On Monday, Valve announced SteamOS, a new PC operating system tuned specifically for gaming. It followed-up that announcement on Wednesday with the reveal of Steam Machines, new hardware from Valve and its partners that will take advantage of SteamOS. Today Valve revealed the final piece of its living room strategy: the Steam controller.
The controller itself is the oddest-looking video game controller to be revealed since Nintendo’s Wii controller. Instead of the joysticks that have become standard on modern controllers, the Steam controller has dual trackpads. According to Valve, the large, circular trackpads will allow for a higher input fidelity than joysticks. The trackpads also feature “super-precise” haptic feedback to provide players with physical context. The intention is to make traditionally PC-centric genres such as real-time strategy a real possibility using a controller.
The second most noticeable oddity about the Steam controller is button placement. Instead of the traditional four-button diamond formation for the right side of the controller, A, B, Y, and X buttons are placed on the inside edges of the touchpads. The four trigger buttons on the top of the controller appear to be fairly standard, but the device also has two large buttons on its rear side. There are a total of 16 buttons on the Steam controller, with both trackpads and the center touch screen clickable.
The touch screen just mentioned will have a high-resolution display. Developers will be able to use the screen however they like, and touching the screen displays an overlay on the main gaming screen, allowing players to use it without looking down.
The Steam controller has been designed to work with Steam’s entire back-catalog of games. To accomplish this, Valve has created a “legacy mode” that allows controller buttons to be easily mapped to a standard keyboard. In addition, Valve has stated that it will release some sort of tools to allow modders to open up the controller and hack around with it.