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Valve show off working Steam Deck prototypes for the first time

What could have been

The Steam Deck is finally releasing across Asia this month, and ahead of its appearance at the Tokyo Game Show (complete with unnervingly large replica of the handheld), Valve held their own launch event with a display of several prototype designs. Unlike the mere low-res images of abandoned Steam Deck designs we’ve already seen, however, these were mostly functional PC gaming machines. That’s according to Valve engineer Pierre-Loup Griffais, who shared a video of an early, more rounded-looking Deck booting to SteamOS and loading up Half-Life 2.

This particular model is still quite close to the final Steam Deck, save for its circular trackpads, blue face buttons and two-tone hand grip design, but the SteamOS version it’s running looks much less like the eventual UI. It’s still familiar, though, sharing the pixelly startup animation and carousel layout of Steam’s Big Picture Mode on regular desktop PCs.

Griffais’ sneak peek doesn’t actually show Half-Life 2 running, beyond a few seconds of intense G-Man glaring in the intro, but it might not have looked all that impressive; the prototype is packing an older APU, named Picasso, with “about half the GPU power” of the finished article’s Aerith APU.

While the Steam Deck has added all manner of new features and interface tweaks since it became available across the US, UK, and Europe, is software remains unchanged in broader terms, so it’s pretty nifty to see what we might have had if Valve decided against a more bespoke SteamOS. Likewise with the hardware – as far as I know this is the first time we’ve been able to see prototype Decks in the flesh. Griffais’ post also calls the prototype’s flatter design “an interesting experiment and taught us a ton about comfort” – those teachings can be seen in the protruding (but ergonomically pleasant) grips on the final Steam Deck.

Sadly, it does not appear that the gigantic Steam Deck set for the Tokyo Game Show will be playable as well, perhaps due to the health and safety issues of needing to balance on a stool to reach the buttons. Still, if you have your own, normal-sized model, you can always try out the 30 best Steam Deck games.

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James Archer avatar

James Archer

Hardware Editor

James retired from writing about Dota for RPS to write about hardware for RPS. His favourite watercooler radiator size is 280mm and he always takes advantage of RGB lighting by setting everything to a solid light blue.

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