Valve has revealed the controller it's been brewing up for the past year in honour of its upcoming line of "Steam Machines."
It certainly earns points for uniqueness. Bridging the gap between a mouse and an analogue stick, the Steam Controller features dual trackpads. "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," Valve stated in its announcement.
"Whole genres of games that were previously only playable with a keyboard and mouse are now accessible from the sofa. RTS games. Casual, cursor-driven games. Strategy games. 4x space exploration games. A huge variety of indie games. Simulation titles. And of course, Euro Truck Simulator 2."
The trackpads, like modern day analogue sticks, also function as one big button as you can click them by applying an extra bit of force.
Now I know what you're thinking: "trackpads don't offer the same sort of weight as pivoting an analogue stick around," but Valve's got you covered there, at least in theory, as the Steam Controller will feature haptic feedback in the form of weighted electro-magnets called resonant actuators. In layman's terms, Valve stated that these "are capable of delivering a wide range of force and vibration, allowing precise control over frequency, amplitude, and direction of movement."
This should allow developers to easily convey information about speed, boundaries, thresholds, textures, and action confirmations, among other things. Additionally, they can function as speakers and even play audio waveforms.
But wait! There's more. The whole thing has a touchscreen in the middle, which also functions as one giant button. This will allow players to input their actions by drawing on the screen, then confirming with a press. How novel.
This beast contains 16 buttons with three shoulder buttons on each side, four face buttons, the three clickable touch surfaces, and three other menu-like buttons in the vein of Start, Select, and Home. One of its advantages is its completely symmetric design, making it equally catered to right and left-handed folk. Check out its default Portal 2 controls:
Like the Steam Machines, the Steam Controller will be open. "The Steam Controller was designed from the ground up to be hackable," Valve stated. "Just as the Steam Community and Workshop contributors currently deliver tremendous value via additions to software products on Steam, we believe that they will meaningfully contribute to the design of the Steam Controller. We plan to make tools available that will enable users to participate in all aspects of the experience, from industrial design to electrical engineering."
Unfortunately, the 300 Steam Machine betas will only come with prototypes of this controller. Such early builds will have four buttons in lieu of a touchscreen, and will require a USB cable. The final build will be wireless.
So, what do you make of this kooky owl-looking controller?