After more than a week of buildup, Valve finally completed its trilogy of announcements by revealing the upcoming Steam Controller, a wireless gamepad that sports a touch screen in the center flanked by two large trackpads. Along with the upcoming SteamOS and Steam Machines announced earlier this week, gamers may soon be able to enjoy a full library of games, all played with PC-like controls from the comfort of their living room couch.
According to Valve, the precision of the two circular trackpads is comparable to a standard mouse, allowing the controller to accommodate every genre of gaming from twitch-based shooters to real-time strategy games. Each trackpad is fitted with a linear resonant actuator, which provides a high level of haptic feedback that game developers can use to enhance a player's experience. Valve claims they can even be programmed to vibrate and play some simple audio tracks, almost like a pair of speakers. Both trackpads can also be pressed down to act as individual buttons.
The center touch screen can display high-resolution images and supports a full range of swiping motions, though it will need to be clicked down like a button to choose an action. Developers will have complete control over the screen's functionality, allowing them to program it with pages of buttons for users to scroll through, special touch commands for specific titles, a game map, or anything else they can devise. To keep the player focused on the game in front of them, the touch screen's visuals will display on the TV whenever it's pressed, so they don't have to look down at their hands to make a selection.
A total of 16 buttons are arranged around the controller's body and have been placed mainly for ergonomic comfort and ease of use. The entire button layout is also symmetrical to avoid favoring either left or right-handed players.
Probably the most intriguing feature of the Steam Controller is Valve's claim that it will work with every single game in its catalog. That's quite a feat considering that includes over 2,000 titles, many of which were never optimized for use with a traditional gamepad. Valve says it has gotten around this issue with a tool that maps the trackpads and buttons on the controller to keystrokes and mouse movements, essentially tricking some games into thinking it's a regular keyboard and mouse setup.
Valve has a reputation for inviting fans to mod its products however they'd like, but this is the company's first foray into physical devices that would require real-world alterations to make any improvements. So, in typical Valve fashion, the entire controller is designed to be taken apart and reprogrammed as users see fit. Players will be able to customize their own controller configurations, share them online, or select a top-rated configuration for their own use. The company also plans to release an API to developers later this year, followed by tools that will help gamers hack the controller physically, right down to its electrical configuration.
It's pretty clear that Valve has put a lot of thought into its grand plan to invade gamers' living rooms, and the Steam Controller may represent the final piece of the puzzle. As with the announcement of the Steam Machines, Valve once again stressed that gamers who prefer using a mouse and keyboard will still have that option. Even if gamers decide to stick with their PCs, the controller will work on any device running Steam.
For now, the Steam Controller will only be available in the same beta trial as the aforementioned Steam Machines, which anyone can sign up for on Valve's website after meeting some preliminary criteria. Unfortunately, there's still no word on a price or availability for consumers just yet, though the company has hinted at a possible release sometime next year.
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