The final piece in Valve’s set of living room-focused announcements is here, and to no one’s surprise, it’s a controller, the aptly named Steam Controller. What is surprising is the truly bizarre shape it’s taken. Rather than aping the well-worn trail blazed by Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony with their endlessly repetitive gamepads, Valve has melted my brain with its Steam Controller by replacing the traditional analog sticks and face buttons with haptic feedback-enabled trackpads.
These trackpads, explain the page, are meant to emulate the keyboard-and-mouse setup that so many PC gamers have enjoyed for ages. Here’s Valve’s explanation of how the trackpads work:
“The most prominent elements of the Steam controller are its two circular trackpads. 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.”
And instead of employing the same kind of “rumble” feedback that have been in controllers since the Nintendo 64 days, the trackpads will instead provide “super-precise haptic feedback, employing dual linear resonant actuators.”
What are those? They are these:
“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.
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.”
And the innovations don’t stop there. The pad has two more trackpads on the back, four face buttons in the center, as well as a clickable touchscreen in the center, which seems to be similar to the forthcoming PlayStation 4 controller’s center touchpad and the Wii U’s GamePad screen. And just to make sure that gamers have some sense of familiarity with the new Steam Controller, Valve made sure to put a couple shoulder buttons on the top of the thing.
All three of Valve’s living room announcements were more or less expected in one form or another: that the “Steam Machine” would run its own SteamOS wasn’t too surprising, and neither was the idea that the hardware itself would come from both Valve and third-party manufacturers. And after those two announcements, as well as the many months of rumors regarding Valve’s efforts to create new methods of gaming input, the Steam Controller was a given.
But this controller was never expected. A controller that throws the basics of controller design out the window in favor of some weird trackpad-gamepad hybrid wasn’t on anyone’s radar. But getting even one glimpse of the Steam Controller got me more excited than either of the last two announcements combined. That’s because the Steam Controller looks new and different. And above all, it looks risky. I have no idea how this thing is going to work. My guess is that if Valve made it, it’ll probably work great…but maybe it’ll bomb hard. Regardless, the fact that the company’s trying to make something so unconventional is a breath of much needed fresh air.
I can’t wait to get my hands on it.