Following the unveiling of SteamOS and Steam Machines, today Valve announced the final piece of the living room trifecta: Steam Controller. Taking some of the best bits of game technology today, SC aims to offer a sleek next-gen experience that may blur the line of disparity between a controller and mouse and keyboard.
The design, according to Valve, is described to have mouse - like precision condensed into a conventional gamepad build. This is made possible through Steam Controller’s dual trackpads, contrary to the traditional analog sticks we've seen the past couple decades.
“Driven by the player’s thumbs, each one has a high-resolution trackpad as its base. It is also clickable, allowing the entire surface to act as a button, “ Valve describes. “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.”
In addition, Steam Controller exhibits haptic feedback for a more precise tactile response, doing away with “rumble” completely. “Weighted electro-magnets are attached to each of the dual trackpads. They are capable of delivering a wide range of force and vibration, allowing precise control over frequency, amplitude, and direction of movement”
Furthermore, as if optimizing the best parts of Wii U’s Gamepad and PS4’s Dualshock 4, SC features a very innovative touch screen in the center of the controller. In addition to touch, the screen itself is clickable; meaning that actions will require a click, versus a touch. “This allows a player to touch the screen, browse available actions, and only then commit to the one they want.”
The screen, as Valve details, is not viewable like the Wii U Gamepad. Instead, “when a player touches the controller screen, its display is overlayed on top of the game they’re playing, allowing the player to leave their attention squarely on the action, where it belongs.”
Housing 16 total buttons, half of which don’t require your thumbs to be removed from the trackpads, SC is built for “ergonomic comfort.” Featuring a symmetric design, the controller will support either right or left handed preferences, via a configure check box.
No matter how old or new your games are, Steam controller is designed to play them all. “The Steam Controller is designed to work with all the games on Steam: past, present, and future.” This includes titles originally designed without controller support, in which case players can select a built-in legacy mode where Steam Controller will mimic a mouse and keyboard like configuration.
Lastly, Valve plans to release tools for Steam Controller, enabling users to hack and participate in the controller’s continued refinement, “from industrial design to electrical engineering,” the company says. An expected feature considering the more open minded philosophy the company prefers in regards to software and hardware design.
This final piece of Valve’s strategy certainly seems to be the most intriguing next-gen offering when compared to other controllers. Yes, it’s aesthetically traditional, but it comes with customization options never before seen in controller designs. And is the closest to a mouse and keyboard, at least on paper. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though, as playing will be the ultimate deciding factor, naturally.
Even so, it’s exciting to think of the possibilities between SteamOS, Steam Machines and now Steam Controller. Needless to say, it still comes down to games - Half-Life 3 would cherry this perfectly - but its galvanizing to see an offering where consumers and creator collaborate during the design process.
And considering Valve’s track record, it’s easy to feel optimistic. They’re a smart company and know the business well. A move like this, if successful, could be the beginning of the big 4 era.