Creating your own Steam Cloud (or how to reliably sync any two directories)

I was quite annoyed that the Steam Cloud seems to misread file timestamps some of the time, resulting in game saves being overwritten with older versions. And since Steam doesn’t offer a way to reliably find out which save is the most recent one, I needed something better.

The things I need:

  1. Connects over SSH, works with an SFTP/SSH server
  2. Transmits only file differences
  3. Reliably determines which copy of the pair is the newest
  4. Takes any required actions to make the older copy be identical to the newer one
  5. Works on GNU/Linux and Windows, since some games still aren’t available on Linux
  6. Should be able to save sets of pre-defined sources and targets so I can sync with one click or command

If you have similar needs, I might have a recommendation for you: Unison. Unison is not new, but directory synchronization (especially cross-platform) is not a trivial problem, and Unison has had a solution since 1998 and has only improved since then.

I have tried WinSCP’s synchronize mode on Windows, which worked quite well, but with Unison I now have a solution for Linux, Windows and Mac OS X (not that I’d touch that with a pole).

I didn’t actually need to do anything to get Unison to work. I have an SSH account on a server, and I just had to make sure that server has Unison installed as well (apt-get install unison-all on Debian GNU/Linux). Then I simply create one profile per game. A profile contains the source directory (where the savegames are stored on the local machine) and one target (the SSH server and subdirectory for that particular game).

With this set up, I can double-click a profile, it shows me the changes it needs to sync, and I just have to send them off with the “Go” button. Trivial!

So far, Unison has made no mistakes whereas Steam Cloud made two, twice assuming that the remote files were newer when in fact they were older. Maybe it’s a bug with Steam’s timezone conversion vs. DST? Anyhow, it feels nice to have my save game syncs under my own control, so if I fuck up the timezone, Unison will look at the file’s actual contents and do the right thing.

The hardest part now is to find out where each game saves its savegame files, but that’s something you can sort out with a search engine.

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