GCF is widely accepted to mean Game Cache File. And, as the name implies, a .gcf extension indicates a file were information related to games is stored. More precisely, these files contain data provided by the gaming client Steam; a multiplayer and communications platform created by the American game development company: Valve Corporation.
Through Steam clients acquire games digitally which eliminates the need of hardware like CD’s. On purchase, the user’s account connects to the Steam servers and automatic downloads are activated. With the game updated on their system, users can opt to extract the .gcf files and play locally; obviously on-line applications included in Valve’s Steamworks would not be available.
By default, game content from the Steam platform is stored as follows:
In order to open, explore or edit the content of the SteamApps directory, that is, the .gcf files, a user requires a software package commonly known as GCF-Extractor. In simple terms extracting means shifting the .gcf files to other locations in the user’s system thus rendering them accessible. In general, the following steps need to be followed.
Run the GCF-Extractor
Such software packages are very straight forward to utilize, in fact, although not a rule, a two-pane window interface similar to the familiar windows explorer tree format is normally available. This allows the user to browse through the folders and the sub-folders within the SteamApps directory until the desired .gcf file is located.
If possible, it is very convenient; to associate the .gcf files to the extracting software. If so, the user has no need to run the extractor in the first place, a simple double-click on any folder in the SteamApps directory and it loads automatically.
Right-click on the selected .gcf file
A context menu appears with the option to extract appears.
Click the extract option
At this point, the GCF-Extractor provides the user with the possibility to save the .gcf file into another location, for example:
C:\Documents and Settings\Administrator\My Documents\Steam games\
Run the game
The game is accessed and played from the new location. The user’s system becomes similar to a stand alone server.
Important: Close Steam before opening a .gcf file. Most GCF-Extractors use a technique called file-mapping (association of file contents) to access the data in the files. On the other hand, Steam opens these files in read/write mode therefore it is free to modify the content of .gcf files at any time. Should Steam change or update a mapped .gcf file, the extracting software would likely crash.