After unveiling the SteamOS, and the Steam Machines beta programme, Valve has completed its PC-for-the-living-room package with the Steam Controller, a “different kind of gamepad”.
Valve has done away with the conventions of analogue sticks, and has rather opted for two large tackpads which it says approaches the precision and resolution of a desktop mouse.
“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. 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,” Valve writes.
Backing the trackpads are a “new-generation of super-precise haptic feedback, employing dual linear resonant actuators,” which are “capable of delivering a wide range of force and vibration, allowing precise control over frequency, amplitude, and direction of movement.” Valve explained that haptics are a “vital channel of information” which could provide in-game information such as “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.” Also, “as a parlour trick they can even play audio waveforms and function as speakers.”
The Steam Controller also features a touch-screen, which Valve calls “critical to achieving the controller’s primary goal – supporting all games in the Steam catalog. The screen allows an infinite number of discrete actions to be made available to the player, without requiring an infinite number of physical buttons.”
The screen is clickable, so touch-screen actions require a physical confirmation rather than simply tapping the screen, which solves accidental touches and keeps it ergonomically viable, as well as allow players “to touch the screen, browse available actions, and only then commit to the one they want.” Valve continues, “When programmed by game developers using our API, the touch screen 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.”
When players touch the screen, “its display is overlayed on top of the game they’re playing, allowing the player to leave their attention squarely on the action, where it belongs.”
The controller has a total of 16 buttons (including two behind the device), with “half of them are accessible to the player without requiring thumbs to be lifted from the trackpads.” The buttons have been “placed based on frequency of use, precision required and ergonomic comfort.”
The aim with the controller, Valve states, is to make “whole genres of games that were previously only playable with a keyboard and mouse” easy to play on a TV. And, like the SteamOS and Steam Machines, the Steam Controller is “designed from the ground up to be hackable.” Valve plans “to make tools available that will enable users to participate in all aspects of the experience, from industrial design to electrical engineering. We can’t wait to see what you come up with.”
Valve did not say if the Steam Controller will be available separately, but did clarify that it will work with any version of Steam.