If you're a PC gamer, you probably use Steam. Maybe originally it was because Steam was the only way to get at juicy morsels like Half Life 2, but these days Valve's online marketplace is pretty much the best thing going, with a huge library of titles, hyper-competitive pricing, and a strong set of social features. Keep reading for 13 tips, tricks, and addons that'll help you get the most out of your Steam games!
Run Command Your Steam Games
If you’re super lazy and just want to run your favorite titles by typing in a specific keyword via Windows’ “Run” screen (Window key + R), check out the application AddToRun. It’s super-easy to map a given executable (like a Steam game) to any word you want. Type said word into said Run box, hit enter, and you’ll be playing away even faster than it would take you to click on a shortcut.
Edit Games Explorer
Tired of being unable to edit the various entries permeating your Games menu within Windows Vista or Windows 7? Maybe you want to add more Steam titles—or delete some—from the sprawling (or empty) list that Windows automatically creates. Check out Vista Game Explorer Editor (VGEE), a super-useful app that lets you tweak the Games menu to your heart’s content!
Move Your Games
Perhaps one of the most useful Steam add-ons we’ve found to date, Steam Mover automatically handles the process of moving your huge Steam titles to other locations (like a secondary hard drive). More importantly, it processes the internal Windows linking that will automatically allow Steam to find your moved games without even the briefest of interruptions.
Check Steam Access
About to head off to college—or, worse, planning your college applications? Know that a number of universities out there do their best to block Steam completely from their networks, which will leave you and your $800 collection of games in the dust. Be sure to check out the Steam Forums’ up-to-date listing of universities where Steam doesn’t work at all… and don’t apply there.
Save Your Game… Saves
If you’re moving to a new computer or upgrading parts, don’t forget to move the associated saved games. Check out the application SaveGameBackup, which does a great job of finding the location of these critical files and helping you save them to a new spot.
Backup Your Games
A fairly new feature found within Steam itself is the ability to backup and restore your downloaded games on a whim. It’s a great tool—found within Steam’s file menu—that allows you to specify exactly which titles you want to copy to a new destination. Better still, Steam will even compress the files into CD or DVD-sized chunks, if you’re trying to stash your games on discs. Use the built-in restore feature to pull these games back into Steam when you’re ready to continue.
Defragment Thy Games
Have you noticed that your loading times for Steam titles have gotten unwieldy? If so, perhaps your larger titles are in need of a defragmentation! Right-click on any installed game in your library, then select Properties. Within this window, you’ll want to click on the Local Files tab. If your fragmentation level is high, just click on the “Defragment Cache Files” button to clear it back to low levels.
Turn Automatic Updates Off and On
Are there Steam games you don’t play regularly, but still want to keep updated? Or do you want to manage all Steam updates yourself? You can turn Steam’s auto-update feature on and off for specific titles by right-clicking on the installed game, selecting Properties, then surfing on over to the Updates tab. Change your settings within the Automatic Updates window to match your preferences!
Stay on Top of Updates
Not only can you update your videocard (ATI users only!) via Steam’s “Steam” menu, but you can also dig a little deeper into Steam’s preference and ensure that you’re always using the latest, greatest features that Valve has to offer. To do so, periodically check your Steam > Settings window to see if you’re eligible for a beta update—select it via the “change” button, and you’ll be at the forefront of Valve’s proposed Steam updates.
Spray it Up!
Looking to make some customizable sprays for your various Source-based titles? Awesome. Pick up the application VTFEdit, which helps you convert standard images into the filetype that fits said games’ spray functionality. With but the punch of a keyboard button, you’ll be tagging all sorts of obscene/funny/awesome images all over your favorite multiplayer server, earning you the respect and admiration of your gaming peers.
Get Gaming Crazy
It’s not an add-on for Steam per se, but the application Game Booster v2 does much to ensure that your gaming experience is as masterful as it could be. The app ensures that you have the latest drivers downloaded for the various bits of hardware in your system, defragments game directories, shuts down background processes temporarily to give you the most available resources you can muster, and a host of other neat automatic functions that are designed to give you the tiniest of edges in your standard gaming sessions.
Play Games Offline
Let’s face it; Steam is a powerful tool, but it’s not as if you’re always going to be online whenever you want to play one of the games assembled in your directory. The app’s offline mode can be a bit tricky, especially for novice users. Here’s why: You have to first launch the game in online mode—if you don’t, there’s no way it’s going to work the first time you go offline via the Steam menu within the app. Do that first, however, and you’ll be able to play said title without having an Internet connection—way useful!
A Non-Steam Game?
Steam used to have this hilarious workaround whereby one could add any named executable under the sun to the app via the Games > “Add a Non-Steam Game…” option. I mean, at least I thought it was funny whenever my friends saw that I was playing the hit FPS classic “Your Mom.” Suffice, this is the exact way you go about adding non-Steam titles into the app, which is ideal if you want to use Steam to manage all of your titles—like, say, World of Warcraft?