Valve has been pretty busy lately with its slew of recent announcements; from the reveal of the Steam Machine console to the new SteamOS Linux-based operating system, the company is solidifying its stance in the gaming arena and vying for domination of our living room.
Now the industry icon is once again flexing its pistons with its very own controller design, which will be optimized for “all Steam-based games”– that includes past, present and future titles–and will also be compatible with the Steam console.
“The Steam Controller is designed to work with all the games on Steam: past, present, and future. Even the older titles in the catalog and the ones which were not built with controller support.
“We’ve fooled those older games into thinking they’re being played with a keyboard and mouse.”
The peripheral’s body is very similar to your basic controller design, however that’s where the similarities end, as the two trackpads coupled with the button layout are strikingly different and make the Steam Controller quite a sight to behold. It also has a PS4-like touch-pad in the middle and players can even customize their own distinct key bindings–a concept that Valve had in mind from the start to fully actualize PC integration.
“We have built in a legacy mode that allows the controller to present itself as a keyboard and mouse.
“The Steam Community can use the configuration tool to create and share bindings for their favorite games [and] choose from a list of the most popular configurations.”
The Steam controller will go through a beta phase similar to its console brother, and Valve has recently given details on how to participate.
Various developers got their hands on the new flexible device and had some interesting things to say about the controller’s performance, punctual design, and of course its potential:
“[Valve is] really trying to think things through,” said Dan Tabar, indie game dev at Data Realms.
“They’re asking, ‘Do we really need thumbsticks? Why are the fingers on the back [of the traditional controller] not doing anything? Why not have paddles there?’
“The thing I find most exciting is that Valve is just rethinking it. We’re totally going to be making Planetoid Pioneers with this controller in mind.”
Tabar also addressed the input device’s dynamic trackpads, which are included in lieu of joysticks, affirming that they “aren’t anything like laptop trackpads” and that they are indeed extremely customizable like the rest of the controller:
“These are not like laptop trackpads. Everyone is like, ‘Oh we’re replacing thumbsticks with trackpads, oh shit.’
“But this is not at all like a laptop trackpad. It just feels good. It’s a challenge to verbally describe it.
“When [your thumb] moves toward the outer zone of the trackpad, you can feel that. [The zones on the trackpad] are independent of each other.”
Ichiro Lambe, a developer with Dejobaan Games, had similar things to say about the impressive haptic feedback of the Steam Controller’s trackpads and tried to adequately describe the experience:
“It feels like you’re moving your thumbs over a rough surface, though it’s all virtual.
“From a tech standpoint, think about something that can click whenever you tell it to… Simple example: you move your finger 1 inch up, and it ticks 10 times…You flick it up, and it starts ticking, like you’ve spun a wheel.”
While the Steam Controller may not compare (at least in it’s current state) to the fine-tuned precision of a mouse-and-keyboard combo in games of the FPS variety, Valve has opened up new doors and paved the way for easy, accessible PC gaming in your living room. The input device is innovative in design, function and purpose, and in conjunction with its haptic feedback and flexibility, it may gain a ton of momentum from the gaming community.
Valve still has no word as to when the hardware beta phase will begin; however it will be an integral element in shaping the peripheral as a fully-fledged multi-game controller.
With the Oculus Rift VR headset and now Steam Machines, SteamOS and the Steam Controller, Valve is building a sizable ecosystem that will directly battle the console market on its home turf, as well as throw punches at Android-based home consoles like the Ouya, the Gamestick, and even the PS Vita TV.
Valve does need some time to work out the kinks, though, but it’s interesting to see that the company is preparing for the next-generation of gaming and helping define it at the same time.
Be sure to head over to Valve’s official announcement for more info on the Steam Controller.