As teased throughout the week, Valve made a series of announcements regarding the Steam platform. First, they unveiled a major new piece of software simply called “SteamOS.” Much like Chrome OS, this is a radically simplified user interface for home theater PCs.
The OS will be paired to their second major announcement, a series of Steam Machines, specially designed standalone boxes being developed by both Valve and a number of 3rd party manufacturers. SteamOS is based on Linux and will run all games featured in Steam's massive catalog. It will be able to access the internet using the Steam web browser, run movies and TV shows, and play music.
Alongside the new OS, Valve is preparing a new feature called "Family Sharing," in which any Steam user will be able to share their game library with up to ten friends or family, who will be able to access those games anytime the owner isn't using them. Of unique interest is the fact that Steam Machines can be used to stream content from more fully featured PCs to the living room screen, allowing graphic junkies to max out all their settings in style.
Finally, today, Valve released information about their new controller option. It is a radical design, consisting of evocatively placed buttons, surrounding two trackpad style alternatives to the classic twin-stick design. From Valve's own press release, these trackpads are designed to reproduce the capabilities of a mouse input with far greater fidelity. The controller also features 16 buttons, as well as a touchscreen that will interface with the Steam overlay, for a seemingly limitless amount of input options. In addition to being a touch interface, the screen will actually “click” in, allowing the user to scroll through various options before committing, such as buying weapons from a list in Counterstrike. The controller also features “Haptic” feedback through tiny but powerful electromagnets that can even be used to turn the controller into speakers.
To give a better idea of how the controller works, Valve released a mock-up using the control setup for Portal 2. Overall, the controller has been designed to emulate the traditional mouse and keyboard setup of PC gaming, and will work with all games, not only those designed with a gamepad option. Admittedly, at this time it is hard to imagine how it will function with RTS games, MMOs, or many of the traditionally PC-only subgenres. Only time will tell how their gamble pays off, and whether or not the trackpads offer superior performance compared to a stick.
These announcements come as the fitting conclusion to years of speculation regarding these very concepts: a proprietary set-top box and a Valve branded controller. The OS is largely the most exciting and surprising development, and will hold a lot of promise for the future of the Steam brand.
Valve is currently openly soliciting Beta testers for all the elements of their new ecosystem, and is preparing to ship out the new controllers and Steam Machines to testers around the world. Valve is very interested in being welcomed into the living room following their “Big Picture” experiment, and in time this will inevitably place them alongside Microsoft and Sony's machines, with one important difference: they readily invite modding and community interaction at all levels. Let your voice be heard.