As the third and final announcements of their big news week, Valve has announced the Steam Controller.
The Steam Controller is supposedly designed to “bridge the gap from the desk to the living room without compromises”. Designed with superior performance (in the form of low latency, high precision and a “vastly superior control scheme”) and diverse applications in mind, the Steam Controller is a significant departure from modern game controllers.
The controller’s most obvious differentiating feature is its lack of thumbsticks. Instead, the Steam Controller uses two clickable circular trackpads that reportedly approach the resolution and precision of a mouse. With this feature (and others), Valve intends to make genres previously only playable with keyboard and mouse viable for the living room.
In order to make the trackpads more “physical”, Valve has implemented super-precise haptics through use of dual linear resonant actuators within the trackpads. You heard me. “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.”
A new form of thumb control is not all that you’ll find in the Steam Controller though. A high-resolution, clickable touch screen sits in the middle of the controller. Users will be able to make selections or scroll through pages via touch on the screen before physically clicking their desired command. How developers make use of the screen is up to them, as it can work as “a scrolling menu, a radial dial, provide secondary info like a map or use other custom input modes we haven’t thought of yet.”
In order to avoid the divided attention issue that comes with use of a second screen, whenever a user touches the controller screen an overlay of that screen will be displayed on top of their current game.
Finally, in terms of physical form, the Steam Controller features 16 individual buttons that can be mapped freely. This count includes four face buttons (A, B, X & Y), two clickable touchpads, four triggers/bumpers, and two rear buttons. Mapping images suggest there are four discrete sections of the clickable screen, but if Valve counts these as four buttons (instead of one) that would leave the three lower buttons on the front of the controller unaccounted for. If that is the case, these are presumably reserved for Steam functionality (as they are undesignated within the mapping image below).
On the system side, the Steam Controller will support shared configurations. This will allow users to bind their controllers to individual games as if they were a mouse & keyboard, and share them. Others will then be able to simply select their mapping from a list of popular options. This approach is largely “to support the full catalog of existing Steam games (none of which were built with the Steam Controller in mind)”, but also to be in keeping with Valve’s “open” approach. Also in keeping with this, the controller has been “designed from the ground up to be hackable”.
The controller will work with any machine running Steam, not just designated Steam Machines or those running SteamOS. The Beta test for the Steam Controller is tied in with the Beta for Steam Machines. The controller sent to participants, however, will not feature the touch screen (four buttons will take it’s place) and will require a USB connection rather than being wireless.