Before I continue, I need to stress that I have a lot of opinions on the Steam Deck, and I want folks to read this. Not only that, but every day I’m learning new stuff every day with the Steam deck.
Because of all of the above, this will be a series of continuous blog posts on the Steam Deck - feel free to skip certain blog posts and focus on other ones that interest you.
Giving Steam Deck a challenge
I gave Manhunt a go first, because it is - to be blunt - one of the worst PC ports of a game. By default, on modern systems, you get locked out incredibly early on in the game (in the introduction tutorial bit) without modding. Also, or a PC port of a console game, it lacks any joystick/gamepad support, and the PC controls are very iffy - some menus you can get through by clicking your way through, some of them you must press the Enter/Exit key. Menu wise, if the Steam Deck can handle this, it can handle virtually anything
So naturally I boot it up and play the game. Of course, I am locked out of the beginning gate in the first level. Thanks to some fantastic work by a group of hard-working individuals, I managed to get the required mod to fix this game. Now onto modding.
So on Linux, the files are in the
~/.steam folder, and once you access that, it is just like Windows - easy to drag and drop files and get games modded. In fact, I think it’s simpler than on Windows as the folder location is so easy to get to (on Linux it is always that folder unless you have done something really funky with your Steam setup, whereas Windows depends heavily on your installation path).
If this sounds like some sort of basic revelation, believe me, it is. I think for me, it’s just jarring coming from the macOS world and from other systems like Switch and Xbox Series X. Quite stunned am I in the fact that I can easily modify any file I want on this beefy Switch looking thing. Something so simple, and yet, so rewarding.
Controlling Manhunt, a keyboard exclusive game
So now I’ve modded my Manhunt game, it’s a matter of playing the thing - or at least trying to complete the first mission and then moving onto more exciting prospects. Booting up the game and it works, however the default controls are causing it to not respond as this game does not have gamepad controls. Oh dear.
Luckily, pressing the Steam button and then going into Manhunt > Controller Configuration, I was able to explore and download some community offerings. I managed to find one that pretty much rebound every single button on the Steam Deck to a keyboard key, which is excellent. It does feel weird to press the Start button to press Escape and the Options menu to hit Enter, but here we are.
Weirdly enough, the game actually feels quite nice to play - well, for a controller pretending to be a keyboard anyway. I would much prefer the console controls, but what can one do? This is the best we can get with a game with such poor (i.e. non-existing) gamepad support.
And lo and behold, I hack and slash my way past the first level. Now, onto Vice City.
So I boot up Vice City to be greeted with the boot intro and a black screen where the main menu should be.
Oof, this is going to be painful, I think to myself.
Getting the truly Definitive experience via mods
Scouring around the internet, I find the marvellous ProtonDB website for GTA Vice CIty. According to this website, all I need is a weird parameter, a Vice City definitive experience mod by the same crew who did the Manhunt mod, and something called Proton:GE. Hmm…
First, I download the mods. While I am waiting for the mods, I put in that funky parameter into my game’s launch option. However, I ended up going back to Desktop mode and copying and pasting the value into the desktop version of Steam because the gaming mode would not paste my game launch code into it.
I suspect the Gaming Mode is effectively a different environment all together so that Steam gets the best performance for the UI and its games by effectively shutting down the desktop mode. This would explain why I couldn’t paste my freshly copied launch parameters into Steam, but it is frustrating. Luckily, the desktop version is easily accessible and works exactly the same way as the Gaming Mode frontend.
Once the mods have downloaded, I extract them into the GTA Vice City installation directly. Next up is Proton GE. What on earth is that?
For those who don’t know what Proton is and want a simple explanation: Steam Deck runs on Steam OS, which is Linux. Linux is very much Not Windows. It’s a bit like someone who reads, writes, and speaks in an English language communicating (as in reading/writing/speaking) to another person in a non-English language.
Proton is the layer that Valve have made that sits between your Windows games and Linux and translates the Windows gaming gibberish into Linux gaming gibberish so that your Windows games can play nicely on Linux. Proton GE is just a tweaked translation layer made by the community to fill in some of the gaps that Valve couldn’t quite translate effectively. In fact, there are many more by the community, but this is about Proton and Proton GE.
Setting Proton GE was extremely painless - luckily, some lovely chaps over at Rock Paper Shotgun have made an exquisite guide on setting up and installing Proton GE on the Steam Deck. I followed it, and indeed I got Proton: GE once I go into the compatibility settings in Vice City.
And the result? Chef kiss.
This is truly the definitive edition of the game. All the best tweaks from PC, PS2, Xbox, and the mobile ports all in one base game, and without any weird, funky textures of whatever Rockstar Games are selling right now. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Vice City look this good, and I am definitely including the Definitive Edition that Rockstar Games are selling (I have played and completed the sold definitive edition of Vice City and San Andreas, unfortunately).
Once I got Vice City up and running, GTA 3 was a very similar affair with similar excellent results. Likewise, I’ve never seen Liberty City look so good!
If you know me, you know I have a deep love for Bejewelled 3 (B3). It is just the perfect casual game. I know people who may hate on B3 because of the mobile gaming obsession of match-3/gem based games, but my love affair with B3 well before the Candy Crush era. It is simply excellent and exquisite, and I will hear no more.
Playing it on the Steam Deck, however, is kind of weird. The Steam Deck gives me a mouse I can hover over gems, and I can press any key on the D-Pad to move the gem I’m hovering over to move it in the d-pad direction.
Honestly, it took some time to get my head around it, but I honestly kind of prefer it over the normal gamepad controls. For one, I can get over gems nice and quickly - really great for the time trial parts of B3.
But more importantly, the controls aren’t so weird and esoteric that my brain has to do several flips to understand the control scheme. It did weird me out, but now I’ve got used to it, I can’t see myself going back!