If you’re looking at this and wondering, “What the hell is that?”, be assured that you’re not alone.
It’s been a busy week for Valve as they’ve spent the week making a series of announcements about the future of their own service and, most likely, the future of how many of us game on the PC. Kicking off with the promising-sounding Steam OS, they followed it up with a range of set-top devices grouped under the name Steam Machines (The official name for much-speculated on “Steambox’ that has been the subject of common myth since what feels like the time of Homer). That left one promised announcement, heavily rumoured to be that Steam’s first foray into hardware would not just involve boxes, but a controller as well.
Well, the rumours were true. Behold the Steam Controller, a gamepad designed to handle the range of games available on their service (They even include a cartoon image of Civ 5 being played with a controller, which is a clearly deliberate and bold statement). The Steam Controller is set to feature:
- Two large dual trackpads in lieu of analog thumbsticks, also clickable as buttons;
- Action buttons in the centre of the device surrounding a large touchscreen reminiscent of Sony’s upcoming Dual Shock 4 (Replaced with four buttons in a square configuration on the beta units);
- Two large buttons on the rear of the unit along with more traditional shoulder buttons and triggers, with a total of sixteen buttons on the pad;
- Haptic feedback to give a superior physical experience to traditional rumble;
- A ‘legacy mode’ that allows the pad to present itself as a keyboard and mouse, allowing custom configurations that will be shareable over the Steam community;
- The pads will not only be fully hackable, they’re encouraging creative modders to consult with Steam’s engineering team to drive further refinements to the design.
Below you can see an example configuration for Portal 2 on the Steam Controller.
It’s an audacious design with some interesting features (Particularly the modding potential and those rear buttons which could work wonderfully with first-person games), but the real question surrounds those trackpads. Anyone who’s struggled through a 3D console game on a touch device using virtual thumbsticks will know how poor a substitute flat surfaces have generally been for the feel and weight of analog sticks, and it remains to be seen whether these pads live up to the extremely big game Steam talk about them in terms of precision and smoothness. It’s clear that Valve are trying to make a pad that matches the accuracy of mouse and keyboard, and surely know that they have a big job selling the public on an ambitious but undeniably odd design. Time to bate that breath until hands-on impressions start rolling in.
Still, you have to love the very specific Euro Truck Simulator 2 shoutout (Which does, for the record, play perfectly fine with a normal pad).