Steam Broke My Game

 By Shamus Nov 21, 2007 41 comments

I’m a glutton for punishment. I knew I was in an uneasy truce with Steam when I came back to play Half-Life 2 again. This week I picked up Episode Two. Yesterday they put out a patch that broke the game for me. As I walk around, my view jitters up and down as if I’m falling through the ground, then snapping back to ground level over and over again. It’s maddening and makes the game more or less unplayable.

I didn’t even know they had patched the game. I just fired up the game this morning and found the thing was broken. Steam likes to keep your games up-to-date for you, meaning it downloads and applies patches without asking or telling you. I wasted a good hour fiddling with options, re-starting, re-booting, and generally wasting my time because I had no idea the game had been patched.

You can turn auto-update off, but when I did that with other games I found that when a patch came out it wouldn’t let me run the game until I’d applied it. I tried going off-line to run my game it it gave me the oh-so-helpful error “That action could not be performed at this time.” So I relented and re-enabled auto-update. Now they broke my damn game for me.

I checked the “update history” to see what the patch did, but clicking on that brings up a blank window. (And once it crashed Steam.) Sigh. As always, problems with Steam tend to be rage-inducing nested problems.

I checked the Steam news page, and they didn’t even mention the update. I only knew there was one because I read about it in the forums. I joined the forums myself so that I could add my two cents, but even after entering a CAPTCHA (six digit multicoloered case sensitive, booo!) confirming my email, and then “activating” my account, I still have to wait for a human to review my registration and allow me to post. “Thank you for your interest in Steam. Please jump through these complimentary hoops.”

So now I’m posting my gripes here, and we can all suffer together.

Dear Valve:

  1. Never alter the software on the user’s computer without their permission.
  2. Don’t force them to update, because the update might break something.
  3. Always inform the user of what a patch contains.

Even Microsoft has this much figured out. Jerks.

How can their games be so awesome and their delivery system be such an abomination? They will agonize for days over placement of health, foes, and weapons within gamespace to create maximum user enjoyment and weed out frustrating situations in the game, but Steam itself is infuriating at every turn. Now I have a nice block of time off coming my way and my new game is busted.

To the Steam fans out there: Is there some hidden checkbox to tell Steam “Stop being such an ass****”? Please tell me where it is. I want to like these guys, I really do.


20201Feeling chatty? There are 41 comments.


  1. pdwalker says:

    That’s just one of the reasons I didn’t by half-life 2, even though I loved half-life 1.

    such a shame they ruined a good game with that horrible software.

  2. Gahaz says:

    They do tell you what the patch does. When the patch cases are complete usually the client restarts and a little window pops up saying this is what we did. But on a side note, this is usually after they update small things a number of times. They keep alive for the graphics whore people by constantly tweaking their favorite engine (source) with a monstrous amount of very minute tweaks over a long period of time individually to all their different products. It works in a way like *source coder A is playing in the code and finds that in episode 1 if you alter the position of textures to these lines blah, blah, blah, that the overall experience is raised. Said coder goes and tells higher up, they check his work, and bam its uploaded to Steam.* This can end up putting them in a place of complacency where they feel that these small alterations are minimal and they will not break anything, but then some line that gets changed or inserted is not properly checked and whamo, your camera acts like its possessed. Its happened before, but they usually will “fix” what they broke rather quickly. also, if your turn off the auto updater then switch to offline mode it does not recognize it properly, you have to start Steam in offline mode. You should probably set the default to offline, that way you can check the forums and what not to see if the patches are out or worth it.Also are you buying the software through Steam, or hard copies? You should probably skip the brick and mortar stores when getting Steam based stuff, it seems to work better. I used to like my hard copies but I’m a house-husband these days and rarely leave the house, so the bonus is its right there. The only problem I have with Steam is the fact so much gaming goodness is available to purchase with only a few clicks. My wife must threaten me with violence to keep my purchases down.

    Sorry for grammatical errors and what not, typing too fast and so much is never good for the body of work.

  3. Eltanin says:

    Funny, I JUST noticed this problem myself. I was playing Episode 2 (first time through) last night and enjoying myself immensely. It is much more enjoyable (to me) than Episode 1. However, I noticed the jittery problem as well, though I dismissed it since I’m pushing my system’s abilities as it is. But then I reached a spot where the game presumably auto-saves except that now it auto-hangs. Given the long load time to start Steam and the game, I was overjoyed to find that it happens everytime I reach that point.

    I too went to look at Steam’s “what’s in this update” pop-up and I too found a blank window. I’m in the process of checking the game cache for corruption. Bah.

    I noticed the patch happen yesterday and I thought to myself “Huh, they automatically patch the game. I don’t have to go find the patch and download it myself. I guess that’s nice.” I’m less cheery about it now, but I can console myself that they’ll automatically fix the problem that they created. Right?

  4. Shamus says:

    Gahaz: I have never seen that “here is what the patch did” window. For all games, it’s always blank.

  5. Gahaz says:

    It usually pops up after a multitude of updates are applied, it will tell you that a client update is required, then will give you an over view after steam restarts. They are very sneaky about waiting to tell you all that they have been fiddling with. Their policey seems to be “we will tell you, well, you know EVENTUALLY, but don’t worry were cool, right? Now, what else can we do…” I’m not sure why the old patch notes never appears anywhere, and the patch notes page is a waste. It never has any patch info for some oddly strange reason. Well, at least Steams not too bad. You could be trying to use the EAlink BS, thats a broken download service.

  6. Pederson says:

    I think Gahaz is talking about the Steam News pop up. I don’t think it appears very often, frankly. Certainly not as often as games get updated.

    When Steam works, it’s pretty awesome. Your games stay up-to-date, can be downloaded to whichever machine you’re running them on, etc, etc. When Steam does not work, it’s a huge steaming pile. A friend of mine got his account locked for potential credit fraud because he had the audacity to buy some games through the Steam store. Took a couple weeks to get it sorted out, with very limited and confusing feedback from the folks at Valve. From what I recall of his ordeal, their customer service mostly doesn’t exist.

    But, then, Steam doesn’t really have a competitor at this time, because none of the major publishers have a similar service. (There’s Gametap, but that’s a monthly subscription and largely vintage games.)

    On the whole, I like Steam, but it’s certainly not without its warts.

  7. Gahaz says:

    And even when they DO tel you, its very vague. Along the lines of “Improved the framerate reducing problems in Episode 2″, but not WHAT they did. Why are they like that? Seems odd. I think they are trying to placate a simpler PC market. Those out there that don’t know or understand what would be in proper patch notes. But I would really like an option. The PC game market is moving outside the “uber” geek crowd with companies like DELL and Alienware becoming very popular nowadays, stopping the need for you having to pimp out a system yourself. Any shmuck kid with rich parents can get a proper PC.

  8. Gahaz says:

    LOL, ok, I’m done cluttering up your comments, jeez I’m a space hog! I’ll no longer bother you on this subject unless needed.

  9. Martin says:

    Steam lasted about 3 minutes on my computer. Too much big brother, even back in 2002, or 2003 (whenever)

  10. mos says:

    pdwalker, you might want to re-think that stance. Half-Life 2 is a bigger step above Half-Life than HL was above the other games of it’s time. And Episode 2 is a similar step above HL2. Anyone who considers themselves a gamer should play these games.

    Also, there’s Portal, which you could say is pretty alright.

    –Personally, I’ve never had a problem with Steam, although I understand it if someone would want to a) not be auto-updated and b) be able to roll back failed updates. I’m playing through the HL series (just finished HL over the weekend and am partway through HL2), and I hope that the bug in Ep2 is fixed before I can be affected by it.

  11. guy says:

    you know, people CAN be gamers without touching FPSs. I am really annoyed by the seeming belief that there are no other game genres.

  12. Dev Null says:

    Hated Steam when it first came out, because the patches were huge and frequent and I had a lame internet connection at the time. I’ve come to not mind it so much, though I agree with most of your gripes with it. I can see their point in wanting to keep everyone up-to-date with the latest patches – it solves the developers nightmare of trying to make each patch completely independent… But at the very least, there should always be a manual option to roll back the last patch, in case they broke something, until they fix it.

  13. ArmySyko says:

    @guy

    There are plenty of other gaming genres. I have Steam for one or two independent add-ons that have been developed since the original HL1 game. I play them a little but there are plenty of others. Besides, the Orange Box was a great deal.

    I live and die by the new Pirates by Sid Meier.

    Steam is okay, for now. I’m still playing through ep1 while I’m working on grad school stuff. I’ll give ep2 some more time to work things out.

  14. Incidentally, for people who haven’t yet taken the plunge, the Orange Box will be $25 on Friday & Saturday at Best Buy.

  15. p.s.: on the like vs. don’t like issue, I have to admit that I like the way Steam means I no longer have to mess with rummaging around for a CD or DVD to stick in the drive before I can play my game. I have to give mad, zany props to a company that recognizes the futility of trying to stick to the outdated dongle philosophy that just ends up forcing people to download no-CD hacks.

  16. I am so addicted to Portal. SO. ADDICTED.

    I, however, did some research and realised that there was NO WAY I was going to be able to play it if I bought it, since I am on dialup Intarweb. So, I ‘borrowed’ a cracked copy and played that. I sure hope they release this as a standalone game, because I would definitely pay for it. But I hate installing stuff that clogs up my registry and may or may not even be playable. *sigh* And can you say ‘bloat’? I have no idea how much drivespace is required for the retail version of that game, but the cracked version is something like 3GB. Insane. But Oh. So. Addicting.

    /del comment for exceeding weighted phrase list: “cracked”

  17. Kris says:

    I’ve had my account in ‘offline mode’ ever since I downloaded HL2, and had no problems

  18. mark says:

    They have an update new RSS feed. Keeps me posted on what they’re doing…

    http://www.steampowered.com/rss.xml

  19. Althanis says:

    I’ve been playing HL2 since release and to date the only problem I’ve had with Steam is having to wait to download and install a patch I didn’t know was coming when I really wanted to be playing something. This is especially annoying for non-Valve games like Company of Heroes that I bought using Steam because even with the high speed broadband it’s a 2.5 hour download and install. I’ve played both of the Episodes and I have no issues whatsoever with the graphics, but I also shelled out $600 of my tax return for a GeForce 8800 GTX video card.

    Nothing personal against any of the other posters (posers) here, but I’ve noticed that the people that complain the most about how evil Steam is are the people that are going to complain about something no matter how smoothly a game or software delivery/verification system works. If they won 100 million dollars in the lottery, they’d curse up a blue storm about having to pay Uncle Sam his share….

  20. Marauder says:

    >1. Never alter the software on the user’s computer without their permission.
    >2. Don’t force them to update, because the update might break something.
    >3. Always inform the user of what a patch contains.
    >Even Microsoft has this much figured out. Jerks.

    Don’t be so sure…
    http://www.google.com/search?q=stealth+windows+update
    http://it.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=07/09/15/2040259
    http://www.windowssecrets.com/2007/09/27/03-Stealth-Windows-update-prevents-XP-repair
    This was just the other month, Microsoft pushed out a stealth update to Windows Update even to people who had automatic updates disabled and that update broke “repair” installations.

  21. LemmingLord says:

    Wow, Steam used to suck, but I love it now. I have never had any problems with it, and neither have any of my friends. Maybe Steam just hates you.

  22. Shamus says:

    I’m glad some were able to enjoy Ep 2, and I’m glad Steam works for some people, but this isn’t just a bunch of people looking for something to complain about. The game is seriously broken. There are at least two serious bugs going on. One is a repoduceable (indeed, unavoidable) crash in the mines, and the other is the one I mentioned above.

    I’d had Steam not let me in because I hadn’t applied updates, as Althanis mentioned.

    I’ve had these mandatory updates hose my game. (It made the graphics all glitchy in HL2, a problem that only cleared up when I got a new gfx card.)

    And keep in mind all of this happened to games that were working just fine before they forced me to update.

    I’ve tried turning off auto update and using offline mode to prevent the above, only to have both fail miserably.

    These are serious shortcomings. They are pervasive, genuine issues.

    Just because it works for you doesn’t mean it works for everyone.

  23. Rich says:

    Just jumped on to check and after an update I have the same issue. I checked the Steam Forums and there are a few threads about it. People are not happy, obviously. No official word from Valve that I can find. Considering that this is the day before Thanksgiving, I wouldn’t expect to hear anything before Monday or Tuesday.

  24. mos says:

    @ guy: I never said that. I never even implied that. All I said was that gamers should play these games. Messing with Steam is a small price to pay for such works of art.

  25. Stark says:

    Silly question probably… but have you tried removing and re-loading the video drivers? I had the same issues as you describe earlier and that fixed ‘em for me. Coulda been a fluke but it worked. Still, I agree with you, there’s no excuse for forced updates… and if you are gonna roll ‘em out right beofre a holiday you better be willing to pay the overtime to fix things for all those folks who had, oddly enough, planned on spenidng part of that holiday free time playing your danged games!

  26. ArchU says:

    Shamus – I don’t have Steam installed but my brother does (HL2 fan). Getting a blank page appear once in a while would be a problem with Steam’s service but getting a blank page all the time indicates a problem with your network (firewall/browser filtering, etc.) or with your ISP.

    It may be worth checking your existing firewall settings and looking for FAQ/troubleshooters on the Steam site for which ports need to be open. Check your browser safe lists and hosts/lmhosts files for any blocked internet addresses.

    One other possibility is the page loading in non-html format in which case you may have an outdated plugin.

    I’d look into it more if/when I get Orange Box but for now I’m still slogging through some other games that were gathering dust on the shelf…

    Good luck.

  27. Rason says:

    I bought company of heroes from steam, but it refuses to download more than 6.62 gigs of the game, no matter what I try it only downloads that much, and refuses to run because well, 1/4th of the game is MISSING.

  28. I’m experiencing the same bunny-hopping problem, Shamus. I’m sure they’ll fix it soon, and I’m not particularly worried in the meantime. I’ve got plenty of other things to do, and I’ve beaten the game several times already.

    And if it makes you feel any better, my computer died the day I got Episode 2, and stayed dead for two weeks, until I replaced the mobo and CPU. So I’ll see you your game-crashing bug and raise you a whole computer, internet access and all.

  29. hank says:

    Sheesh Althanis, smug much?

    The game has serious issues. If you’re not experiencing those issues, you should be grateful, not smug.

    I don’t run Steam because it sinks its roots too deep into my system, running stuff when I am not playing games and cluttering up my registry. Though I do own the Orange Box, there are ways around Steam’s quirks, if you are willing to hunt for them… this is great for those of us that do not share your good fortune, but it means that Steam is failing in some aspects. And to put out a buggy update at the beginning of a holiday – meh.

  30. Hank, Steam doesn’t run anything on my system when I’m not running Steam. I’ve never heard anyone make any such claims. There are also no deep roots. If I uninstall Steam the normal way and then delete the install directory, there are no longer ANY traces of the program on my computer. Also, there are no quirks, in my experience, aside from ones stemming from my firewall misbehaving or my internet connection crapping out.

    I really don’t get all these anti-Steam complaints. The app runs fine on my system, the games run fine, except for the occasional bug (which is SOP when it comes to computer games), which usually gets fixed a lot quicker on Steam than with other computer games. There’s nothing by way of spyware, unless you count the hardware survey (which is opt-in), or the gameplay statistics tracking, which I find intriguing.

    I’ve been using Steam since HL2 was released, and I’ve never been anything but happy with it. I love having games available for me whenever I want through Steam, and I’ve even repurchased several games I already own so that I could have them on Steam. Any minor gripes that I’ve ever had with games on Steam are the types of gripes I could conceivably have without Steam too, and the convenience of not needing to keep track of all those install CDs (and of not needing to track down the latest update patches) is a boon I can’t say enough about.

  31. Supposedly the problem has been fixed by the patch released a few hours ago. That’s how it works: problem found, problem identified, problem fixed.

    A bug is not a serious issue until the developer refuses to acknowledge it or drags its feet in fixing it.

  32. Tested it out myself, and yeah, it’s fixed.

  33. Phlux says:

    I guess I’ll count my lucky stars that I’ve never been one to have these problems with steam. I do share the issue with the blank update pages. As one commenter mentions, sometimes I get one AFTER steam restarts, but to release a bug fix without a simple set of release notes is pretty ridiculous.

    I get the impression that the releast notes are SUPPOSED to be there…maybe it’s a server problem why they don’t always display? A company as good as valve certainly has QA testing before any patch is released, and any QA department will require release notes from the developers so that they know what areas to test the hardest.

    I give them the benefit of the doubt for probably having CREATED release notes, but I chide them for screwing up something as easy as distributing a small text file.

    The patches haven’t broken anything for me yet, but maybe it’s only a matter of time. It’s too bad that so many people have these problems. When the system works right it’s really very nice. I wish everybody could have the experience with steam that I’ve had.

  34. straechav says:

    I used to hate STEAM on a principle when it came out, but after folding out and installing it for Episode One, and then making some pretty extensive tracking and debugging I have to say this: people who say that Steam gets in to their computer and acts like a spyware have no idea what they’re talking about. It checks your hardware, if you don’t disable it, and it makes gameplay statistics which sound to me like a damn good idea. It gives the developers some pretty accurate information where people die, how often, and if their projected game length has any relation to truth. This kind of real life info is nigh impossible to get.

    Actually, did anyone check the statistics of Episode Two that were published a while back? Looking at the places where people were dying, and seeing one huge red splotch I wondered what it was. Then I found myself cracking up out loud when I noticed that it was where you get the car first time and you have to jump. I guess a lot of people didn’t make the jump… which is kinda funny ‘cos it’s easy enough.

    That said I do agree with most of the criticism, just not with the irrational hatred and the insubstantial claims of spyware & whatnot. Automatic updating sucks, especially without rollback, and I don’t particularly like the IE based interface, and so forth.

  35. Primogenitor says:

    Count another happy Steam customer here, even having used prerelease download and gift copies. Not that it’s perfect, but Steam is better than the old options (physical media, starforce, no patches, etc) and no-one else has an online system to speak of (though I did like Bioware’s NWN1 Premium modules system FWIW). Direct-to-drive users got any feedback/comparisons?

    Interestingly, don’t MMORPGs have the same issues? everyone must on the same patch, auto-update (since no point not doing so), etc. I don’t play them on the principle of anti-subscription so could be wrong.

  36. guy says:

    @mos
    “Anyone who considers themselves a gamer should play these games.”
    I consider myself a gamer. i play RTS games. i will never play the HL games, because i don’t play FPSs. and that is why i felt that you implied that. although it would be more accurate to say that i am annoyed that people seem to believe that no one will devote themselves primarily to other genres.

  37. The IE-based thing bugs me too. I don’t understand it either.

  38. Smileyfax says:

    The only time I remember having serious problems with Steam was when I had Vista installed. Steam simply refused to start up (would crash just after the login screen) and customer support (after having to register and wait a few days for them to answer my question) was singularly unhelpful.

    Of course, since Vista had a menagerie of other problems at the time as well, Steam may not have been to blame. I reinstalled XP, popped Steam in, and it worked dandy.

  39. Ian says:

    @guy: It’s just an expression. Relax.

  40. Will says:

    Installed HL2 (+Steam) Waited 2 days to decrypt the files/update etc. (Ain’t dial-up fun?) only to find that Steam insists that my filesystem_steam.dll is dodgy and won’t run. A Steam techie who’s name I won’t mention (Thomas), said that Steam ITSELF, was dodgy at the time and that I should run through the whole rigmarole again to see if THAT works – it didn’t. So, thanks to Steam I now have a game which takes nearly half a week to install and STILL can’t even play it. In conclusion, my Steam rating is probably now in the negative range and my playing time is still 0h0m0s since October; so much for birthday presents – Thanks for sod all Steam! – Valve: A damned good company gone to hell; in my books at least.

  41. desyphur says:

    If you right click the game and click “Update News” it’ll tell you what they changed *shrug*

    Late comment hoooo.

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