Intro: "The Preamble Ramble"
So, unless you've been living under a rock lately, you are already well aware that the Steam Deck is imminent! I have not had a chance to see one in person yet, let alone hold or play one. A lot of outlets in the tech space that I greatly respect / esteem / admire; from Digital Foundry (@digitalfoundry on Twitter) to Jason Evangelho's "Open for Everyone" (@killyourfm) has been abuzz with the thing, offering us early reviews and their proclamations on just what a terrible, wonderful, or in-between thing this device is and will be.
By and large, I've actually been avoiding the press these past few days or so, ever since this blog post (our first -REAL- blog post since 2015*) first entered development, as I did not want their analysis to color my own, or have my own become a simple derivative of their findings - or at least have it be by complete accident if so. So, those who have come here looking for a proper review of a system that I have had a chance to actually play, and can speak objectively about can go back to whatever else they were doing. This is not a review of a known entity. Instead, it is a declaration of WHY this thing has this [early] middle-aged mid-sized VGM podcaster, living in a mid-sized metro in the middle of the US Midwest so excited - although, the potential value to you, the reader, could simply be that I may light upon something that you hadn't considered, or that I may provide "connecting tissue between data points" that may change your view of the thing. So, if you're not already turned off....then read on, and I hope you will find it a worthwhile read, as even without having had a chance to experience the device, I can still speak of several things which excite me about it, and the multi-layered, multi-dimensional reason why I cannot recall the last time I've been so excited about a system release.
As I write this, I can anticipate a handful of potential objections. Principally, "this thing is way too big to be called a "portable", and "why do I need / want this thing so long as I have a Nintendo Switch and a Gaming Laptop?". And I'll do my best to address those as I go - WITH THIS CAVEAT: that there really is no system that truly is "for everybody", and so, this thing really may not be for you. And if so, that's okay. I swear I am not some undercover Valve employee, and so, it's not like I'm getting or failing to get a commission based on whether or not I sell you on the thing. I think so long as we can all collectively agree to avoid the pitfall of "this is the only right answer, and everyone but idiots and perverts agree", then we really can't find ourselves going too far afield here. So, everything I say from here on out about the Steam Deck comes with the subtext "your mileage may vary", but also with the additional subtext "but this is gospel to me!"
Lastly, I realize that while portions of the case I am about to attempt to put together may apply broadly to large audiences, parts of it will only apply to much smaller audiences, and smallest of all, the audience that, like me, finds EVERY part of this applicable / attractive to them. It is my hope that in the following, you will find at least SOMETHING of value, and if we walk away from this post with you more interested / excited by the Steam Deck than you were before reading, then I will be very happy to hear!
So, with all that said, let's get into it! [imitates "Nintendo Switch finger snap sound"]
The Elephant in the Room
We've all seen the pictures of the Steam Deck sitting next to things, the Nintendo Switch, the Nintendo Switch with Hori Gamepads, the PS Vita....the Sega Game Gear, of all things. And the truth is all too painfully self-evident: this thing is HUGE! The elephant in the room, of course, is that this thing is an elephant in any room! In fact, I was thinking, once I get mine, of taking a picture of me holding it next to a city bus! This thing is unapologetically, unequivocally MASSIVE! Although, it is not necessarily "bulky". From the pictures that I've seen, looking at it from the back and top, the main body of the device is not meaningfully thicker than the body of a Nintendo Switch. So, not some great big block like the Game Gear. And the thickness of the controllers itself is vaguely reminiscent of a Hori controller set, or a Nintendo Switch Pro Controller split in half, only with more buttons, and a couple mini trackpads on each side. It is ultimately still a little bit bigger than the Switch / Hori setup. But no longer significantly so.
Even so, there's simply no way to spin this thing as anything but gigantic. Which has led some to attempt to argue that the Steam Deck, then, is not really even properly a "portable", as if there is some imaginary line in the sand, where it crosses some threshold into ineligibility. Ironically, the loudest voices in this camp, in my experience, have all come from the Nintendo Switch people. And the reason this is so juicily ironic to me is that five years ago, the same kind of arguments were being made against the Switch; that it's too big to be a portable, that its ridiculously sized. That it's not going to be any good because it's "too weak as a console, and too big as a handheld". And while "too weak to succeed" and "too big to succeed" have each since been proven to be demonstrably false, one thing that IS true about the Switch is that it completely shattered and detonated our concepts of what it means to be a portable, and forcibly expanded our sense of what qualifies, completely rewriting the paradigm.
And so, it's so strange to me that of all people, it'd be the Switch people who are the ones making the most critical noise about the size of the Steam Deck and its merits as a handheld device, using the exact same arguments against it that they found themselves having to play defense against half a decade earlier. It's almost like they have developed amnesia. For people like me who defended the Switch then, and the Steam Deck today, against the EXACT same line of argument, this all feels very familiar. And sure, the Steam Deck DOES take the excesses of the Switch and only further exaggerates them, but this is a difference of degree, not one of type or principle. So, this all feels to me like a person driving 35mph over the speed limit who is furious that the guy driving 45 over isn't getting pulled over for speeding. But, what can you do? Gatekeepers gonna gatekeep, I guess. Still, if there is exactly one people group that I am absolutely, completely entirely unwilling to even listen to criticize the size as an invalidation of the Steam Deck....it's the Switch people. Believe that if you want, but don't even bring me that.
The "Middle Proposition"
The other group that has been the most critical of the form factor of the Steam Deck is the Gaming Laptop people. As in, "why do I need to buy the Steam Deck when I can just schlep my laptop around with me, bring a controller or a better mouse (and maybe keyboard), and have both a bigger screen and a lot more power?" Interestingly, the Switch people who spent a lot of 2017 defending against this same argument from the laptop people about the Switch are now also marshaling it against the Steam Deck, as in "if I want to play portable, I'll play Switch. If I want to play PC gaming, I'll play my laptop.
The point is that both groups position Steam Deck as a sort of "middle proposition" between the portability of the Switch, and the power and screen size, and software library of a proper gaming laptop. And they're right. It is, in fact, a middle proposition between the two. But their assumption is that therefore, it is a "worst of both worlds" compromise (too big to be successful, too weak to be successful....sound familiar?) Or to borrow a metaphor from my religious past, a "Laodicea" (neither hot nor cold - lukewarm), without at least appearing to even consider the possibility that "middle proposition" here may not be "Laodicea" after all, bur could rather be a "Baby Bear's Bed / Porridge" between the "Papa Bear's Bed (too firm) / porridge (too hot)" of the clunky interface, and steep price of a gaming laptop, and the "Mama Bear's Bed (too soft) / porridge (too cold)" of the decade-and-a-half underpowered and console lockdown of Nintendo Switch. Or in other words, what if, just what if the Steam Deck might possibly be a "best of both worlds" compromise instead, as opposed to the worst?
An analogy from my personal life: as listeners of the show know well by now, I live in Des Moines; a mid-sized city / metropolitan area that is a mix of big and small. Some of that is a "mix and match", with a handful of big city elements not meaningfully different except for scale than the same elements in proper big cities, and with a handful of small town elements not meaningfully different except for scale than the same elements in proper small towns. And some of that is instead in the form of an "averaging" of big city and small town. Collectively, it is the "quantum paradox" of being ultimately NEITHER a big city NOR a small town, and yet, also kinda being BOTH a big city AND a small town - just the same that at age 42, I am NEITHER old NOR young, and yet, BOTH old AND young, and I am NEITHER rich NOR poor, and yet, BOTH rich AND poor. I do feel that over the course of the past 10, 15 years, it has changed from being the kind of mid-size that is more "gigantic small town" into the kind of mid-size that is more "tiny big city". But either way, it remains this mix of the two worlds.
And for the wrong audience, the ones who either need "the full sizzle" of a truly big city, or "the full lull" of a truly small town, Des Moines is neither of those things, and is going to offer neither of these things, and for these people who need the one or the other, they will find it to be quite the "Laodicea", neither big enough / hot enough / hard enough to be a destination, nor small enough / cold enough / tranquil enough to be a getaway. And I would ask those people what they're even doing here, and say to them that they're bringing the party down, and that they should either get about the business of trying to make this a better place that they're happier to be in, or else just do us all the favor of finding somewhere else to live - just the same as I would say "oh well, off you go, then" to someone who says the Steam Deck is not for them once they know what it is and what it's all about, and the reasons why it may be a good thing for them.
But to the right audience (myself included), Des Moines is ABSOLUTELY the "Baby Bear's Bed" between the "Papa Bear's Bed" of a truly big city, and the "Mama Bear's Bed" of a truly small town, bringing MUCH more of the best of both, than of the worst of either - which you could argue isn't the case of certain other mid-sized metros....like, perhaps a certain similarly sized one in the desert southwest, maybe. Des Moines is certainly imperfect on a great many fronts, granted, including a distressing lack of diversity in city leadership (and an outright scandal at the city council recently on that front that I am simply appalled by), and a potential weakness of mine who has seen the extremely rapid growth and transformation and ascendancy (in almost entirely "for the better" ways) of the fastest growing place in the Midwest and easily in the top 30 fastest growing places nationwide is that my clear view of just how far the city / metro HAS COME is that it can potentially partially obscure how far it has YET TO GO. But I cannot see Des Moines as anything but a compromise between extremes that brings much more of the best of each than the worst of either, and a compromise between extremes that is ultimately much happier than either one of the extremes themselves. ***
Perhaps that's what the Steam Deck will be for me. Because, I've gotta tell you, I have NEVER been a real fan of gaming on laptops. Now, in full disclosure, I do have Steam (and Wine and Proton etc) installed on my Dell Latitude 7480 (with Windows scrubbed and Ubuntu Studio [Linux] installed in its place) - which is anything but a gaming-class laptop anyway, and every so once in a GREAT while, I may spend a few minutes here and there playing something simple and low key on it. Like a quick round of Binding of Isaac, or the first few minutes of Doki Doki Literature Club, or maybe the first stage or two of Lovely Planet Remix, just to see if it works - it does, by the way. But for "real gameplay time", frankly, I kinda HATE the laptop format. In fact, it's all the same pro-Switch arguments that we Switch fans offered in response to the laptop people in 2017 who dismissed its portability and flexibility citing their laptops. Good luck lounging on the couch or in bed with one of those bad boys! Be prepared to lug around a mouse, or resign yourself to gaming on a trackpad (and maybe bring a keyboard, or joypad as well). Be prepared to have to navigate a bulky desktop OS environment every time just to even get to your games. I know, I know. Steam Deck will include a full desktop OS environment as well, but won't open to it by default, opening instead to a slimmed down Steam Client that is more akin to a console system menu than to a full fat PC desktop.
Gaming on a laptop is not a macrocosm of handheld gaming. Instead, it is a microcosm of desktop PC gaming, on a smaller screen and smaller inputs, probably hunched over the kitchen table, or at a table at a coffee shop, or hotel room, or some little cramped alcove somewhere. There is no such thing as "lounging with a gaming laptop". And yes, it may spec much closer to a desktop PC than the Steam Deck does....but you also have to pay desktop PC prices to have one. By contrast, the Steam Deck actually WILL be that "macrocosm of handheld gaming", only using PC games and reaping their freedom and flexibility instead. Plus, even the top tier Steam Deck model (and certainly the bottom tier model) are priced within the general "console" price range, and nowhere near Desktop Gaming PC prices. The Steam Deck is bigger than the Switch, of course, and therefore, even more unwieldy - and of course, we can bemoan that [to make up a term in lieu of knowing the real term] the "Steamcons" are non-detachable. But in terms of form factor, this remains, of course, MUCH more like a Switch than a laptop. Meaning that on the couch, in bed, on an airplane or bus or subway, or even just from "shotgun" in your family SUV, the Steam Deck will be dramatically closer to a Nintendo Switch experience than a laptop experience - only with a much more flexible software library, and somewhere between two to four times the hardware power. Not some sort of "perfect middle" whatsoever! Not even close!
But the big problem with everything that we've discussed so far is that the size and the power of the thing that has taken up nearly the entirety of our discourse so far are, like, the very bottom two concerns on my priority list. I will most certainly never say that they're completely unimportant to me; neither the pros nor the cons that come with them. And indeed, until I have had a chance to actually hold one for myself, I can't even really say for sure just how perfect or imperfect of a "Baby Bear's Bed" it will even be for me. Still, to allow ourselves to fixate on the very peripheral matters of size and power really kinda misses the whole point of this thing for me. Allow me to shift the focus now to those other "much more important things":
Much more important things #1:
The advent of a viable alternative to "paying 'the Switch tax'"
I should maybe take a second to clarify that I'm not about to throw my Switch in the trash or anything over the Steam Deck. The Switch will always have value to me as a place to play Nintendo's amazing first and second party exclusives, plus its retro offerings on NSO and so on. Plus, you know, if I'm just going for a quick jaunt somewhere that doesn't justify taking the backpack with me, maybe I'd grab my Switch instead of the Steam Deck and "call shotgun". I'm absolutely, positively not about to tear up my Nintendo fan card over the Steam Deck. Instead, as a VGM podcaster, if I ever were going to tear up that fan card, it would be over things like Nintendo's draconian litigious practices more broadly, but as exemplified more specifically and more recently by a) their battery of takedown notices on YouTubers sharing Nintento VGM, which is a fantastic resource for all of us, as well as the looming specter of the remote chance that they could likewise come for us someday, and b) of Nintendo's active anti-preservation stances on previous generation digital games. If I ever did give "the big N the big F U", it'd be over these kind of things. The Steam Deck, if it was even a factor in that decision at all, it would only be the very peripheral, tangential consideration of "having another refuge to flee to in the absence of the other". But as I said, with Nintendo's amazing first and second party offerings and NSO retro collections, such a scenario is very unlikely, and all but certainly not imminent.
No, the big thing that the Steam Deck changes for me as far as Nintendo is concerned is simply making it A LOT harder for me to continue to justify "paying 'the Switch tax" for games that come a year or two late, cost 2-3x as much as other platforms, and perform worse - as well as my already having many of them in my Steam library already, meaning that they'd cost me absolutely nothing but time, data, and storage space to put on "the Deck" - and at higher graphics and quality settings than I'd get on the Switch.
In the past I have only too happily eschewed the other platforms and all too readily paid "the Switch Tax" on multiple occasions simply because the freedoms and flexibility of the console / portable nature of the system, and my ability to play without being either "tethered to the couch" or "marooned to the small screen" that I would've otherwise faced on the dedicated consoles, dedicated handhelds, my mobile phone, or the desktop PC were things I valued more than immediacy, price, and performance / quality. But with the advent of the Steam Deck, I simply have another option now, as an alternative to paying "the Switch Tax" that does not involve having to lug a giant, overpriced gaming laptop around. In fact, the moment of this realization for me was on the drive into the office the morning after the latest Nintendo Direct. I had initially been supremely excited to hear the news that No Man's Sky was FINALLY coming to Switch, after a couple of years of my waiting and hoping and wishing that it would. And as I was thinking about that as much as "still paying attention to the road" would allow me, I suddenly thought: "but wait, the Steam Deck is just a couple weeks away now, and I already own it on Steam, and it'll look and play better on the new system." which was followed very quickly thereafter by "why do I want this game on Switch again?" And that moment resulted in a chain reaction of little thoughts that led me to conclude "there are going to be A LOT of games that I would've previously been VERY excited to see and have on Switch that Steam Deck is simply going to make me no longer care about in favor of playing it over there. More on this later, but for my particular use case in my particular patterns of system usages and gaming habits more broadly, this shift in thinking is simply tectonic.
Plus, we speak in terms of "The Switch Tax". Well, consider this: The Steam Deck will instead offer us what I propose we can possibly call "the Steam Bonus" in that anytime I buy a game for this portable, modestly powered PC, I will also get the game, for no additional cost, on my more powerful, but more tethered gaming PC back home, where other than for the absence of ray tracing and AMD FSR (AMD's equivalent to Nvidia's much more well-known DLSS), I will be able to play it at better quality and performance settings. In a sense, it's like getting a twofer. I suppose it'd be akin to buying a PS3 game, and getting the PS4 version bundled in for free.
Now, my gaming PC is a bit out of date, with merely a GTX1070 GPU, a 7th gen Kaby Lake i5 7600K, 16GB of DDR4 memory, and a 128GB Samsung EVO 960 (or maybe it's 970) M.2 boot SSD, and 6TB 7200RPM HDD for data and game storage. For gaming, this only puts its capabilities at roughly equivalent to the XBox One X, making it significantly less capable than my XBox Series X and Playstation 5 (despite costing more than the two of them combined). And of course, that's to say nothing of just how very short it comes of the greatest of today's current PCs. But that part I can potentially fix down the road, changing the previous metaphor from "getting a free PS4 version whenever I buy the PS3 version" to "getting a free PS5 version whenever I buy the PS3 version - making the prospect only even more tantalizing. And indeed, with having the Steam Deck as a driver, and a motivator, a catalyst, and a propellant for me to make those upgrades, it becomes a lot more likely to happen than in my current state where most of my gaming is Switch and XBSX anyway.
Therefore, the heavy majority of the "No Man's Sky"s and "Portal 1 and 2"s of the world, etc, moving forward will quite likely no longer be eShop purchases, but Steam purchases. In fact, I've already seen this principle in action just earlier today, when I eschewed the Switch eShop version of the indie game "In Other Waters" in favor of the Steam version - in anticipation of playing it on "the Deck" instead. Now, of course, on a onesie twosie basis here and there, I am certain that I will still buy a few of these games on the Switch - ESPECIALLY if they are games that check ALL the following boxes: a) they are hugely significant, important games to me, b) they are modestly priced, c) they are platform-locked social games, and most of my friends are playing on the Switch, and perhaps most importantly, d) they support cloud save across platforms. But the point is, the customary practice of just "paying the Switch tax" as a nearly thoughtless "default presumption" is likely to end the very same day I pull "the Deck" from it's shipping box.
So, the Steam Deck being a lower-price-per-game / better-graphics-and/or-performance-per-game / less-of-a-wait-for-new-games-per-game / also-get-a-desktop-pc-version-for-no-extra-price / own-many-of-these-games-on-Steam-already alternative to and rescue from my having to pay "the Switch Tax" for "gaming on the go that can also be gaming on the couch and the big screen" is a MUCH more significant consideration for me than the size or power of the thing. And yet, even this is still not the top of my list for what makes this thing so special for me.
Much more important things # 2:
Its catalytic significance to the advancement and propulsion of the entire "Gaming on Linux" scene more broadly.
It's been no secret to anyone who either follows Nerd Noise Radio, or follows me personally (@jayseedoubleyou on Twitter - NNR is @nerdnoiseradio) that I am a regular and fairly passionate user of Linux, and as such, I am a huge believer in the works of things like the Steam Proton project, and the entire "Gaming on Linux" initiative more broadly - a scene which has been growing so fast that even in the relatively short time that it has been active, we're already up to something like 80-85% of Windows games playable on Linux. And as for performance differences between native Windows games in Windows and native Windows games in Linux via Proton, I have not done extensive testing, but can anecdotally tell you that, lets say, DOOM Eternal runs at the same 55-60fps range at 4K max everything [supported by pascal GPUs] in Linux as it did the last time I tried running it in Windows. In other words, no perceptible performance hit whatsoever, at least in that one game. So, not only is the work that the Proton team is doing incredible in terms of scale, it is also incredible in terms of quality! And both only stand to get even better and more prolific yet with Steam Deck as a catalyst and propellant. In fact, we already have the proof of this with the latest Proton 7.0 hitting the scene just in time for Steam Deck.
Now, I know that the Steam Deck can be flashed and have Windows installed instead of Steam OS. And yes, I know full well that that WILL happen, that some users will do just that. But let's be real here; not en masse. There is not going to be this mass exodus back to Windows on day 2. The overwhelming majority of people who buy a Steam Deck won't care enough about which OS is on a handheld to bother with the work involved in changing it, so long as they can play their games happily out of the box on day 1. The radical majority of these devices will continue to run Linux, and Proton. And as a result, just think of what a boon that is for Proton, and "gaming on Linux" more broadly....and hell, to some extent, at least, even just to Linux in general! Outside of Android phones, and maybe Chromebooks (and Android / Chrome are really only as "Linux" as a tomato is "fruit"), the Steam Deck will be the most popular, most common, and most "general audience-esteemed" Linux device on the market, based on early sales projections. And with a full-fledged, Arch-based, KDE-presenting desktop environment baked right into Steam OS 3, and no additional work required on the user's part to have it, whatever overlap there ends up being between Steam Deck purchasers and "the Linux Curious" will have their chance to get in and try things out right out of the box - with it standing to reason that at least some of them will ultimately end up making the jump like I have.
And that is VASTLY more important to me than the size and power of the thing, and more important, even, than not being so much at the mercy of "the Switch Tax" anymore.
Much more important things #3:
On top of everything else, it is also a "roving" Linux desktop PC.
I had alluded to this already in just my very previous point, but I now want to make it an actual focal point: in addition to being a "PC handheld" out of the box, and, with a dock, console-style controller, a TV, and a couch a "PC Console", with that same dock, a pair of monitors, a KBM, and an office chair, it is also a "desktop PC". And this is not just semantics. The system, as I understand it, opens by default to a console-style streamlining of the Steam Client itself, to give a somewhat console-like user experience in handheld and "console" modes. But that client can be exited out of, taking you to a full-fat KDE desktop environment, underpinned by a full-fat Arch-based Linux OS. So, underneath that console-esque Steam Client, you have a 100% full-fledged Linux desktop PC. In other words, you even have the right user interface for the right kind of interaction method in all three cases. And with the pandemic having moved at least one person in so many households into "work from home" models, odds are that most people will already have those docks, monitors, interfaces, and accessories needed to use "the Deck" in this way on hand, without having to go out and spend extra money on them.
On both my laptop and my desktop, I am using Ubuntu Studio 21.10. So, an "official flavor" of Ubuntu, which in turn is based on Debian. I am not being critical in the least towards Ubuntu and Debian, there is a perfectly good reason why Ubuntu, or at least Ubuntu-based distros, such as "Linux Mint" are the starting point and launchpad for so many Linux users coming in - myself included. And Ubuntu Studio has been fantastic for me as a podcasting OS, a "general computing / internet derping" OS - and yes, even as a gaming OS, after a little legwork, like installing the proprietary Nvidia drivers, Wine, Proton, Vulkan, and a few other tweaks. Plus, with it using KDE starting with 20.10, I can customize the look and feel of the thing to the Nths, and have heavily favored "eye candy" decisions in that process thus far. But as of this writing, I am just a week or two away from my two-year anniversary as a "Linux Primary" user****, and Linux is so much bigger and broader and more diverse of a world than just the "life in the village" of Ubuntu and Debian. And at two years in, I am REALLY starting to feel that burn, that itch of "wanderlust" to go exploring other parts of that world. It's something that eventually happens to all Linux users, I think, and it's happening to me right now.
Well, as I had said above, the Steam OS 3 of the Steam Deck is based on Arch Linux, which is where a lot of the really big, exciting things are happening in Linux, where "all the cool kids are going", and as I understand things, is a pretty significantly different beast than Debian Linux. So it will give me that chance to experience, and learn, and play around with something new to me, in a way much more profound and self-incentivizing than on a virtual machine or separate partition, which have historically just languished in neglect in my care, and just taken up SSD space gainlessly, rotting away like a bezoar on my computer - OR without my having to "burn down the house" of abandoning Ubuntu Studio for it on my main computers (unless or until I'm ready to do so). But since it still uses KDE, I can stick with the beloved "old familiar" in this regard, and maybe customize its look and feel in Steam OS to be radically different than what I am using on my current machines (or make it look and feel exactly the same - because that's a choice I can make with KDE). Plus, with the purchase of a couple additional docks, I can make it into a roving living room / basement den / bedroom computer, which are things I have wanted for some time, but could just never justify buying the hardware for. Or, since my parents live in town and I visit once or twice a month, maybe even set up a dock over there and have a place to do my thing. Hell, if I so chose to, I could even record / produce / distribute an episode of the show entirely on the Deck. And just for the quirky, dorky cool factor of it all, I will probably do so at least once or twice.
And on top of all of this, on the "desktop gaming" front since AMD's "FSR" (the AMD equivalent to Nvidia's much more famous "DLSS", or Intel's upcoming "XeSS") is baked right into Steam OS, it gives us an analogue to the Switch's "better performance / quality while docked" thing, even on games that aren't even supposed to support FSR. What this means in practical terms is that you play the game handheld in 720p, with ray tracing and all the rest, slip it into a dock, and play it in 1080p, or maybe even higher, and still probably be able to keep the niceties like ray tracing enabled. Now, whether it would be able to be as seamless and automatic of a transition as the "slip it into the dock, and poof" way the Switch...well....switches, that is presently unknown to me, and I'd suspect, very unlikely unless you undertake a ton of configuration work up front that would be way above my pay grade as a Linux noob, and would definitely require a web tutorial just to fumble my way through. But the point is, even if a little more work is required, it is a key advantage of the Switch that the Steam Deck will retain, and will save us from the fate of having to play smudged, smeary 720p games on big 4K TVs, and 1080p, or 1440p (or even 4K) gaming monitors. In fact, since the Steam Deck supports ray tracing and FSR and such, certain games, like Cyberpunk 2077 would probably look BETTER on the Steam Deck when played over a TV or monitor than it'd look on my otherwise much more powerful gaming PC, which, only having a GTX1070, does not support ray tracing. It'd be higher resolution on my PC for sure, and maybe even higher frames. But it would look much more barren, with all that neon dystopia eye candy goodness simply missing. I'll eventually get a new "compromise-free" GPU, I'm sure. But until then, it'll be a bit of a "give and take" between the two.
Switch for PC + Roving Linux PC + Arch Linux Playground + AMD FSR and Ray Tracing + Advancing the "gaming on Linux" Community + No more "Switch Tax" = Heart Emoji > Big and Underpowered.
So, in addition to being a larger, but more powerful Switch, that is smaller, much more nimble, and MUCH less expensive than a competent gaming laptop (which as I have said multiple times already, is not a form factor I like for gaming anyway), and in addition to being a desktop on top of all of that, with a much more elegant docking solution than laptops (which I also don't love to do for all the space waste and cumbersomeness of it all), and a chance for me to spread my wings into a much larger slice of the Linux world in a way that I will probably actually use, unlike VMs and partitions have been so far, plus avoid the "tether" of the basement studio for the big computer, or the "marooning" of the laptop by letting me computer in any room that has a TV or a monitor that I've deigned to purchase a dock for, it ALSO is a vehicle of TREMENDOUS promise for the advancement of Linux gaming (or even Linux itself) more broadly, and its chief gaming mechanism of Steam Proton.
All of that makes the size and power of the thing seem pretty insignificant, does it not? Sure, it's huge, and sure, that in of itself is NOT a virtue. I think we can all admit that. But if the size of this thing is a "boulder in the road", then the offsetting virtues and promises and potential of this thing, as I have [hopefully] laid out pretty well by now in this blog post, for me and my use case, at least, is akin to finger-flicking that boulder out of the road, and sending it hurtling further than the curve of the earth and out of sight. That this thing is so much more powerful than the Switch is certainly a benefit. But with the Switch being, in essence, a theoretical "'PS3.5' in the day of the PS5", it had damned well better be a lot more powerful, right? "More powerful than Switch" is not exactly a high bar in 2022, is it? Instead, it's kinda the BAREST of all bare minimums. And indeed, we could've wished that it was even more powerful than the Switch than it is, given that it's going to need to be able to at least sorta handle the big, blockbuster PC titles not only of today, but of the next several years to come - one of the only real "concerns" I have for the thing: how future-proof it is or is not.
And again, for the gaming laptop faithfuls, who have undoubtedly been thinking this whole time "but I can do most of that on my laptop", and who are admittedly not wrong to think so, it may well be that our entire disagreement will come down to absolutely nothing more than whether or not the Steam Deck is a better form factor for what it's trying to do than a Laptop. You would say that the laptop would be better and I would absolutely not be able to agree with you any less. But this is why I had opened with "nothing is for everyone", and we may have to simply agree to disagree. So long as we avoid "laptops are better, and everyone but idiots and perverts agree", or the converse with the Steam Deck, and so long as we can both say "you do you and let me do me", then I guess, whatever, we're both fine here. As I also said, I'm not making any commission off of these, and the only incentive I would have to try to get people turned onto the Steam Deck is to make it more ubiquitous, which would in turn, do more to bolster the Steam Proton, gaming on Linux, and Linux Desktop adoption initiatives that I so cherish, as well as, I suppose, to make Nintendo have to reassess some of its business practices that have made them as hard to love of late as their games and cultural contributions make them hard to hate (in truth, like being in an abusive relationship, I feel both emotions towards them). But even if after reading this, I've left you as convinced as ever that the Steam Deck is NOT for you, I hopefully have also made a logical, reasonable, and compelling case of why Steam Deck is absolutely FOR ME! And for those who this has got thinking in different and more interested terms about the device....you're welcome, and I'll look forward to seeing you out there!
When the Switch debuted, the thing that made it so amazing (and, no pun intended, "game changing") for me was that it FINALLY solved the problem of "the tether vs the marooning", and as such, it caused the Switch to pretty rapidly climb to a position of completely dominating my game play time. At one point, back when it was playing against the gaming PC, the PS4 Pro, a Google Pixel smartphone (either a 2 XL or a 4 XL - now a 6 Pro) the XBox One X, and a battery of retro and previous generation game systems, it commanded AT LEAST 95% of my total playtime, and maybe even so high as 99%. In fact, I liked to joke at the time that there was so much dust on my PS4 Pro and XB1X that I could write "Switch was here" in it with my finger. And it would not be until XBox Game Pass finally really entered my life when I got my XBox Series X this past year that anything was able to claw any consequential portion of that monopoly away.
As of this writing, the Switch is still my #1 most played system, but in a dramatically less dominating, monopolizing way. I would say that now, the Switch enjoys somewhere between 60 and 65% of my total game time, 70% absolute tops. I have also recently reconnected with a handful of mobile games from years past that suddenly seem relevant again, such as Tiny Tower, and so mobile has made some really minor inroads into my playtime. And I've since also managed to get a Playstation 5. But the overwhelming majority of the time clawed back from the Switch has been invested in playing XBox Game Pass games, making the Series X my second most played system, non-trivially behind the Switch, but dramatically ahead of whichever of PS5, PC, and mobile would be 3rd. I am actually DEEPLY ashamed of just how neglected my PS5 is.
As of this writing, my copy of Horizon Forbidden West is on the Fed Ex truck, out for delivery, and given how I will undoubtedly want to proof read, re-proof read, and re-re-proofread this thing before I submit it, it is very likely I will have had a chance to play and behold the game before anybody reads this. So hopefully that will be a well-needed jolt of life, and activity into the system for a while. I always kinda felt like the relationship between PS5 and XBSX for me in terms of play habits would be a big PS5 blockbuster would come along and I would have a brief spike of PS5 dominating XBSX, and then when that was not happening, the PS5 would be all but completely ignored while XBSX saw all the attention. Or, put in another way, PS5 would be "by appointment only" and XBSX would be "walk-ins welcome". Or yet another alternative way to say it: "PS5 as special occasion / event" and XBSX as "daily routine". In a strange way, this almost makes the PS5 more the "prestige gaming experience for me" than XB. But I don't think Phil Spencer will mind that when he sees that 80-90% of the time I'm playing one or the other, its on his playgound.
Still, my point is: the reason the Switch is tops for me, even above the amazing Nintendo first and second party titles and retro offerings through Nintendo Switch Online is simply because of the freedoms and flexibility of the hybrid nature of the system. I have always admired the freedoms and flexibility and "sky's the limit" nature of PC gaming, but with are remote as my rig is in the basement, and with a toddler around, making my escape opportunities much fewer and shorter, and mostly needing to go to podcast work when I do get them, I've just gotten so little time to truly immerse in PC gaming that it simply hasn't really had the opportunity to "bite".
Well, so now the Steam Deck comes along, and has the potential to be "the Switch of PC gaming" for me, in a way even more profound and direct and intimate than it is inherently for the greater gaming audience at large, marrying at long last the freedom and flexibility of the Switch's form factor with the additional freedom and flexibility of the PC game medium to create a "double whammy" of even greater liberty and opportunity than either of the two platforms have [very asymmetrically] been able to deliver me all by themselves to date.
We won't know, of course, just precisely what type or intensity of impact the Steam Deck will have on my gaming and computing life until I actually hold it in my hands, and get a little bit of time with it. To my great embarrassment, and shame, I must confess that I did not get my first Game Boy Advance until exactly 30 hours [HOURS!!!] before I got the Switch on 03/03/17 launch day. And for those first few days / first week or two, until I finished my first full playthroughs of Metroid Fusion and Metroid Zero Mission, I actually spent more time with my brand new [to me] GBA(sp) than my brand new [to everybody] Nintendo Switch. So, while "the switch to Switch" happened for me very, VERY quickly.....it wasn't quite IMMEDIATE. In fact, I remember the moment where it completely changed my life. It was about three weeks or so after I got it, and I was sitting on the couch playing Breath of the Wild, when my wife, Jodee, and my daughter, Chloe (Wyatt wasn't around yet) said they were going out for ice cream and asked if I wanted to come too. I initially waffled a bit, not sure whether I wanted to put down the game, when it hit me: "You doofus! You don't have to pick and choose anymore!" So I got up, grabbed the Switch out of the dock, called shotgun, and that was that. I was completely sold on the Switch from that moment on.
So I might not know on day 1, or even week 5 just what kind of impact the Steam Deck will truly have on my gaming life. And it's at least remotely possible that it'll be like the PS5 for me, where I was super excited to have it, played the crap out of it for the first week or two, and then put it down and only very occasionally pick it back up now. That's not absolutely impossible, especially if I encounter a great big design flaw that I am not yet aware of. - BUUUUUT - given the "double whammy" of the same flexibility and freedom the Switch offered me which changed my life, PLUS the freedom and flexibility that PC games offer me that I've always WANTED to have change my life, this thing truly creates the PERFECT conditions for the PERFECT environment for PC gaming to FINALLY "bite". And because of that, it could also very easily experience a Switch-like rapid rise to game time supremacy for me like the Switch did, and could cause the Switch to fall, probably never to as low a level as the PS5, but quite possibly below the Series X, into a potentially even distant 3rd. Especially if I all but quit using it for 3rd party games, and more or less only use it for Nintendo content, we could possibly end up with another "by appointment" system, like the PS5, only with the added benefits of still not being tethered to the couch, as well as the "random drop in" draw of the NSO offerings, and my humongous backlog of previously purchased 3rd party content.
Again, none of this can we be certain about until I have it, and it's up and running, and I've had a chance to really soak it all in. Perhaps it'll be worth looking back on this blog post at the 1yr, 3yr, and 5yr marks to see how near or far reality ends up coming to those projections. But either way, I do VERY MUCH see Steam Deck taking off for me and quite likely even becoming my "new main squeeze". And as I mentioned earlier in the article, encouraging signs of this probability already exist in my no longer being particularly interested in picking up No Man's Sky or the Portal series for Switch, and perhaps even more telling.....my deliberate decision earlier today to purchase "In Other Waters" for Steam rather than for Switch. I had wanted to "dip my toes into this one" [pun intended] for quite some time. And now I have.....only "in very different waters" [pun also intended]. I suspect this will be the first of many such decisions going forward.
And hopefully all of this will also have the knock-on effect of causing my desktop PC gaming time on the "big rig" to go up somewhat as well, and provide me the incentive I need to FINALLY upgrade the 2017-spec "fan and water tube and light show" of a machine from something that more or less equals XB1X graphics / performance capabilities, to something that absolutely blows XBSX (let alone XB1X) out of the water! We shall see. Also, in addition to whatever much or little the Steam Deck manages to achieve in terms of game time inroads for me, it will also be seeing some level of additional use time hooked to computer monitors as an upstairs Linux desktop PC that I can use for "secondary podcast production work" like track list creation and show notes writing (blog post writing?) etc, and I can be free to do less of that work moving forward on this more cramped (but still reasonably enjoyable) laptop of mine from which I currently scribe this present missive.
Either way, all of this combined comes together to make this thing's cartoonish bigness (and slight horsepower sufficiency worries down the road) seem....well....quite small indeed. A boulder flicked out of the road with just a finger. A great and glorious "Baby Bear's Bed" of gaming, and a rescue from the "Laptop Laodicea"!....and I absolutely CANNOT WAIT!
Cheers, and thanks for reading! Comments welcomed!
-St. John, Nerd Noise Radio
p.s. we're not quite done yet! You likely noticed a handful of asterisk indications throughout the course of the article. What these indicated, as you'd likely expect, is that I had more to say on the matter, but didn't want to clog up the article with it. So, please check the comments section, as there will be a handful of "supplemental reading" comments which will contain these leftovers; including an alternate version of this blog, which originally was an aborted Facebook comment and preface.** Read to find out more! :-)