As their final big announcement of the week, Valve have revealed the Steam Controller, a peripheral designed to "bridge the gap from the desk to the living room without compromises."
Without thumbsticks, too. The Steam Controller instead sports two incredibly sensitive trackpads recessed into its housing, arranged either side of a versatile touchscreen. As such, it can be used for all Steam games, not just those with traditional controller inputs.
The peripheral is designed to be fully compatible with every game in the Steam catalogue, regardless of genre or input method. "The Steam Controller is designed to work with all the games on Steam: past, present, and future," Valve explains. "Even the older titles in the catalog and the ones which were not built with controller support. (We’ve fooled those older games into thinking they’re being played with a keyboard and mouse, but we’ve designed a gamepad that’s nothing like either one of those devices.)"
"We think you’ll agree that we’re onto something with the Steam Controller, and now we want your help with the design process."
In terms of design, let's tackle what is likely to be the most controversial decision right off the bat. Rather than traditional thumbsticks, the controller features two circular recessed trackpads, picking up fine fingertip movements while also acting as a clickable button. "The trackpads allow far higher fidelity input than has previously been possible with traditional handheld controllers," Valve argues. "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.
"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."
It's an exciting concept, but the proof will be in the playing. A clickable touchscreen in the centre of the device will likely prove very versatile, acting both as a context-sensitive input device for specific games or a means of effortlessly browsing the Steam UI. Developers can use it for any function they see fit. Naturally there will also be sixteen buttons arranged around the peripheral, demonstrated below.
To combat the lack of physicality that thumbsticks provide, the Steam Controller employs "a new generation of super-precise haptic feedback, employing dual linear resonant actuators. 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." As such, we should be kept in touch - pun in tended - with the on-screen action, which has often been absent from mouse/keyboard titles.
The peripheral is also intended to be 'hackable,' i.e. designed so that users and modders can actively tinker with it. Valve intends to create a thriving hardware hacking community creating new tweaks, features and potentially casemods for the device.
The Steam Controller will be natively compatible with SteamOS, Steam Machines and the Steam client itself. A limited hardware beta will be taking place this year, included as part of the Steam Machines beta.
So, that's your lot for this week. Valve announced their own Steam-based operating system that's free to download and distribute, a range of living room 'Steam Machines' from multiple manufacturers and a controller to use with them, or buy for your existing PCs. The fun starts next year.
What do you make of Valve's triple-threat?