Valve concluded its week-long series of announcements with the reveal of a brand new controller that will revolutionize the way you play PC games on the big screen. Meet the Steam Controller, everybody, a "new way to play your entire Steam library from the sofa."
"We set out with a singular goal: bring the Steam experience, in its entirety, into the living-room," Valve said. "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," the company explained. 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."
As a controller designed to work with all games on Steam, you may notice one major change with the Steam Controller: the inclusion of two circular trackpads in the place of the traditional joysticks.
"Driven by the player’s thumbs, each one has a high-resolution trackpad as its base. It is also clickable, allowing the entire surface to act as a button," Valve revealed. "The trackpads allow far higher fidelity input than has previously been possible with traditional handheld controllers. Steam gamers, who are used to the input associated with PCs, will appreciate that the Steam Controller’s resolution approaches that of a desktop mouse."
The Steam Controller will overcome the visceral feedback that you get from traditional joysticks with haptic feedback. "The Steam Controller is built around a new generation of super-precise haptic feedback, employing dual linear resonant actuators. 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," Valve explained.
"This haptic capability provides a vital channel of information to the player – delivering in-game information about speed, boundaries, thresholds, textures, action confirmations, or any other events about which game designers want players to be aware. It is a higher-bandwidth haptic information channel than exists in any other consumer product that we know of. As a parlour trick they can even play audio waveforms and function as speakers."
Also included — at the very center of the controller — is another touch-enabled surface that is backed by a high-resolution screen. The touchscreen, according to Valve, allows "an infinite number of discrete actions to be made available to the player, without requiring an infinite number of physical buttons." The entire touchscreen is clickable, like a large single button. This is designed so that players don't accidentally click on something with a simple touch. Unfortunately, the first few hundred beta controllers will not ship with a screen, but rather four buttons in its place.
Despite the emphasis on trouchscreen and touchpads, there are buttons on the Steam Controller. There are a total of 16 buttons on the Steam Controller, each placed based on "frequency of use." According to Valve, half of them are accessible to you without requiring thumbs to be lifted from the trackpads.
Steam Controller has a built in legacy mode that allows the controller to also present itself as a keyboard and mouse for the games that have been created without a controller in mind. And furthermore, it's been designed to be hackable. Valve has plans to release tools that will allow users to "participate in all aspects of the experience."
"We can't wait to see what you com up with," Valve concluded.
It's certainly intriguing, but until I hold it in my hand I can't possibly comment on its comfort or usability. And then there's always the big question of price. I can't imagine a controller like this will come cheap. But I'm definitely interested!