On the back of Valve’s previous two announcements detailing the company’s move into the living room with Steam Machines and streamlining access to your Steam library and online entertainment with SteamOS, today Valve has revealed the Steam Controller, which Valve calls “[a] different kind of gamepad.”
The Steam Controller, says Valve, will complete the company’s vision of bringing the Steam experience “in its entirety, into the living room.” The aptitude for building user interfaces, machines and operating systems has been learned, but “that still left input — our biggest missing link,” a post on the reveal page reads:
“We realized early on that our goals required a new kind of input technology — one that could bridge the gap from the desk to the living room without compromises. So we spent a year experimenting with new approaches to input and we now believe we’ve arrived at something worth sharing and testing with you.”
The first thing you might notice about the Steam Controller is its distinct lack of analogue sticks, being replaced with two large circular (and clickable) ‘dual trackpads,’ both driven by a player’s thumbs for what Valve calls a “vastly superior control scheme.”
“The trackpads allow far higher fidelity input than has previously been possible with traditional handheld controllers. Steam gamers, who are used to the input associated with PCs, will appreciate that the Steam Controller’s resolution approaches that of a desktop mouse.”
Valve says that genres of games previously unplayable with a controller, like RTS or cursor-driven titles, are now accessible and playable with the Steam Controller. First-person shooters, too, will “benefit from the trackpads’ high resolution and absolute position control.”
In order to provide the kinds of visceral feedback that traditional controllers do with regular rumble, the Steam Controller will make use of “a new generation of super-precise haptic feedback, employing dual linear resonant actuators,” which is a fancy way of saying that you’ll get the physical feedback that you’re used to, but better, with more precision thanks to control over the frequency, amplitude, and direction of movement:
“This haptic capability provides a vital channel of information to the player – delivering in-game information about speed, boundaries, thresholds, textures, action confirmations, or any other events about which game designers want players to be aware.
The Steam Controller will also include a clickable touch screen at the centre of the device “backed by a high-resolution screen,” which Valve claims allows for “an infinite number of discrete actions” without the need for infinite buttons. Cleverly, when using the touchpad for navigating Steam, menus are overlayed on your play screen “allowing the player to leave their attention squarely on the action, where it belongs.”
Of course, the Steam Controller also comes with standard buttons, sixteen in total, each of which has been placed “based on frequency of use, precision required and ergonomic comfort,” which is another fancy way of saying Valve has done a lot of research to ensure the gamepad is as effective and comfortable to use as possible:
“Half of [the buttons] are accessible to the player without requiring thumbs to be lifted from the trackpads, including two on the back. All controls and buttons have been placed symmetrically, making left or right handedness switchable via a software config checkbox.”
To make using the Steam Controller even easier, Valve will allow users to share their different game control configurations with the community so we can choose from lists of the most popular setups. Valve writes that the controller “was designed from the ground up to be hackable,” which is bold, and because the design isn’t completely final the company will provide tools that will let users participate in the creation of the gamepad, “from industrial design to electrical engineering.”
What are your initial thoughts on the Steam Controller? A bold leap forward or bizarre science experiment?