games which explains the small storage need. However, I’m now going to need to get a 1TB or 512GB SD card since I’m starting to run out of space. For a home system, that wouldn’t be a huge issue as I could just download and remove games as I wish. Given that Steam Deck is on the go often and especially on longer travels with very limited Internet (5G roaming or hotel wifi, yikes), I want it to be able to hold a variety of games and apps inside it for different needs.
Different modes of gaming
One of the aspects of Steam Deck I always bring up in discussions is how I enjoy its multiple modes of gaming that fit different type of games.
Since the device is a self-contained console (meaning it has screen and controller built-in), it’s a fantastic handheld gaming device. Handhelds are great for having big adventures on a small screen. Whether you like to play games sitting on the couch while your partner or roommate is watching TV or playing for a bit before going to sleep in bed, Steam Deck is a lovely device to do that.
Thanks to its sleep mode that allows you to put the device to sleep in the middle of the game and get back instantly – no waiting for the device to boot, Steam to start, game to open and save to load – it’s so convenient to play even during short time slots: a break at work, waiting for a bus or waiting for an appointment. I’ve found myself play more than ever because of this feature.
When you’re at home and want to play on the big screen, its standard USB-C connection enables the use of docks and dongles to connect to HDMI into a TV or projector and with any bluetooth controller, you can take on big adventures on big screens. At this point, it’s just like your big home consoles.
And finally, you can bring it to your desk, connect to a keyboard, mouse and display and play all the PC favourites that don’t translate well to controllers. Strategy games like Age of Empires are right at home with Steam Deck because it allows you to connect any bluetooth or wired accessories.
Almost every bit of this blog post could be a celebration of Valve allowing Steam Deck to run any software and connect with other devices with standard bluetooth and usb connections. It’s such a breathe of fresh air in the world where everyone’s building walled gardens and proprietary connections. (Looking at you Nintendo, grr)
In addition to the vast Steam library, you can install Heroic Games Launcher from the desktop software manager, install your Epic Games and GOG games and play them through the Steam interface like they are native games to the system.
For PlayStation owners, there’s chiaki that enables playing PlayStation games through PS Remote directly on the deck. So if you live with other people and the TV is reserved, you can still continue your PlayStation adventures from Steam Deck.
And with Valve’s own Steam Link, you can play games on your other systems with Steam Deck and vice versa.
Sharing and syncing files across systems
I often find a need to move files between my laptop and Steam Deck and so far, I’ve gotten into the habit of using these four:
- microSD card that I can use to move large files when I don’t have access to my Steam Deck. I have one SD card dedicated for media content that I take with me when I travel so I have documentaries and other films to watch.
- Syncthing is a tool that allows you to set up folders on all your computers and the Steam Deck and when all of them are online, it syncs the content across the devices. It’s handy for sharing smaller files, especially when gathering them during the day on the laptop and then syncing to Steam Deck. It can also be used as a custom cloud save thing with games that don’t support Steam Cloud Save or with games on the emulator, enabling you to seamlessly continue your adventures on different devices.
- LocalSend is a peer-to-peer local network file share tool that works like Apple’s AirDrop but better and across all your regardless of their operating system. I use this only occasionally with Steam Deck though because it requires to be open, on the desktop mode and manually accepting the files so it’s less handy.
- scp is a Linux utility that allows remote file copying across devices. Since Steam Deck runs Linux and that Linux is up and running even when I play games, I often use it to move large files from my laptop as it can be done as long as there’s a SSH server enabled in Steam Deck.
Since Steam allows addition of any non-Steam application into it as if it was a native Steam app, you can use Steam Deck as a great media device.
I have Kodi installed so I can watch local videos from my micro SD card through a nice and controller-friendly UI.
I’ve also set up browsers in kiosk mode to open in Steam so I have added Netflix and Youtube as faux “apps” and with the customisable controls, I’ve made them as nicely usable as possible on the device so I can stream videos when I have access to Internet.
This is also why I keep one micro SD card as a “regular” card, not formatted to be part of Steam Deck so games won’t install there and I can use it across all my systems.
It’s Linux with a desktop mode!
As a software developer and general geek, I love that I’m able to boot into a Linux desktop and do whatever I need with computers. I have a full software development setup so I can write my blog posts, update my website, maintain and build my hobby projects and beyond.
It’s a bit protected system in the beginning to avoid accidental things but it can be unlocked with full admin access. I’ve enabled SSH with key-based login so I can connect to the system with SSH and scp from my laptop, even when I’m gaming.
One great use case for this has been using it to copy Stardew Valley save games to my laptop so I can use Stardew Checkup and keep track of my progress without exiting the game.
Steam Deck is a wonderful device to emulate old consoles and give your old game collection a new life – on the go. There are so many great NES, SNES, GameBoy, GBA, (3)DS, GameCube and other retro console games that are nice on Steam Deck screen.
EmuDeck makes installing the system and managing your games a lovely experience and it allows you to bring in your own artwork so the games look fantastic on the main Steam gaming mode UI – just like all the other games on your system.
Battery life is something you always need to keep in mind with handheld devices, these old games are not very power hungry so you can explore Hyrule or Mushroom Kingdom for hours and hours. And the games don’t take almost any space on the disk.
I haven’t gotten too many accessories to Steam Deck, at least not yet. I did end up buying JSAUX’s dock so I have something on my desk for it to sit on as the one downside of Steam Deck is that it doesn’t have any sort of kickstand built in. My dock is connected to my display at desk so I can quickly jump on a game during a break at work or while sitting on the desk in the evenings.
I also got their foldable kickstand that I keep in my backpack so I have a stable and sturdy stand for the device on the road.
Other than those, I just have the case that came with the device. I have a messenger bag that can fit Steam Deck, my keyboard and mouse and a charger so I can stay fully prepared for anything on the road.
What am I playing?
So many goodies! I mentioned earlier this month I’ve been playing DREDGE, Farm Keeper and Dishonored 1 & 2 and just finished Dishonored 1 and I’m about mid-way in the second one. I’ve also been enjoying a lot of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games and I’m considering purchasing Sea of Stars as it launches on the 29th.
I moved my Stardew Valley save and mods from Macbook to Steam Deck as my laptop started running out of power to keep going with all my mods. TrackMania Nations Forever is a perfect short session game as each run only lasts a few minutes at tops. I’m also revisiting early Splinter Cell games.
A few games that are fantastic on Steam Deck are Dome Keeper, Slay the Spire and Katana ZERO. For the longest time, I didn’t like roguelike games but on Steam Deck, they are so good as each run is unique and limited at length so I don’t need to try to remember what I was in the middle of in the game when I return to it.
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