Valve announces the Steam Controller with touch screen, haptic feedback, more

Friday, 27 September 2013 18:00 GMT By Stephany Nunneley

Valve has revealed its third, planned announcement for the living room and it’s the Steam Controller – a “hackable” controller with dual trackpads, a touch screen, and haptic feedback that works with all past, present, and future games available through the Steam service.

The Steam Controller is designed to work with all the games on Steam: past, present, and future. Even the older titles in the catalog and the ones which were not built with controller support.

The news follows the SteamOS and Steam Machine announcements earlier this week.

Wednesday, when Valve posted the beta details for its Steam Machines, a controller was mentions in the agreement page, so it sort of ruined its own surprise today.

The company said it spent a year experimenting with new approaches to input, thus the Steam Controller was born.

The Steam Controller was designed to work with all the games on Steam including older titles in the catalog and the ones not built with controller support. The controller offers a “vastly superior control scheme,” with high-precision input technologies and low-latency performance.

It also contains two circular trackpads each with a high-resolution trackpad as its base which 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,” the firm said.

“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,” said Valve. “Whole genres of games that were previously only playable with a keyboard and mouse are now accessible from the sofa. RTS games. Casual, cursor-driven games. Strategy games. 4x space exploration games. A huge variety of indie games. Simulation titles. And of course, Euro Truck Simulator 2.

“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.”

The controller is also built around “super-precise haptic feedback,” which makes use of “dual linear resonant actuators,” which means there are weighted electro-magnets attached to each of the dual trackpads capable of delivering a wide range of force and vibration.

This haptic capability can deliver the user in-game information such as “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,” and as a “parlour trick” they can even play audio waveforms and function as speakers.

The high-resolution touch screen in the center also supports all games in the Steam catalog and allows various actions to be made available to the player. The screen is also clickable, so actions are not invoked by a simple touch, they instead require a click.

The Steam Controller is part of the same Steam Machines beta, and the controller will work with any version of Steam, not just Steam Machines.

“This allows a player to touch the screen, browse available actions, and only then commit to the one they want,” said Valve. “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.

“In order to avoid forcing players to divide their attention between screens, a critical feature of the Steam Controller comes from its deep integration with Steam. When a player touches the controller screen, its display is overlayed on top of the game they’re playing, allowing the player to leave their attention squarely on the action, where it belongs.”

Every button and input zone has been placed based on frequency of use, and there are a total of sixteen buttons on the Steam Controller with half accessible to the player without requiring thumbs to be taken off the trackpads, and this includes the two on the back.

All controls and buttons have been “placed symmetrically, making left or right handedness switchable via a software config checkbox.”

A legacy mode that allows the controller to present itself as a keyboard and mouse will allow the user to create and share bindings all of their favorite games and even choose from a list of the most popular configurations.

It is also “hackable,” so expect Steam Community and Workshop contributors to help contribute to the design of the Steam Controller. Tools will be made available to enable users to participate in all aspects of its engineering.

The Steam Controller is part of the same Steam Machines beta, and the controller will work with any version of Steam, not just Steam Machines.

The first 300 or so beta units of the controller coming with the Steam Machines won’t include a touch screen, and they won’t be wireless but will instead have four buttons in place of the touch screen, and they’ll require a USB cable.

Valve said it will “talk soon” about the design process and how it arrived at our current prototype with detailed specs to be available next week alongside the SteamOS prototype.

Valve will release its Linux-based SteamOS machines in 2014 and there will be “many” options to choose from made by different manufacturers.

his year, the firm is shipping 300 of these boxes to Steam users, free of charge, for testing. You can make yourself eligible to get one through here.

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