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Valve Does Away with Thumbsticks on the Steam Controller

Amidst the Eurogamer Expo excitement I almost missed the final announcement from Valve, the Steam Controller. This controller looks odd but at first it’s difficult to see why, but then it’ll click, the controller has no thumb sticks.

The Steam Controller is set to change the way we play games, from the off it looks like a truly revolutionary piece of kit. In the announcement, Valve say that the controller works with any game, new or old, even those without controller support.

[highlight style=’smoke’]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.”[/highlight]

For way too long controllers have had thumb sticks so trust Valve to come out with something completely different but so awesome at the same time, a controller with dual trackpads that also act as buttons throughout it’s entire surface.

The trackpads allow far higher fidelity input than has previously been possible with traditional handheld controllers.”

Sure, the PlayStation 4 controller has a touch sensitive panel, but the Steam Controller has dual trackpads which have allowed games previously only playable with a mouse and keyboard, playable with a controller. RTS games, point and click games, even highly keyboard reliant games like Euro Truck Simulator 2 – which is also one of the first confirmed titles to work with this controller.

Valve has also looked into the way traditional controllers provide feedback, usually via the Rumble method, but Valve knew that this method wouldn’t suit the Steam Controller, oh no, they’ve opted for something we’re more used to in our mobile devices, Haptic Feedback.

The Steam Controller is built around 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.”

Let’s look back at the PlayStation 4 DualShock controller and it’s fancy touchpad located in the center of the controller. How could Valve do one better? Oh yeah, make the same panel in the center touch sensitive and a touch screen at the same time. But how can this be of any benefit? Simple, I think…

The high-resolution screen will be utilised many different ways according to the company. The screen itself can be used as a giant physical button as well as a variety of on-screen buttons which can be added by the developer. The screen can also act as a menu carousel, a mini map, a health indicator, or display more buttons for the user to tap and use during the game.

You’ll have also noticed that the Steam Controller doesn’t share the same button layout as other controllers. The company have also thought hard about this too, they’ve thought about how often buttons are used and have placed them based on frequency of use.

The Steam Controller is comprised of 16 buttons with half of that total available to the player without the thumbs being lifted from the trackpads. There’s even two buttons located on the back of the controller as well as the two triggers and bumpers we’re used to from other controllers.

controller_parts

The button placement is symmetrical too meaning that both left or right handed players can decide how their controller is laid out. This brings me onto the next feature of the Steam Controller, something that we all expect from something by Valve. The controller is fully customisable with the ability to share configurations amongst the Steam Community.

In order to support the full catalog of existing Steam games (none of which were built with the Steam Controller in mind), we have built in a legacy mode that allows the controller to present itself as a keyboard and mouse. The Steam Community can use the configuration tool to create and share bindings for their favorite games.”

Oh and if you’re into it, Valve welcome those of you who like to tinker with electronics. The Steam Controller is fully hackable and Valve are planning to “make tools available that will enable users to participate in all aspects of the experience, from industrial design to electrical engineering. We can’t wait to see what you come up with.”

This controller is set to change the way we use controllers and it’s something I’m really, really looking forward to getting my hands on. The Steam Controller is fully compatible with the Steam Machine as well as the Steam client itself.

The Steam Controller is also included in Valve’s beta which requires gamers to complete the  Hardware Beta Eligibility Quest to be entered into a pool where 300 lucky participants will receive the console prototype and the controller to help shape its future before it’s released to the world.

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Aaron is a bass player, gamer, and tech blogger. He’s the founder and editor of n3rdabl3.com and has a soft spot for his wife, puppies, kittens, and gadgets. Also likes apostrophes a little too much.