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Valve Reveals The Steam Controller: No Thumbsticks, Two Trackpads, One Touchscreen

Jonathan Lester
Steam, Steam Controller, SteamOS, Valve

Valve Reveals The Steam Controller: No Thumbsticks, Two Trackpads, One Touchscreen

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.

Valve Reveals The Steam Controller: No Thumbsticks, Two Trackpads, One Touchscreen

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.

Valve Reveals The Steam Controller: No Thumbsticks, Two Trackpads, One Touchscreen

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?

Add a comment17 comments
X10  Sep. 27, 2013 at 18:43

No videos embedded guys.

JonLester  Sep. 27, 2013 at 18:55

Erm... ooh. Those aren't supposed to be videos, rather, they're just images. Something weird is happening on our end - please hold.

And just when I was ready to tuck into some chocolate digestives too. :(

X10  Sep. 27, 2013 at 19:35

Oh right, well the link for the images is there, so I guess you haven't set the image live in WordPress.

I think you should have the digestive, with some tea, and once you're recharged come back and set them live.
Being alone in Dealspwn Towers has really taken it's toll.

Last edited by X10, Sep. 27, 2013 at 19:38
JonLester  Sep. 27, 2013 at 19:42

Sadly, we seem to be suffering from a much more serious issue. None of our posts are updating - at all - and this one has been bizarrely stuck in limbo.

With luck, we're just undergoing maintenance that no-one told me about, but I've passed it on. PLEASE BEAR WITH US.

Last edited by JonLester, Sep. 27, 2013 at 20:15
X10  Sep. 27, 2013 at 20:12

Ah right, well, finers crossed. WE WILL BEAR WITH YOU!

Other than that, I'm not really that bothered about these announcements, certainly not until we see some hardware and pricing. And I don't really like gaming on my living room TV so I guess this doesn't really target me at all...

JonLester  Sep. 27, 2013 at 20:16

Okay, we're currently moving servers. Hang tight.

And give me some credit X10... as if I would ever suffer from biscuit deprivation-inspired incompetence! ;)

Last edited by JonLester, Sep. 27, 2013 at 20:16
davidpanik  Sep. 27, 2013 at 20:21

This was actually the most interesting and detailed of the three announcements - I don't think anyone could write this of as just another controller. Does sound expensive though.

I got even excited for a second, thinking the random link to Euro Truck Simulator 2 might actually be HL3!

X10  Sep. 27, 2013 at 20:22

I dunno Jon, there have been times when I've done silly things without a cuppa and a tasty treat to keep me sane!

(But yes, you're right I should never have doubted you - sorry buddy).

I wonder if anyone else cares about this announcement.

Harryisme  Sep. 27, 2013 at 20:43

So I got it right, it did out to be something underwhelming as a controller.

Don't get me wrong if these three announcements were all made together I would intrigued to see how these three pieces would fit together and be looking at getting the new controller, but right now I feel Valve just wasted a week of their consumers time by spreading these three announcement over the course of one week.

A customised Linus OS, Hardware that runs OS, and a Controller...these are small announcements on their own, but together make a big difference and should have been announced together...I'm sorry Valve but you succeeded in making an important announcement a lackluster long winded experience.

davidpanik  Sep. 27, 2013 at 20:57

I feel Valve just wasted a week of their consumers time by spreading these three announcement over the course of one week.

I disagree, I've enjoyed the countdown between each announcement and it's given people time to really absorb and appreciate each facet of the release on it's own.

You are of course bang on - they have just down one press conference and gone "we're doing a console", but I think then the uniqueness of this proposition would have been lost under the comparisons against the Xbone and PS4.

Breadster  Sep. 27, 2013 at 22:52

Gotta say, I think it looks really cool. I like that they're not content to just have a slightly different shaped version of existing controllers and are trying to innovate.

Late  Sep. 28, 2013 at 03:05

I love this controller - in theory. If it works as well as it sounds it could be fantastic.
Great to see the long overdue steam boxes finally on the near horizon.

I wish they'd got them out this year instead of next year, though. I've forked out my console budget now, so it's extremely unlikely I'll buy another expensive machine a year later...

Sonicboooooom  Sep. 28, 2013 at 04:37

So in order to push to talk youd have to take your finger off the movement pad, fine with portal maybe, not so much with other games

Also looks a bit ropey for fighting games.

Hopefully they will let you use the "360" PC gamepads or the "XB1" PC gamepads when ever they get released.

Overall Valve haven't persuaded me to move away from a console in the lounge PC in a study/bedroom set up most people have

Jaffo  Sep. 28, 2013 at 08:46

I'll reserve final judgement until I've tried one but I can't see it replacing a 360 pad for me as it stands. I'd much rather have seen something modular/configurable.

capriboycraig  Sep. 28, 2013 at 10:27

It's always good to see someone trying something different,that said there's a reason somethings don't alter much even after many years.

As far replacing a mouse? I use an Xbox controller for many games on the PC, as we all know there are certain genres that a controller is the best solution but I cannot see any controller replacing a mouse. Period. A comfortable one handed movement controller coupled with a mouse to aim and shoot a la a wii navigation controller and a good mouse would be a holy grail for me. WASD is the keyboard's biggest handicap.

Last edited by capriboycraig, Sep. 28, 2013 at 10:28
jimbob12345  Sep. 28, 2013 at 11:45

So in order to push to talk youd have to take your finger off the movement pad, fine with portal maybe, not so much with other games

Seems to me that the controller configuration can be customised for each game, hence "Portal 2 Bindings".

Late  Oct. 1, 2013 at 12:26


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