Tech

Steams next big feature will make any “local multiplayer” game work online

Enlarge / With Steam's new upcoming feature, dubbed Remote Play Together, you can turn any "local multiplayer" game into a connected experience.Valve

On Wednesday, Steam sent a stealth news update to developers about a surprise new feature coming to Steam as soon as October 21: "Remote Play Together." The feature will transform any "local multiplayer" video game into an online one, and this will work by having the primary player stream their game to up to three other friends—meaning, other players won't have to buy a copy to join in.

As of press time, the emailed update has been posted on a Unity development forum, and it spells out how the feature will work, along with how developers can opt into its upcoming public beta. The news was later confirmed by Valve developer Alden Kroll as authentic. Valve has yet to otherwise post its own announcement.

How it works

Once the beta goes live, players can pull up the Steam Overlay (shift + tab on a keyboard) while playing a Steam game with any form of "local multiplayer" support and load their friends list. Once you send a Remote Play Together invite, "it's just like handing a second controller to a friend," according to the Valve email.

On a more technical level, the host's computer renders the game in question while also shouldering two other burdens: it must stream its game video to other participants, and it must juggle all incoming buttons and commands from other players. Valve's email promises that this will support a 1080p video signal sent to other players at a 60 frames-per-second refresh, though all players must have at least a 10Mbps connection for "a successful low-latency connection."

Valve provided this sample of how the invite interface will work. Should you join someone else's session, you can automatically add your connected chat headset to the game's audio, or just jump into the game. In either case, whatever input Steam recognizes on your computer (gamepad, mouse+keyboard, steering wheel, whatever) will start beaming to the host's computer, recognized within its Steam Client as another connected controller on that host PC.
Enlarge / Valve provided this sample of how the invite interface will work. Should you join someone else's session, you can automatically add your connected chat headset to the game's audio, or just jump into the game. In either case, whatever input Steam recognizes on your computer (gamepad, mouse+keyboard, steering wheel, whatever) will start beaming to the host's computer, recognized within its Steam Client as another connected controller on that host PC.Valve

For a better sense of how this will work, imagine a multiplayer game like Rocket League, which has a local split-screen mode for four players. Using Remote Play Together, the host computer will render that game's default, split-screen content, immediately stream that signal to three other machines, and process the other players' button taps as if their gamepads or keyboards were directly connected to the host. All players will see the exact same gameplay screen. This differs from normal online Rocket League, which gives every player their own dedicated screen, because Remote Play Together simulates the "everyone on the same couch" experience.

But how will Remote Play Together feel in action? We've tested upcoming game-streaming services like Microsoft Project xCloud and Google Stadia, which bounce video and button taps between your home device and an assumedly optimized server farm. In those demos, which we tested in controlled expo halls, we've noticed everything from near-perfect connections to noticeable, tolerable latency. Can Valve's version possibly keRead More – Source

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