It's been a huge week for Valve: first, they announced a new operating system based on Linux; then they announced a range of hardware designed for the living room. The third and final announcement for this week just hit the web, and it's the obvious conclusion to Valve's 'Living Room Week.'
The Steam Controller, while maybe not the most exciting announcement, certainly makes sense when looking over the past week of announcements. No one was sure if the Steam Machines would just use generic USB devices, but the Steam Controller is something much more unique.
Yes, it does look like a normal controller - almost like a fat Xbox 360 pad. Looks don't mean anything, though: this is a completely different beast from the analog sticks gamers are used to.
Instead of traditional analog sticks, the Steam Controller uses trackpads - similar to a laptop. Nothing like this has ever been shown - controllers have always used some sort of tactile input. Valve promises that the new controller will bring added precision to the controller, but without something physical, it could be a massive adjustment for players.
Traditional button placement has also been ignored in favor of a new design: instead of having all four buttons on the right side of the controller, the buttons surround the center of the pad (two on each side). At a glance, the placement doesn't exactly look convenient. They're small and seemingly smooshed into the corner, but we'll have to wait and get our hands on the controller before we issue any judgement.
From there, the Steam Controller falls a bit closer to what we've seen from Sony's PlayStation 4: the center of the controller is a touchpad, and traditional triggers dot the back of the pad. Again, Valve promises that this will lead to greater control, as the center touch pad can be used for multiple buttons.
Finally (and in accordance with the Steam Machines) the controller is fully hackable, allowing users to customize just how the controller works. It might be a bit beyond the common modder, but those with a knowledge of the hardware should be able to produce something completely different from what Valve ships.
After a week of announcements, Valve has officially thrown its hat in the console ring. It's nothing like Microsoft and Sony's new machines: this is built from the ground up for the PC player, the modder, and everyone who wants to play Half-Life on a TV. It's a bold direction to take, and a decidedly untested one - but if anyone can change how we look at games, it's Valve.
As always, all the details can be found at Valve's official site.