Assuming control: Steam Controller announced by Valve

27 Sep 2013  by   Peter Parrish
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steamcontroller

GAZE UPON MY TRACKPADDED FACE

The third and final Valve announcement is (as widely expected after the hint at the end of the second reveal,) a Steam Controller. My immediate thought is that it looks a bit like an owl, or Spectrum hero Horace. That’s thanks to the dual trackpad configuration which you can see above.

It seems the aim is “high-precision input technologies” combined with “low-latency performance,” and a controller that can double as a keyboard and mouse set-up. Of course it’s difficult to judge any of this stuff without actually holding one and testing it out, but that’s the intent.

The trackpads are clickable and, Valve says, give “far higher fidelity input” thanks to “a new generation of super-precise haptic feedback, employing dual linear resonant actuators.” Whatever you say Mr Science Man, I’ll just have to take your word for, for now. Anyway, the upshot is that the pads should have a resolution that “approache(s) that of a desktop mouse.”

There’s a touch-screen in the center of the controller, and that too is clickable. You can therefore bring up a menu with a touch, and then commit to an action with a click. Valve says that the touch-screen image will “display is overlayed on top of the game they’re playing,” so you’re not having to divide your attention between main screen and touch screen. Again, this application will no doubt aid the control of strategy/4X and other complex menu-driven games.

Buttons! It has those too. Sixteen of them in all. “Half” are accessible without the need to lift thumbs from trackpads. Button placement is also symmetrical, so it shouldn’t matter whether you’re left or right handed (as you can switch the layout via a software config box.)

Steam controller bindings

Here’s a sample config from Portal 2.

It’s designed to work with all games on Steam, “past, present and future.” There’ll be a shared configuration tool so that the Steam community can trade helpful bindings for each game, and Valve is also making the controller fully “open.” According to the company, “We plan to make tools available that will enable users to participate in all aspects of the experience, from industrial design to electrical engineering.” So hack and redesign away.

Beta versions of the controller will be going out with the 300 ‘Steam Machines’ that are available to test (read this post for details of how to sign up.) Valve says these early controllers are a little different: they’re not wireless (USB input instead) and have four buttons in place of the touch screen.

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