Keeping up with the Steam and Valve news over the recent days and weeks, Valve finally announced their last big tease to the gaming community with the Steam controller last week. Alongside the announcements of the Steam Box and the Steam OS, Valve seems like it’s ready to make a big push into the living room entertainment industry and potentially fill the void that some people might be missing, or at least think they are missing. The controller features two touch pads in place of your average joysticks and buttons that include haptic feedback, Valve says the steam controller will be a high-precision, low-latency controller compared to most.
Tommy Refenes, the designer alongside of Super Meat Boy alongside Edmund Mcmillen and Team MEAT, released a blog on the 27th talking about the steam controller and his experiences with it. Tommy made several references to his experiences with other controllers on the market currently and noted that compared to both the Xbox and PS3 controller this wasn’t much different (aside from the lack of buttons).
The controller I held was a 3D printed functional prototype. It is thicker than an Xbox 360 controller at the base where the sides of the controller rest in your palms. The weight is about the same. I didn’t feel as if the controller was too heavy or too light. I did notice the bulk of the controller, but only as a differentiation from the PS3 controller I’ve been playing with recently (GTA5) and the 360 controller I use for PC gaming. The bulk didn’t bother me.
Seeing that the weight of the controller and how it compares to the Xbox 360 controller is very important. There are so many games that I have personally used my wired Xbox 360 controller with and I’ve become quite familiar with playing with it. There is something very uncomforting about having to use a touchpad to play instead of mashing buttons when I’m in a tight spot. More often than not we all like to panic sometimes and we have it set in our head that pushing as many buttons as possible and as quickly as possible is the only way to overcome the situation. It’s all based on instinct and my instinct lies in my ability to use the Xbox 360 controller and the familiarization I have in it through hundreds of hours of use. Thankfully, Tommy had this to say on his thoughts about how the controller plays:
I need to press a button, feel good pressing it, and have it react accordingly on the screen. So, ladies and gentlemen… if I say I’m sensitive to controllers you will agree.
One drawback to undefined physical buttons is that your thumbs need tactile contact in order to accurately know what button you are pressing. As the engineers and I were talking about this, the idea of little nubs being on the controller that would be noticeable enough where your thumbs would find them, but not so abrasive that the circle pads couldn’t comfortably used in mouse / trackpad mode came about. They had been thought of prior to my being there, but weren’t on the controller I was using. I expressed that they needed to be put in. They might show up in some form after my feedback…so…you’re welcome Valve / Valve customers.
I’d really like to see the addition of small nubs or a small abrasive indicator on the trackpads to at least be able to find your place on the controller. I am personally not one to overthink where my hands are on the controller as I usually just find my placing on the controller via memory, but with two giant circles how are you going to be able to do that? The addition of a small way to identify your placement on the controller without looking would seal the deal on the controller and make it very relevant alongside most of today’s controllers. There is no doubt in my mind that we will all have to go through a few hours of painfully trying to relearn something as new as this, but I’m sure we’ll hear from the minority of people that hate it because it’s new.
How will we adapt to innovation?
It’s not really a secret that most gamers nowadays don’t really take innovation that well, in fact I don’t think any gamer welcomes innovation at all. If you think about most of the new things that companies have tried over the years and have been thrown under the bus, it must be absolutely terrifying as a developer to try something new. The fact that steam is going completely against the grain with this one and is going out of their way to be different could actually really work out for them. I’d give any other company very little chance in this venture if they were to be so bold, but you have a name like Valve, and then you throw a bone like this, and there are some people bound to perk their ears.
The option to hack the controller exists and is a thing most people I’ve gathered feedback from seem to like, it can be modified and customized to the users liking and can be changed at a whim. It’s very interesting to see Valve having a completely open mind while creating the OS, Box and now, controller. Valve has allowed full customization of everything included in the Steam package, meaning if you have the know-how, you can make this thing your own. This opens up a completely new side to living room gaming, and could just be the best thing that valve has come up with to date besides slapping your Co-op partner in Portal 2.
It’s always interesting to see different adaptations of controllers over the years, we’ve come from giant joysticks on arcade machines to the 3 banana pronged N64 controller, the sleek and perfect ps2 controller and with the next gen coming out we will have an even better look for things. Innovation is constantly happening in the gaming industry in the tiniest places that affect us in the biggest ways. The fact that Valve has designed their own controller means they are ready to push forward as a competitor in the business rather than just the best game delivery platform out there (As if one side of the gaming worlds respect wasn’t enough Valve?!)
What do you think of the controller and package Valve is offering? Leave your comments Below for discussion!