Valve wowed users today with the announcement of their new Steam Controller, their “different kind of gamepad.” The new controller’s main feature is the two circular trackpads. At the reveal, Valve explained how the two trackpads would function.
“Driven by the player’s thumbs, each one has a high-resolution trackpad as its base. It is also clickable, allowing the entire surface to act as a button. The trackpads allow far higher fidelity input than has previously been possible with traditional handheld controllers. Steam gamers, who are used to the input associated with PCs, will appreciate that the Steam Controller’s resolution approaches that of a desktop mouse.”
According to Valve, their goal was make a controller that opened up a whole new genre of games that were not playable with the standard keyboard and mouse.
“In addition, games like first-person shooters that are designed around precise aiming within a large visual field now benefit from the trackpads’ high resolution and absolute position control.”
Another exciting feature of the Steam Controller is their haptic feedbacks that use dual linear resonant actuators. The haptics are used to send information from the game to the player and vice versa.
“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. 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.”
A touch screen control is also in the center of the controller. Valve explains the extra touchpad as “critical to achieving the controller’s primary goal – supporting all games in the Steam catalog. The screen allows an infinite number of discrete actions to be made available to the player, without requiring an infinite number of physical buttons.”
“The whole screen itself is also clickable, like a large single button,” the site explains. “So actions are not invoked by a simple touch, they instead require a click. This allows a player to touch the screen, browse available actions, and only then commit to the one they want. Players can swipe through pages of actions in games where that’s appropriate. 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.”
Valve went on to talk about how the buttons of the controller have been laid out in regards to frequency of use and precision comfort.
“There are a total of sixteen buttons on the Steam Controller. Half of them are accessible to the player without requiring thumbs to be lifted from the trackpads, including two on the back. All controls and buttons have been placed symmetrically, making left or right handedness switchable via a software config checkbox.”
Probably the most convenient feature of the Steam Controller is the ability to replace a keyboard and mouse completely.
Like most of Valve’s recent initiatives, the controller is “designed from the ground up to be hackable,” and Valve plans “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.” Valve assures players that it “won’t abandon” players who prefer traditional PC controls, as “we love mice and keyboards, too.”
Steam users will be happy to know that the controller will work with any version of Steam and that its API will be made available to developers later this year. The controller will be available to players participating in the hardware beta, but the prototype version will not include a touch screen and won’t be wireless (instead requiring a USB cable).