Valve reveals Steam Controller
According to Valve, the Steam Controller will work with all past, present, and future games on Steam, including those that were not built with controller support. Valve can achieve this by “fooling” the older games into thinking they are being played with mouse and keyboard.
In explaining its design philosophy for the Steam Controller, Valve said traditional gamepads “force us to accept compromises.”
“The Steam controller offers a new and, we believe, vastly superior control scheme, all while enabling you to play from the comfort of your sofa,” Valve said. “Built with high-precision input technologies and focused on low-latency performance, the Steam controller is just what the living-room ordered.”
According to Valve, the most prominent elements of the Steam Controller are its dual circular trackpads that players will manipulate using their thumbs. The trackpads are clickable, turning the entire surface into a button.
“The trackpads allow far higher fidelity input than has previously been possible with traditional handheld controllers,” Valve said. “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 said entire genres of games that were once playable only through keyboard and mouse are now accessible in the living room on the couch. The developer specifically called out real-time strategy games, casual games, and cursor-driven games as examples.
First-person shooters will also benefit from the Steam Controller’s “high resolution and absolute position control,” Valve said.
Valve explained that trackpads are inherently less physical than thumbsticks, so the company sought out a way to “add more physicality to the experience.” Part of this advancement in physicality is through pushing the “rumble” feature found in contemporary controllers forward.
To that end, the Steam Controller features a “new generation of super-precise haptic feedback,” Valve said. This includes making user of linear resonant actuators, described as “small, strong, weighted electro-magnets” that are attached to each of the trackpads.
“They are capable of delivering a wide range of force and vibration, allowing precise control over frequency, amplitude, and direction of movement,” Valve said.
“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,” the company added. “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.”
Another new feature of the Steam Controller is its touch-enabled surface, backed by a “high-resolution screen.” According to Valve, this surface is “critical” to achieving the input’s primary goal: to support all games in the Steam library. The screen allows for an “infinite number” of discrete actions, Valve said.
The entire screen itself is also clickable, making it a single large button.
“So 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 said. “Players can swipe through pages of actions in games where that’s appropriate. 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.”
As a means to avoid forcing players to continually jump back and forth between screens, the Steam Controller is integrated with Steam so that when a player touches the controller screen, its display is overlayed on top of the game they’re playing. Thus, the player never needs to divert their eyes from the action, Valve said.