Thanks to some server issues we had to deal with on Friday, we were unable to talk about the announcement of Valve’s interesting Steam Controller, but it just seems wrong to not mention it at all, so let’s take care of that here.
After my first glance at the Steam Controller, I uttered, “What in the hell?”… not just “What the hell?”, because a gamepad this bizarre-looking seemed to require just a wee bit more punch. Seriously – I couldn’t get over how ridiculous it looked, but then I remembered something: My first impressions tend to be off-the-mark. While it’s undeniable that this gamepad is strange, both in aesthetics and design, neither of those things say anything about its function.
With its Steam Controller, Valve has thrown convention right out the window, as very little about this gamepad adheres to the standards that recent console gamepads have had. There’s no D-Pad, for example, and the four main buttons (A/B/X/Y or what-have-you) surround the center of the gamepad rather than form a tight circle on the right side. This thing is just all sorts of odd.
Valve probably expected this sort of reaction, but it believes that it’s onto something. In effect, its Steam Controller is one that helps bridge the gap between the high-precision of a mouse and keyboard and the convenience of a standard gamepad.
On both the left and right side of the gamepad is a clickable trackpad – there’s no analog stick here. Valve claims these trackpads give far greater precision over analog sticks: “The trackpads allow far higher fidelity input than has previously been possible with traditional handheld controllers.” That is a bold claim, and one I really think is going to require some hands-on time with to better understand.
One thing the Steam Controller really has going for it is its “super-precise” haptic feedback, which implements dual linear resonant actuators. With them, you can expect a better force feedback experience, one that will help you become more in-tune with the gameplay.
In the center of the gamepad is a touchscreen, which like the trackpads, can be clicked. The sky’s the limit on what can be done with this, but it goes without saying that game information is sure to be one option. Valve realizes that you might not want to look down at your gamepad all of the time, though, so clicking it can bring up an overlay on your screen that shows a 1:1 representation of what’s being shown on the small screen.
Because this gamepad is a bit of an oddball and isn’t going to be natively supported (obviously) by a large collection of games, Valve will open the doors for community configuration submissions. You submit one that you think is “best”, and people can vote it up. For those who don’t want to create one themselves, they can simply take advantage of the highest-rated configuration on Steam.
Like SteamOS, the Steam Controller is “open”, “designed from the ground up to be hackable“. So while the controller is very, very unique, it has a lot of potential. It’s not like Valve to make hasty design decisions, so we can only hope that it will in fact surprise us all.
What do you guys think of the Steam Controller? Day one purchase, or will you have to see what the first impressions of others are first? Even if it does happen to be well designed and does prove to be a “superior” gamepad, could you imagine moving off of your already trusted gamepad? Given how much I like the Xbox 360 controller (yes, really), I remain skeptical, but I am hoping to be surprised here.