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Valve Announces Steam Controller 317

Posted by Soulskill
from the long-awaited-innovation dept.
Today Valve unveiled their third and final announcement about living room gaming: a Steam controller. The company made the determination that existing gamepads simply weren't good enough for bringing PC games to the living room, so they made their own. Instead of having directional pads or thumb sticks, the Steam controller has two circular trackpads. The trackpads are also clickable, and Valve claims they provide much higher fidelity than any previous controller trackpad. Valve also eschewed the traditional 'rumble' feedback mechanism: "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." The center of the controller holds a clickable touchscreen. "When programmed by game developers using our API, the touch screen can work as a scrolling menu, a radial dial, provide secondary info like a map or use other custom input modes we haven't thought of yet." The design also breaks up the common diamond-shaped button layout, instead putting the A B X Y buttons at the corners of the touchscreen. The controller is designed to be hackable, and Valve will "make tools available that will enable users to participate in all aspects of the experience, from industrial design to electrical engineering." The controller is being beta tested concurrently with the Steam Machines they announced on Wednesday, so you can expect them to be on sale in 2014.
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Valve Announces Steam Controller

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  • by i kan reed (749298) on Friday September 27, 2013 @02:23PM (#44973335) Homepage Journal

    I don't mind the trackpads, they could be alright. Maybe. But the fact that they expect you to alternately press buttons with either hand makes me feel like it could be hard to simultaneously move and act in a game.(This must be how lefties feel all the time)

    • by rsborg (111459) on Friday September 27, 2013 @02:36PM (#44973475) Homepage

      I don't mind the trackpads, they could be alright. Maybe. But the fact that they expect you to alternately press buttons with either hand makes me feel like it could be hard to simultaneously move and act in a game.(This must be how lefties feel all the time)

      Looking at the controller images, I'd be worried about triggering the touchpad while my hand is traveling to a button. WHy not put the buttons to the side?

      The hackable nature of the controller sounds pretty cool, though and the haptic "speaker surface" like touchpads sound like they'd make some very awesome interfaces to play around with.

      • The trackpad is clickable as well. touching it will bring up the selection screen briefly, but will not actually select something, for that you have to click.

      • I'd be worried about triggering the touchpad while my hand is traveling to a button. WHy not put the buttons to the side?

        There was a third-party Xbox controller called the FPS Master [amazon.com] that moved the face buttons to the grips of the controller to be manipulated by your middle and ring fingers. I wish we had seen something like it in the 360/PS3 generation but third-party controller support was largely shut down by the console manufacturers.

    • by IndustrialComplex (975015) on Friday September 27, 2013 @02:37PM (#44973497)

      If my experience with trackpad controls on phone games is anything to go by, I think it's a very bad idea. Incorporating a trackpad isn't necessarily a bad idea, but I can't stand the 'virtual D-pads' in mobile games. I'm constantly losing my 'center' and my thumbs slip out of the 'zero' position and I'll have to constantly reposition my thumbs back onto the center of the virtual D-pad. I've given up on many games (some of which are console ports) because I just can't stand that style of interface for directional movement.

      I hope that I'm wrong, because I don't like how my xbox360 controller behaves on my computer and would love an alternative, but I have really strong reservations about their plan.

      • by Carnivore (103106) on Friday September 27, 2013 @02:50PM (#44973653)

        As opposed to the entirely smooth surface of your mobile, it looks like these have concentric ridges to solve just your problem; they give a tactile map of where the center is.

      • by shadowrat (1069614) on Friday September 27, 2013 @02:53PM (#44973679)

        If my experience with trackpad controls on phone games is anything to go by, I think it's a very bad idea.

        where those phone games, "built around a new generation of super-precise haptic feedback, employing dual linear resonant actuators"?

        no? then your experience is invalid.

        honestly, i look at it this way. It might work. It might suck. either way, it's just a controller. i already have a system to use it with it. So, pending some horrible hands on reviews, i'll probably just pick one up and see for myself.

        • by asliarun (636603) on Friday September 27, 2013 @04:08PM (#44974537)

          If my experience with trackpad controls on phone games is anything to go by, I think it's a very bad idea.

          where those phone games, "built around a new generation of super-precise haptic feedback, employing dual linear resonant actuators"?

          no? then your experience is invalid.

          honestly, i look at it this way. It might work. It might suck. either way, it's just a controller. i already have a system to use it with it. So, pending some horrible hands on reviews, i'll probably just pick one up and see for myself.

          Thank you! For finally bringing some perspective into this conversation.

          The trend nowadays seems to be to first trash and ridicule anything new or innovative that anyone does. Or better still, list out the 10 reasons why something like this should never have been built in the first place. Jeez man, maybe we should just send some people over to work in the patent office - maybe, we can harness all the negativity to solve the "stupid patent" problem.

          I have no clue if this controller will really work well in real life or not. But we can definitely say

          - This is indeed very innovative. For the first time, someone truly thought out of the box and redesigned a game controller from the ground up, instead of just adding more haptics. Well.. the Wii controller notwithstanding.

          - Love the attempt at how they've translated the "keyboard WASD + mouse" way of navigation in an FPS to a controller. Might *just* work. More power to you, Valve!

          - Sure, it will have a fairly steep learning curve and people will complain like hell, but hey, so does any other control mechanism.

          - For me, the litmus test will be playing Counter Strike using these controllers. Or maybe I'm getting old, but it still remains the benchmark game for me as far as an FPS is concerned.

          P.S. Isn't Steam Engine a better name than Steam Box?

      • by Kelbear (870538) on Friday September 27, 2013 @03:01PM (#44973763)

        Important difference here is that you have tactile feedback on your thumbs position relative to the center.

        Furthermore, since the surface is clickable, it can be customized to only register input upon click-in...like a D-pad! On the right side of the controller, the trackpad 4 quadrants can function as a replacement XYBA. Mappings which are traditionally assigned to clicking a stick in, can be moved to the back of the controller.

        I am cautiously optimistic about the design of this controller, it all hinges upon the execution of these ideas and the quality of construction. If nothing else, it would be a better way to play FPS and RTS games since it replaces relative input (i.e stick position relative to cetner), with absolute input (the input starts and stops in sync with the start and stop of the thumb movement).

        Instead of constant movement towards a target, and having to time the release of the stick with the time of interception, you move until matched with the target and then stop moving, akin to a mouse input. I have not seen trackpad sensitivity that can sufficiently replace mouse input, but Valve is claiming to have reached unprecedented levels of trackpad precision. Really can't judge the capability of this controller until real-world feedback comes in, but at least conceptually, I can see this being a step-up from the controller input already popularized on Xbox and PS platforms.

        • by vux984 (928602)

          Its not just sensitivity that makes a mouse superior - its the ability to stop or hold a fixed position.

          Its very easy to put a cross hair in the expected path of a target with the mouse, and then wait for the target.

          Its much much harder to do the same with a stick. With a thumb-trackpad... I'm not sure. it should be eaiser than a stick, but it still would require you to hold your thumb absolutely still. I imagine attempting to lift your thumb off the pad will be nearly impossible to do without moving the cu

      • Look at the pictures in TFA; these aren't phone touchpads. You shouldn't be losing your center with these.

    • by Qzukk (229616)

      Yeah, this design is basically screaming "Please redesign all your games with our controller in mind!" X and Y on the left? If you're lucky you'll be able to remap the controls so shit you never use is on X and Y. Meanwhile the giant right trackpad will be mostly unused except for the few games with camera control on the right stick. Of the games I play with a controller (on both console and PC), right stick is used well by twinstick shooters and poorly by FPSes, and not at all by pretty much every single

      • by Reapy (688651)

        EA games have made a push (haven't played one in a few years so not sure if still doing this) for having more controls on the right stick. In the sports games you could flick in a direction for 'skill moves' that worked sort of well. The best use of it was in fight night for throwing punches, still probably the best boxing implementation I've ever played. They also had the Skate game that I never played, but made use of the right stick in the same way.

        It might open up some new stuff, I could see some cool s

    • by Hatta (162192)

      Don't worry, you'll almost certainly be able to use your existing USB joypads with your Steam Machine. I'm glad Valve is trying something new with this controller. It probably will suck, but that's why Steam OS is configurable.

    • by camperdave (969942) on Friday September 27, 2013 @02:52PM (#44973671) Journal

      This actually looks really unusable

      Actually, it looks like speakers.

      • by Kelbear (870538) on Friday September 27, 2013 @03:08PM (#44973837)

        Actually, they can be speakers:

        "This haptic capability provides a vital channel of information to the player - delivering in-game information about speed, boundaries, thresholds, textures, action confirmations, or any other events about which game designers want players to be aware. It is a higher-bandwidth haptic information channel than exists in any other consumer product that we know of.

        As a parlour trick they can even play audio waveforms and function as speakers."

    • by Millennium (2451) on Friday September 27, 2013 @02:56PM (#44973715) Homepage

      Lefty here. It's actually not so bad. I suspect that this is part of why the traditional layout spaces them similarly to the ends of a D-pad: you righties don't seem to have any trouble using that, and for us lefties, it's a similar story with the buttons.

      But I am concerned with this splaying them out over the corners of the center touch screen. It could have some advantages in cases where you're expected to alternate between different buttons, but on the whole I can't see it being all that comfortable.

      • See, but the way game controls are actually created, the dpad is for slow, methodical, or long-term tactical functions, and buttons are for "twitch" actions, like throwing a grenade or switching weapons or melee or whatever(note that none of these combine with requirements for precise looking that the right joystick is usually bound to).

    • They don't expect you to use both sides. It is symetrical so left handed people can mirror the the controls. It is similer to how the Dualshock face buttons mirror the dpad.
    • by Luckyo (1726890)

      This is the main reason why mouse will likely reign supreme as a controller for foreseeable future. It enables you to transfer movements of entire hand into pixel accurate control inputs, while keeping your fingers free for buttons.

      That and it functions on a surface, which means that your hand can rest on the surface while inputting the motion controls, so it's not nearly as tiring as it would be without that support.

      As a result, I really doubt that it's even possible to make a controller to match a mouse k

  • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Friday September 27, 2013 @02:29PM (#44973407)
    I'm not really sure how, but it's been confirmed with this announcement. You have to read it carefully. Specifically, picking certain letters out.

    (starts crying)
  • What wrong with a wireless keyboard and mouse? PC crowd does not want a console controller, why try to force it?

    • by Ksevio (865461) on Friday September 27, 2013 @02:35PM (#44973461) Homepage
      They're not great for sitting on a couch and playing games. I've tried both and it's a lot more comfortable to be holding a controller rather than a long keyboard that needs to be placed on something.
      • I agree. I've been a PC-only gamer forever, but this whole Steambox/OS/controller thinger is intriguing. I'd happily build my own Steam box, put the OS on it, and buy a controller to play Portal in my living room.

        I do wonder about their target audience with all of this. Will they be able to crack into the market already owned by one of the consoles? Or are they hoping that by luring PC users over to this new model they'll get them to buy more games/hardware. Maybe they're following Amazon's route of just
    • by guru42101 (851700)
      You can use one if you like. But for console (read sitting on the living room couch) a KB/M doesn't work that well. I guess they felt that these trackpad controllers are the happy medium to allow the most flexibility / compatibility. I'd personally probably use a lap desk + KB/M
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Enokcc (1500439)

      No problem! You can do that too!

      What you have here is more choices.

    • Couch multiplayer (Score:4, Informative)

      by tepples (727027) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {selppet}> on Friday September 27, 2013 @04:09PM (#44974547) Homepage Journal

      What wrong with a wireless keyboard and mouse?

      KB+M is fine for single player. The problem comes when you have players 2, 3, and 4 visiting your home, and the APIs for accessing more than one mouse or more than one keyboard are far more obscure than the APIs for accessing more than one gamepad.

    • by jo_ham (604554)

      They're not forcing it. Question 2 of the FAQ specifically states that they are not forcing it on you and you can keep the kb and mouse forever more.

      What they're offering is an alternative, optional, additional, supplemental, controller for those who would prefer to use something other than a keyboard and mouse to game from the couch. If you want to use a keyboard and mouse, plug those into the Steam Machine (or your PC running steam hooked up to your TV) and carry on as normal.

  • Ugh, cant they use a PS2/PS3 like controller?

    Its the best design i've come across. Great button configuration.

    • by Ksevio (865461) on Friday September 27, 2013 @02:36PM (#44973473) Homepage
      You can use those too likely. There are plenty of USB controllers in different configurations that can plug into a PC and work with Steam Big Picture at the moment.
    • by Andrio (2580551) on Friday September 27, 2013 @02:36PM (#44973481)

      The idea is to try and create an experience that's close to the precision of a keyboard and mouse. No console controller offers this.

      I'm actually really happy about this. This is the kind of innovation controllers have been needing for a very long time. I can pretty much guarantee that PS5 and, uh, Xbox Two? will employ controllers with this kind of tech.

      • I agree that this looks like it's intended to replace a keyboard/mouse, rather than a controller. The only major drawback I can see of the design (presuming it works as well as intended) is that it'll be unusable for games that either expect a 'normal' controller layout or that tend to use a significant number of keybindings (it looks like anything expecting more than eight keys and a mouse will likely be unusable).
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Stormwatch (703920)

      Are you kidding me? The Gamecube's controller is the best, and the Xbox's and the Dreamcast's controllers are fine too. Because they put the left analog stick in the right place, unlike the Playstation's godawful piece of shit of a controller.

      • by Valdrax (32670)

        Because they put the left analog stick in the right place, unlike the Playstation's godawful piece of shit of a controller.

        If you do nothing but play first-person shooters. There are a lot of games out there for which an analog stick is unnecessary, and the fact that it sticks so far up off the body of the controller makes it awkward to grip as a primary control mechanism. I much prefer the more flush D-pad of a DualShock controller for the types of games I play.

        This new design looks interesting because it'll have the fluid control of an analogue stick without the awkward thumb positioning. While I really don't like placing

      • I have been using Sony's dual stick setup since they came out as an add-on during the PS1 cycle. I never understand why people dont like them. They have always worked fine for me. I think the 360 controller is better overall (triggers especially), but i never got hung up the stick layout like some people.
    • by locopuyo (1433631)
      You can already use those, but the 360 controller is much better. I am willing to try this new steam controller but I probably won't be convinced it is better until I try it myself.
    • Sony already makes a PS3 controller. No point in them joining the market if they are going to do things exactly like Sony and Microsoft.
  • What exactly are they smoking? Do they think that people are going to LIKE trackpads instead of something more ...useful? Like a button or a stick.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 27, 2013 @04:14PM (#44974619)

      Yeah, obviously they do. It looks like they've taken a lot of care in getting rid of problems that, up till now, have plagued trackpads.

      Why don't you at least give it a try before bellowing out your uninformed opinion about how much you dislike it?

  • by Bardez (915334) on Friday September 27, 2013 @02:42PM (#44973563) Homepage
    Intellectually, this fits everything I want about a gaming system/console except for DRM:
    • Moving games to Linux
    • Making a gaming Linux distro of their own, not a requirement
    • Making their own hardware, but not required
    • Making their own controller, not required

    I just hope it doesn't flop.

  • It's all about mods and accessories. Imagine the think with multi touch, 4 point on each touchpad. Then you could stick a direction cross over it, or regular buttons, or a plain stick, or whatever you want.
    Every single gamepad these years is just plain and unimaginative or has barely usable gimmicks. Even the wiimotes are quite disappointing (laggish, unprecise). Analog buttons (not triggers these are fine) were the worst idea ever. Sixaxis motion detection is totally useless (no I wont tilt it left to tu
  • by Holammer (1217422) on Friday September 27, 2013 @02:54PM (#44973687)

    How do I play Street Fighter or any traditional joypad game on that thing? I don't want to dismiss it out of hand, but I have serious doubts.
    It might actually be a better joypad for console fps gaming, but unless I see good TF2 YTbers like shibby2142 praising the pad and pulling off rocket jumps while shovelling people with ease... I'll stick to kb+m.

    • by Valdrax (32670)

      How do I play Street Fighter or any traditional joypad game on that thing? I don't want to dismiss it out of hand, but I have serious doubts.

      I'm guessing a lot like on the SNES. The right trackpad should be able to detect the position of the finger when clicked, making it capable of simulating the traditional diamond pattern, and the shoulder buttons fulfill their usual role.

    • You don't want to play Street Fighter on a Xbox controller either. Those quarter circle moves are not really designed for a d pad or analog sticks.
  • by SeaFox (739806) on Friday September 27, 2013 @03:01PM (#44973755)

    Most of the games I've played by controller expect that you'll be using an XBox360 controller, so the game is set up expecting you to have the same types of controls and buttons in the same locations for two-handed operations. Drastically changing what and where everything is will only result in a controller that is unusable for most of the games it was created for.

    • by jo_ham (604554)

      I'm sure Valve, who have been working on this for a year, haven't ever thought of that. Good catch.

  • by jfisherwa (323744) <jason.fisher@gmai l . c om> on Friday September 27, 2013 @03:04PM (#44973791) Homepage

    Looks like the perfect controller for a backpack scouting drone.

  • by rla3rd (596810) on Friday September 27, 2013 @03:07PM (#44973825)
    Brings back distant memories of the Intellivision controller. I hope its an improvement over that godawful thing.
  • by timeOday (582209) on Friday September 27, 2013 @03:32PM (#44974137)
    I currently have a Linux PC and a XBox 360 connected to my TV. Is Steam more of a console replacement, or a distribution method for PC-style games? (I.e. keyboard/mouse input and few co-op games). Does installing games on Linux under Steam actually work, or is it a nightmare of package dependencies that require an up-to-date install of a specific distro? Is there a good selection of split-screen games that are gamepad-friendly? I am getting a little tired of the XBox 360 low resolution, and it is feeling more and more limited without paying a subscription fee, which I won't do.
  • For some reason, I ead that as "Valve announces Brain Controller".

    Not sure how the heck my brain confused "Steam" with "Brain", obviously my own brain needs more sleep.

  • by MetricT (128876) on Friday September 27, 2013 @03:54PM (#44974383) Homepage

    and has moved on to AAAAAARRRGHHS! That's the only way I can explain this week's perpetual 3-trollage.

  • Funny FAQ (Score:5, Funny)

    by Azure Flash (2440904) on Friday September 27, 2013 @04:03PM (#44974487)
    "I’m a happy Steam customer happily using my happy mouse and keyboard. I don’t want a controller?" "You can’t make a sentence into a question by just putting a question-mark at the end. But we’re happy you’re happy [...]" Oh Valve. I love companies who can still afford to have a sense of humour about things.

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