Valve's week of three announcements related to bringing Steam to the living room is complete. Introducing the Steam Controller, a startling new take on console controllers that's certain to create controversy, while also opening up a world of new game experiences to console gamers. See, the Steam Controller doesn't have joysticks or standard face buttons, instead it has two trackpads, a touchscreen, and shared configurations.
That's right, dual trackpads replace the standard joysticks of the controller. Kind of mind-blowing, isn't it? Yet Valve believes that this is the only way to truly open up consoles to the wide spectrum of PC games that Steam offers available on PC and SteamOS, including strategy titles, simulation games and cursor driven experiences.
Here's Valve's short blurb on "Haptics" or why trackpads offer a level of control that joysticks won't ever manage:
"Trackpads, by their nature, are less physical than thumbsticks. By themselves, they are “light touch” devices and don’t offer the kind of visceral feedback that players get from pushing joysticks around. As we investigated trackpad-based input devices, it became clear through testing that we had to find ways to add more physicality to the experience. It also became clear that “rumble”, as it has been traditionally implemented (a lopsided weight spun around a single axis), was not going to be enough. Not even close.
The Steam Controller is built around a new generation of super-precise haptic feedback, employing dual linear resonant actuators. These small, strong, 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."
Next is the controller's touchscreen, an HD screen that's clickable and placed at the center of the controller. Valve says the touchscreen, "allows an infinite number of discrete actions to be made available to the player, without requiring an infinite number of physical buttons." In other words, rather than provide physical buttons for developers to map discrete actions to, the touchscreen acts as a catchall for whatever actions a developer may feel the need to map to a controller.
That doesn't stop the Steam Controller from having its own buttons, however. In fact, the Steam Controller features 16 of the blasted things, half of which are designed to be accessed without ever removing thumbs from the trackpads. That includes two on the back of the device. On top of that, the controller is perfectly symmetrical, so right and left handed players have the same level of control.
Finally, and this may prove to be the most significant feature of the Steam Controller, is Valve's dedication to openness and customizability. Valve states the controller will be entirely "hackable" and will create tools for programmers, engineers or whoever to do what they will with the device. That also means systems for customized control configurations, whether they be directly from game developers or simply popular options from players.
As with Steam Machines, Valve will be offering a limited beta for Steam Controllers where they send out 300 beta units to testers for feedback. As for when the final controller will be released, well, I'd bet it will line up with the release of any Steam Machines in 2014. Oh, and yes, Valve says the Steam Controller will work perfectly on the PC as well as with Steam Machines, in case that wasn't already clear.
Sure, yeah, I'll give that a shot. Still, damn, Valve's really shaking the box here, aren't they?