Valve has unveiled a new controller which can be used in conjunction with the Steam Machine consoles it announced earlier this week. It’s appropriately called the Steam Controller, and Valve claims it will work with every game that’s ever been released on its Steam digital gaming platform.
The company says it spent a year “experimenting with new approaches to input,” and that its ultimate goal with the Steam Controller is to “bridge the gap from the desk to the living room without compromises.” The result is a controller that appears vastly different than the ones made by Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, most obviously because it replaces traditional joysticks with dual circular trackpads.
Valve claims that those trackpads “allow far higher fidelity input than has previously been possible with traditional handheld controllers,” and says that their precision is close to that of a traditional desktop mouse. The company believes that this method will allow the Steam Controller to better handle games that have traditionally been difficult to control on consoles, such as real-time strategy games, simulation games and space exploration games, among others. The pads can be clicked in, and they’ll also function as speakers.
Attached to those trackpads are a set of weighted electro-magnets, which, according to Valve, fit the Steam Controller with “a new generation of super-precise haptic feedback.” The company says the magnets allow the controller to have more than the usual “rumble” effects, instead providing more varied senses of force and vibration. Valve’s vision for this enhanced feedback is that it’ll allow developers to more naturally convey in-game information to players.
In the middle of the controller is a touchscreen, which, like the dual trackpads, is clickable. Valve posits this as working well for in-game menus, dials, and other sorts of secondary information. Because there’s no physical buttons on the screen itself, Valve says the touchscreen’s display will be projected onto your TV screen or monitor whenever you use it.
On the whole, Valve says there are sixteen buttons on the Steam Controller, which are all placed symmetrically in order to accommodate left- and right-handed players. The company claims that the device was “built from the ground up to be hackable,” and that it will make tools available to Steam users in order to let them mess around with its design, engineering and other such aspects. The controller will work with the regular Steam client alongside the living room-based Steam Machines, and Valve says it’s created a “legacy mode” for the controller that will let it present itself to games as if it was a keyboard and mouse.
The Steam Controller will be available to select Steam users later this year as part of the same limited beta that was announced for Valve’s prototype Steam Machine console earlier this week — though the units sent out for it won’t include a touchscreen and won’t be wireless. The finished controller will arrive next year, though with no specific Steam Machines announced yet, Valve isn’t saying whether or not it’ll be included with every Steam Machine console or just select models. It did say, though, that it will make the controller’s API available to developers on the same day it ships out its beta hardware to customers.
Today’s announcement was the third and final one Valve had in store for this week, following the introduction of the Steam Machines concept and the SteamOS operating system that will power its consoles. Valve says it’ll give a more detailed list of specs for its prototype console next week, and notes that it will provide any lingering specific details on its Steam Universe community group page.