Valve has been announcing up a storm this week, first with its own operating system, and then with its own hardware. Now we've got the third and final piece of the puzzle: a controller. And man is it crazy.
No, those are not joysticks, but they are dual trackpads, and look where the buttons are. This is pretty freaking weird, but innovation is great, right?
The idea with the trackpads is to enable more precise input than your standard dual-sticker can, and it makes sense since Valve is coming from a world of mice and keyboards:
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.
Still, we'll have to feel it to believe it. To compensate for the fact that the trackpads aren't as physical as you might be used to, the Steam controller is going to employ a whole bunch of crazy specific haptic feedback, specifically dual linear resonant actuators. In layman's terms, vibrating electromagnets behind each pad. It's better than nothing!
And to further the hybridization of mouse and controller, the Steam dealy has a big old touchscreen front and center, a la the Dualshock 4. And it's clickable...like the Blackberry Storm.
And when it comes to the buttons, they're kinda in weird places (to facilitate pressing the buttons with thumbs still on the pads), but Steam is still playing nice with the ABXY labeling, and sticking to the now standard pair-of-triggers-and-pair-of-bumpers scheme. So it's not entirely alien.
Naturally, the Steam controller exists as part of Valve's big Linux push into the living room, but it's not just for that; the Steam controller will work with any version of Steam out there. It's not a SteamOS exclusive or anything.
Even if using this thing is a completely revelatory experience, Valve is still facing an uphill battle in the controller-space. Plenty of hardcore PC gamers would probably be married to their mice and keyboards if it were legal, and the the Xbox controller has already become the de facto standard for folks with a little more room in their life for joysticks. On top of that the Xbox One's latest iteration on the form is refined as hell, versus this first-run craziness no one has seen in action yet. And even if you're a Dualshock guy, two physical thumbsticks is the thing to have and it has been for like a decade.
Granted, if Valve has actually managed to make a controller that makes it trivial to translate mouse and keyboard to gamepad, it's quite the accomplishment, and a boon to their living room scheme. Then again, there's a difference from being able to play Dota 2 on your couch with a controller and wanting to play Dota 2 on your couch with a controller.
You can get your hands on a prototype by signing up for the hardware beta the same way you signed up to get in on the Steam Boxes. The units are due to ship out late this year. In the meantime, Valve is soliciting feedback from you (and developers) to inform later iterations of the controller, so we'll have to wait and see what kind of crazy Frankenstein's monster this sucker grows into.
But it's always fun to try something new and goddamn weird. [Valve]