Tips, tweaks and tricks for Steam

Features David Hayward Jan 14, 2013

David Hayward gets all Steamed up...

Steam is certainly getting its fair share of publicity at present, what with Gabe Newell denouncing Windows 8 so publically and lavishing much love upon the world of Linux. In addition to this we have the huge development process involved in bringing Steam’s mountain of games to Linux’s Mohammad, with extra beta testers being announced daily and a possible final release ready for Christmas. Now is a good time to buy shares in Valve, it would appear.

Aside from all that, Steam has established itself as a gamer’s one-stop shop; whether they’re looking to actually purchase a game, download of a demo, or check out a review of an uupcoming title they’re interested in. Steam does a whole lot more, however and there are a number of areas to the Steam client that few even realise exist. While it’s not fair to describle them as ‘hidden’, they’re rarely used, so we bravely donned our explorer’s hats and picked up our controllers to sacrifice in order to bring you some tips and tricks for the wonderful Steam.

AddToRun

If, for some unknown reason, you have a sudden hatred of using desktop icons, or your mouse for that matter, then consider launching Steam games via the Run command line using a custom alias. By browsing to goo.gl/fNyKn, then unpacking and installing the app AddToRun, you can create and setup numerous alias driven commands, all of which can be linked to the executable of your choice:

Select a Steam game, then assign a custom alias. Use the Add button to add the alias to the registry, then you can use the alias in the Windows run (Windows Key+R) box to launch it. It might be a superfluous these days, what with Windows 8’s type-and-run UI - but it’s still quite a handy, albeit lazy, alternative to running your Steam games.

Move game folders

Steam Mover is an app that allows you to dynamically move a Steam installed game from the default Steam\steamapps\common folder, to another drive and folder of your choice, while still retaining all the various links and whatnots that associate the games’ files with Steam’s registry entries. 

It’s rather clever and comes in handy for certain situation - such as a move over to a new computer or hard drive, when you need to move your games from one to another, or for when you want to move a game to and from a faster, but significantly smaller SSD. Either way, browse on over to the Steam Mover site, download and follow the example on the site to get those Steam games moved from one location to another.

By the by, it also works for other applications, but use it with a modicum of caution.

Steam Overlay

This a handy tip, and one that few know about. While playing a Steam game, press Shift and Tab and you’ll be presented with the Steam Overlay. From here you can do all sorts of wonderful things, like see which friends are currently online and what they’re playing, as well as getting news feeds regarding the game you’re currently playing.

You can take screen shots, see how long you’ve been playing for and you can open up a built-in web browser, which makes it useful for following a walkthrough without having to Alt-Tab out of the game continually. Not that we need to follow such things, of course.

Remote download

If you’re lucky enough to have a dedicated games machine and oodles of cash, and you leave the PC on during the daylight hours, then consider remotely downloading your purchased titles to it while you’re out.

Start by logging into the Steam Community Site via any web browser, or from the Android app. From here you can view the games you currently own, and by browsing the store you can purchase and download the games to your gaming PC, ready for you when you return home. It’s a great - though potentially quite expensive - way to kill a lunch hour.

Back up games

Did you know you could make backups of your installed games and consequently restore them, all via the Steam client? Open your Steam Client and click on the first menu item ‘Steam’, followed by ‘Backup and Restore Games’. Next, choose to either ‘Backup currently installed programs’, or ‘Restore a previous backup’. Since we’re looking to do the first thing on that list, click the radio button for ‘Backup...’ followed by the ‘Next’ button.

The next screen details the games you currently have installed, you can tick as many as you want, but be make sure there’s plenty of space on the destination backup device/drive before doing so. Once you made your selection, click Next to continue. With this next step, you can opt for the default backup location of \Steam\Backups\, or you can add your own by clicking on the ‘Browse’ button and navigating to the destination folder.

After clicking on ‘Next’, you can then name the backup and state the size of the backup chunks to be written, for example: a CD (640MB ), or DVD (4.7GB), or a Custom size. When you’re ready, click ‘Next’ and you’ll kick the backup off.

Alternatively, you could just use the aforementioned Steam Mover, or even more drastically, simply copy the entire Steam folder to another drive. It’s been known to work, but there are times when games have complained about missing files when doing it this way.

Check Steam access

If only they had Steam when I went off to university, back when I was a young buck, the fun I could have had with a substantial connection to the internet and the playing on into the wee hours. If only. For some though, going to university is an important part of their life; something on which their future depends; where making the right choice of establishment to enter is vital. Does it have a good reputation? The right course? Good facilities? Does this university allow Steam through their firewall, or do they block its access? It’s all stuff they’ll want to know.

To find out which universities allow access to Steam and which deny it, check out this thread on the Steam forums for an up-to-date listing of the world-wide universities and colleges where Steam is allowed or denied.

Of course we don’t condone selecting your educational future based purely on the whether the place allows you to game or not. The beer has to be suitably priced as well.

Defrag the cache

If you’ve noticed that the game you play so much is lagging slightly, then you may want to consider defragmenting the cache files.
To do this, go to your Steam Library, right-click any of your games, the big ones are usually more likely to become fragmented, then click ‘Properties’. In the window that pops up, click on the ‘Local Files’ tab. In here there are a number of options, but if your game is in fact fragmented, Steam will notify you and add a ‘Defragment Cache Files’ button.

Click this, and hopefully, the likes of Skyrim will begin to work nicely again.