This week was huge for Valve. On Monday, SteamOS was announced which kicked off the company’s slow reveal into how they are going to take over living rooms across everywhere. Many were left to wonder what exactly SteamOS would run on. The answer came on Wednesday when Valve outlined plans to work with third-party hardware manufacturers to offer up various Steam Machines each varying in specification and price and allowing the user ultimately choose the best fit for his or her own gaming needs. Today, Valve concluded their announcements with a first look at the new Steam Controller, the icing on the cake (Spoiler: There is no cake).
Completely throwing convention out the window, something the video game industry needs more of, Valve designed an entirely unique controller for use with any (that’s right, any) Steam game. Whether it be on a living room TV set through a Steam Machine or through the Steam software we have all come to know and love, the Steam Controller is promised to be the most responsive gamepad input option. A legacy mode essentially tricks older games, not developed for gamepad input, into thinking the controller is a mouse and keyboard. Players can bind keys or actions to the controller just as they would a game-optimized mouse. Valve thinks those “who are used to the input associated with PCs will appreciate that the Steam Controller’s resolution approaches that of a desktop mouse,” something that has not proven to be feasibly possible with traditional controllers. Its high-performance can be attributed largely in part to the two round trackpads that take the place of conventional joysticks. Not only are the trackpads high-resolution, but they are every bit clickable, too.
Since joysticks admittedly provide more satisfying physical feedback that trackpads, Valve found themselves faced with the problem of adding substance to the controller. To address this issue, they have implemented a new haptic feedback technology rather than incorporating a spinning lopsided weight (the standard approach in today’s video game controllers). Instead, high-brandwidth, weighted electromagnets are tucked behind the trackpads. “This haptic capability,” says Valve, “provides a vital channel of information to the player–delivering in-gameinformation about speed, boundaries, thresholds, textures, actions commands, or any other events….” It is pointed out in the description these electromagnets are capable of playing back waveforms, offering up even more possibilities.
All in all, there are sixteen buttons placed symmetrically on the controller. Valve points out that eight of these are within reach without removing one’s thumbs from the trackpads, as the entire controller is designed to be ergonomic and comfortable in the hands. Centered on the face of the gamepad is a high-resolution touch screen capable of doing practically anything a game developer needs it to do (e.g. map or inventory display, scrolling menu, chat window, etc.). The entirety of this touch-enabled surface is clickable, too. Valve describes it as being “like a large single button.” They go on to explain, “So[me] actions are not invoked by a simple touch, they instead require a click. This allows a player to touch the screen, browse available actions, and only then commit to the one they want.”
Valve intends on opening up a beta program for the announced items to roughly 300 Steam users. The controller will be part of the beta testing, however, the pre-production version will not be wireless and it will have four buttons in place of the touch screen. To be considered for the beta program, those with Steam accounts can go to their quest page to view the requirements for the Eligibility Quest. There are five easy steps: 1.) Create a public Steam Community profile, 2.) Have a minimum of ten friends on Steam, 3.) Join the Steam Universe community group, 4.) Play a game using a gamepad in Big Picture mode, and 5.) Agree to the terms and conditions. The steps may be completed in any order, however, all must be done before October 25 when the eligibility pool is closed.
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