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Valve’s amazing Steam Controller

September 28, 2013

Valve announced the Steam Controller for its Steam OS devices today. And this sucker looks great! The Steam Controller is designed to work with all Steam games, even older games. It comes with two trackpads, and includes haptic feedback. The Steam Controller is hackable too.

We set out with a singular goal: bring the Steam experience, in its entirety, into the living-room. We knew how to build the user interface, we knew how to build a machine, and even an operating system. But that still left input — our biggest missing link. We realized early on that our goals required a new kind of input technology — one that could bridge the gap from the desk to the living room without compromises. So we spent a year experimenting with new approaches to input and we now believe we’ve arrived at something worth sharing and testing with you.

More at Steam

There’s also a high-resolution touch screen that is also clickable. Game players can also use the touch screen to swipe through actions in games that require it. The touch screen can also work as a scrolling menu or radial dial. The touch screen display is overlaid on top of the game that is being played, thus preventing the player from having to look down at the controller.

Valve Steam Controller Bindings

Great care has been taken in terms button placement, to maximize ergonomic comfort and ease of use. The Steam Controller includes sixteen different buttons. The controller can even be used for games that require a mouse or keyboard.

I have to admit that I’m somewhat dazzled by the Steam Controller. Valve is on a huge roll with Steam OS, Steam Machines, and now the Steam Controller. Is it just me, by the way, or does the pic below remind you of Darth Vader’s helmet? I’m sure Valve didn’t intend any Star Wars resemblance, but it does at least evoke Vader’s aura of dark coolness.

Valve Steam Controller

Media Reactions to Valve’s Steam Controller
I’m not the only one wowed by what they’ve come up with either. As you might imagine, the Steam Controller is getting tons of media coverage. Here’s a sampling of media reactions to Valve’s Steam Controller announcement.

Forbes thinks that the Steam Controller beats out any of the controllers from Nintendo, Sony or Microsoft.

This is far and away the most interesting of the bunch. At first blush, the lack of thumbsticks really threw me for a loop. I’m still not sure how I feel about this, though if Valve’s claims are true, and the trackpads are truly much more accurate, than it could fundamentally alter how we think about console gaming. Certainly I’d love to have a more accurate controller to play shooters, though I’ll be honest: I have trouble imagining how this could hold up against mouse and keyboard.

The whole thing feels much more “next-gen” than either Sony or Microsoft’s new controllers. It’s obvious that a lot of thought has gone into its design, and there’s no aspect that fills derivative.

I do love the symmetry and the fact that it’s so customizable and hackable. This is really what makes the entire SteamOS/Steam Machine project interesting.

More at Forbes

I can’t disagree with Forbes assessment, the Steam Controller almost looks like something Apple would have designed if they were more into games. In some ways it reminds me of what the iPhone looked like compared to other smartphones back in 2007.

The Daily Beast, however, is not so sure that the Steam Controller will be a big winner, particularly for fighting games.

And that brings me to the most obvious, and bizarre, change of them all: the dual trackpads. Analog sticks are great, but they’re not great for everything (they’re great for third-person shooters, not so much for first-person ones), and Valve is trying to bridge that gap. In a way, it would be like replacing the two analog sticks on the DualShock 4 with circular versions of its center touchpad. Theoretically, they allow for greater precision as the thumbs can slide around at will. It also lacks a directional pad, the first controller to do so since the concept was introduced by Nintendo way back with the Nintendo Entertainment System. This means that fighting games will be all but impossible to play on the controller, but people who seriously play fighting games buy arcade sticks anyway, so as long as those continue to function, that’s not necessarily a loss. How developers will account for that going forward, however, will be interesting to see, as the three main consoles all have them.

The Steam Controller is both familiar and foreign. It has taken bits and pieces from the controllers put together by other companies and molded them into a Frankenstein’s Monster-esque contraption.

More at Daily Beast

I think the Daily Beast is underestimating Valve. Do they really believe that fighting games weren’t taken into consideration when Valve designed the Steam Controller? I doubt it. It’s much more likely that fighting games will be quite playable with it, but in a different way than traditional controllers.

And I totally disagree that the Steam Controller is some sort of Franken-Controller. Advancements in technology are quite often built on what has been done in the past, so it’s quite understandable and probably smart that Valve took a look backward and pulled out useful designs while discarding others.

Wired seems a bit befuddled by the Steam Controller, and isn’t sure what to think beyond wondering if it might be a bit too complicated for gamers to adjust to easily.

Is this genius or insanity? Sure, it looks weird, but didn’t we all think that the first time we saw the ridiculous three-pronged Nintendo 64 controller? It’s tough to imagine how one might use it, but didn’t we think the same thing about the Wiimote before we tried it for ourselves? And weren’t we all sure that a phone without buttons would be horrible?

On the other hand, the most successful innovations in game controllers tend to simplify the experience, not complicate it. If you thought standard game controllers had a sharp learning curve, take a look at Steam Controller with its 16 buttons and dual trackpads. WIRED contributor John Mix Meyer messaged me a few moments ago to call this “the Homer of controllers,” everything people say they want but might not actually want in practice.

More at Wired

I tend to think that gamers will indeed pick up on how to use the controller very quickly. Most gamers have used various kinds of controllers over the years. So any initial hesitation or confusion will probably be quickly replaced by precision use as gamers start playing games with the Steam Controller.

PC World is taking a wait and see attitude toward the Steam Controller.

We’ll wait to get our hands on this thing before making any judgment calls. While it’s definitely an intriguing device and it’s cool that every game in the Steam catalog will work with it, I have some reservations—particularly about the four face buttons.

For example, the X and Y buttons are next to the left trackpad—the standard place for movement controls. If a game sets the X or Y button to “jump,” is it even possible to hit the button and move forward at the same time? Will games allow you to remap the controller to different inputs?

These are questions we probably won’t have answers to until hardware is in our hands.

More at PC World

I can understand PC World’s reluctance to pass judgement, it’s a bit early. But I’m very optimistic about the Steam Controller. It seems like a cherry on top of an already very sweet sundae of Steam OS and the Steam Machines that Valve announced earlier.

Wow. Good things are coming for Linux gamers! Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo had better watch out. Valve seems more than ready for a fierce battle for domination of the living room.

What’s your take on this? Tell me in the comments below.

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2 Responses to Valve’s amazing Steam Controller

  1. Connie New on September 29, 2013 at 5:43 pm

    Presumably the controller itself is platform agnostic. More Steam clients will be running on Windows machines than on Linux Boxes or Steam Consoles.

  2. John Piers Cilliers on September 28, 2013 at 11:35 pm

    Looks utterly amazing if you ask me!!! Linux rocks! On ARCH myself.

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