Valve has revealed the final cog in its plan to expand the Steam Universe- a brand-new controller designed for PC gaming that may just be the most significant development for the future of PC gaming. Branded the ‘Steam Controller’, the new input device appears similar to a console controller but has a much different method of operation that involves the use of two touchpads and a touchscreen.
According to Valve, the controller has been designed to replicate the precision and operation afforded by a keyboard mouse combination, still the preferred choice of input for most PC gamers. However, keeping in mind its plan to expand Steam (and PC gaming) into the living room, Valve designed the new controller to serve as an alternative to those orthodox PC controllers while still trying to emulate the portability and comfort of the Xbox and Playstation controllers. Valve claims that the new controller offers “a vastly superior control scheme” (as compared to traditional console controllers), with higher resolution and fidelity while keeping latency low.
The principal elements of the new controller are two circular trackpads that a user controls with his/her thumbs. The trackpads are also clickable and can therefore be used as a button as well. Valve says that the fidelity offered by the trackpads are higher than regular controllers and closer to the ultimate gaming tool- the desktop mouse. Valve further says that in order to get around the “non-physicality” of the trackpads, the controller employs electro-magnets to deliver accurate haptic feedback rather than just the vibration (or “rumble”) that controllers offer today. Valve has also added a squarish touchscreen at the centre of the controller, which itself is also clickable and actually requires to be clicked in order to perform an action. As a result, gamers can scroll through available actions on the touchscreen before clicking on it to select one option. Valve has said that by using APIs, developers will be able to use the touchscreen to deliver additional information to the gamer (things like player inventory, weapons list, maps etc. - similar to the Wii U Gamepad).
Valve says that the Steam Controller will support all games ever released on Steam (which could be translated as almost all modern games released on the PC) and will do so by ‘tricking’ those games into believing that the player is using a keyboard mouse when, in fact, the controller is plugged in.
The Steam Controller will be included in the same beta program that was revealed along with the Steam Machines living room PCs. Valve will be sending out 300 prototype Steam Machines, along with the controller, to Steam community members, some selected because of their experience, and some at random. You can enroll in the beta program on the Steam website and will have to perform certain activities to qualify. Valve has also reassured current PC gamers that the keyboard mouse combination will continue to be supported by Steam and all the developers that choose to publish through Steam. However, PC gamers will also be able to use the controller on their desktops and will not need to buy a Steam Box.
Using Portal 2 as an example of how PC gamers can bind the controller to perform specific keyboard mouse-centric operations.
The Steam Controller concludes the much-hyped three-pronged announcement by Valve to shape the future of PC and Steam gaming. The first announcement was the SteamOS, a Linux based desktop and Steam Machines OS focused on gaming. The second announcement was that of the Steam Machines, a slew of moddable ‘living room PCs’ with various configurations and specs made by different manufacturers, with a focus on ease and simplicity of use and as an alternative to traditional consoles.
Valve expects the new hardware to hit stores in 2014 and we can’t wait to see how, if it does, change PC gaming (or gaming in general) for the future.