5 PC Gaming Utilities You Didn’t Know You Needed
We all have our own collection of utilities that we rely on for our gaming habits. Some are new, and some we have clung to for years like security blankets. Many times we get so comfortable with our choices that we miss new options that may do even more of what we want.
Compiled here is a list of 5 new and overlooked utilities you may have missed:
Playnite is a familiar-looking, portable app that combines all of your games into one interface. From its UI you can launch any of them with minimal setup on your part. Providing almost no information, Playnite will automatically import your entire library from Steam, GOG, Origin, BattleNet, Uplay, and even Windows Store UWP games. Additional games can be added by simply scanning a folder, plus it even has specialized emulator support.
Playnite pulls information directly from the various services to automatically populate the information on each title, resorting to IGDB when it can’t (IMDB for gaming, and no, I didn’t know it existed either). Privacy-conscious individuals need not worry, from their website:
“Playnite doesn’t store any user information and you don’t need to provide any information to import installed games. Login is required only for full library import of GOG, Origin and Battle.net games and in that case only web session cookie is stored, the same way when you login to those services via web browser.”
By contrast, I provided no credentials to Playnite and it works as expected. Also, the program is open source and on GitHub for all to play with, scrutinize, or add to.
The developers are planning to add a “Big Picture” mode with gamepad support, and it’s hard not to see the similarities that Playnite has to Steam. The benefits over which are separate categories, advanced grouping, and having all of your gaming in one place. Not to mention the ability to add advanced launch parameters for your games that won’t be overwritten by an update to a client. Limiting CPU cores, adding speed fixes, and setting compatibility flags are all possible.
It’s easy to get used to Playnite, thanks largely to its familiarity, and the developers attention to improvements make it an easy addition to your gaming arsenal.
Steam Library Manager (SLM)
Disclaimer: I provide some voluntary moderation and QA for the developer of SLM. I do no coding, and my association involves no financial remuneration. It’s simply a utility I find useful.
Steam Library Manager (SLM) is a one-stop utility for handling your growing Steam library as well as being a haven for the bandwidth-conscious individuals out there who suffer from slow or limited internet. SLM provides a simple interface with which to moderate: Drag and drop between libraries of installed games to move them quickly, or back them up to a folder for safe-keeping later.
Steam’s built-in backup routine leaves much to be desired, encrypting everything and taking forever to do so. If you need a single file from the backup, you have to completely reinstall the game to get it. Additional files such as Workshop items, ReShade/SweetFX profiles, and mods or special patches also do not get backed up. With SLM, everything is stored, and in an open format for your convenience.
Additional features include compression, support for native Steam backups, and a library cleaner that will remove leftovers from an uninstall that failed to do so fully. If bandwidth is at a premium for you, and the Net Neutrality reversal will likely make that a reality, then SLM is a time and money saving alternative.
Steam Cleaner is an older, but still useful tool that can free up gigabytes of storage for you. Redistributables such as DirectX, VC runtimes, and various third-party clients are installed with every game. These prerequisites are necessary on first installation, but just become so much wasted space afterwards as Steam will not remove them. A good solution would be for the client to consolidate these to a single folder so there is only one copy but alas, this is not the case.
Not just working on Valves Client, Steam Cleaner also removes the same items from Origin, Uplay, BattleNet, and GOG. The downside to this is that an update to the game, or sometimes even the Client, will trigger a redownload of these files. In the case of Steam, I had half my library suddenly queue up because of a Client update, but that happened only once.
If you find you’re running out of room on your expensive SSD, Steam Cleaner can free up the space you need to fit that last game in.
GameSave Manager is an easy way to backup your save games when a reinstall of your operating system is necessary. Many gaming Clients provide cloud storage for your save games, but not every game has that luxury. Also, corruption or deletion due to game updates can kill off all of your progress in one shot. Having a local copy can save you time and hair follicles when that occurs.
GSM has additional utilities such as Steam Spreader (an old workaround for Steam only having one library location), Sync & Link (symbolic links to actual saved games), as well as Gameplay Backup (live incremental backups while playing). You can also schedule backups, and there is support for additional cloud storage services like Box.net, DropBox, Google Drive, OneDrive, and straight FTP support.
The database to GSM is updated constantly by the developers and the gaming public, but you can also add your own personal entries. The downside here is a massive database that is required to load and then each entry must be checked against your installed games. This can take a while, but you have an alternative.
MASGAU is an older save game manager with similar abilities, but is no longer updated. Along with being faster at startup and detection, the benefit of MASGAU is that the games library is in XML format and can be edited directly. You could, if you were thus inclined, prune all of the entries that don’t pertain to your library to gain some additional speed. MASGAU’s GUI allows for manual entries, but I find that editing the XML directly is the fastest. This makes loading and backing up your saves quick and easy.
You’re free to trust your client to save the hours of playtime you have invested, but I’ve been bitten too many times for that.
Exophase is not exactly a utility, but its zero maintenance and social persistence makes it a fun addition. If you are like me, you used programs like Xfire and Raptr. Both of these have fallen to the wayside with nothing stepping in to take its place, until now.
Similar to Playfire (now merged with GreenManGaming), Exophase is a website for gamers to update their playtime and achievements for anyone to see. Included also are the mandatory GamerCards that you can add to any forums you post to. The benefit of Exophase over its competition is that it works with Steam, Origin, Blizzard, Xbox, and PSN – aggregating everything automatically. Once set up, it gives you an up-to-date log of all your gaming habits with no client required.
The developer of Exophase is looking to implement Retroachievements and GOG Galaxy as well, though he’s less hopeful at the moment on GOG due to no API being available. This is clearly a vanity addition to your toolbox, but don’t we all like to show off a little?