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Team Meat’s Tommy Refenes demos the Steam controller, thinks it’s a “great start”

Sunday, 29th September 2013 00:29 GMT By Catherine Cai

Team Meat’s Tommy Refenes had a chance to demo the Steam controller, and he’s very particular about his controllers.

“We have a Razer controller that Shannon bought a while back that has strange buttons that click weird,” writes Refenes on his blog. “I refuse to play with it. I hated playing the PS3 when it first came out because the SixAxis had no DualShock in them and were too light. I didn’t fully play any PS3 games until I bought a DualShock3 SixAxis controller. I didn’t even bother with the Ouya controller because if other people are reporting latency problems, I know for a fact I will experience them.”

Considering that he’s half of the duo that created Super Meat Boy, which is all about control and precision, his pickiness isn’t surprising and makes his feedback on controller hardware extremely valuable.

Refenes had some hands-on time with Valve’s new Steam Machine controller and had over a few thousand words worth of things to say about the experience. The controller, rather than having traditional joysticks and buttons, features only two trackpads.

“After becoming familiar with the controller I started to play Meat Boy… The configuration they had set up was simple enough,” he writes. “The left circle pad acted as the directional buttons, the right acted as a big giant jump button. The big problem with touch pads/ touch screens is you never know when you are actually over a button or pressing it. Valve has tried to rectify this by having some adjustable haptic feedback fire when you press one of the circle pads. Throughout my play session the haptic feedback helped with the problem, but wasn’t enough to solve it.”

Not having physical joysticks and buttons means not having tactile feedback. Refenes suggested to Valve engineers a solution: small nubs on the controller that would function in a simliar way that the small tabs on the F and J key do on a keyboard.

Refenes tested out the controller with both Super Meat Boy and Spelunky and found the experience satisfactory enough. “If you were to ask me if I would play games with the Steam Controller…I would say yes,” he says. “If you were to ask me to choose between Steam Controller and a 360 controller, I would choose 360.”

He admits that his choice isn’t due to the fact that the 360 controller is superior. It’s simply that the 360 controller is something that’s a little more familiar. However, if “all game controllers were wiped off the earth” and only the Steam controller remained, Refenes doesn’t believe it to be a bad thing. “I don’t think gaming would miss a beat. I’m excited to see what final hardware feels like because I think with the upcoming iterations of the controller we’ll see something that is different, but still feels good.”

His conclusion? “TL;DR; Great Start, needs some improvements, but I could play any game I wanted with it just fine.”

Thanks, DSB

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42 Comments

  1. noamlol2

    tryhard much?

    #1 10 months ago
  2. XanderZane

    Interesting read. I’m wondering if the right trackpad has only one button or several buttons under it? I still don’t know who you could play SSFIV Arcade with this controller. It seems like it works fine with FPS and platform games. What about Racing and strategy games like StarCraft?

    #2 10 months ago
  3. DSB

    @2 Others have said that you can map the gradients. I don’t think it’s a button per se, but other devs have mapped the edge of the trackpad to be Shift+Move so if you’re using the middle, you walk, and if you go to the edges you run.

    A nice difference from a conventional pad is that the buttons on the trackpad are “right there” so using one to jump and another for a different action is apparently pretty intuitive. Pressing down a stick is really not.

    #3 10 months ago
  4. Erthazus

    I really like the fact that this controller has fantastic configuration. You can configure every button on it. Neat

    Yeah, Valve are serious.

    Next, they need to show Source 2 to blow everything out of the water and announce that Half-Life 3 or Source 2 games are exclusive to SteamOS Machines/Steam. That would be funny and will make some serious damage.

    #4 10 months ago
  5. Erthazus

    Btw, Valve made a history.

    No more D-Pad. R.I.P.

    #5 10 months ago
  6. XanderZane

    @3 Well the stick buttons on controller are usually used for simple things like crouching or bringing up a map. It’s never used for jumping or shooting since you have all the other buttons right at your finger tips. It’s nice to have the buttons right under the trackpad, but aim with the trackpad and shooting with it’s button can’t be that intuitive. I would think a trigger button would work though.

    #6 10 months ago
  7. XanderZane

    @5 Well Microsoft made history as well. No more controller. lol!!

    #7 10 months ago
  8. lubu

    SteamBox/Controller Is A ‘Catastrophe

    #8 10 months ago
  9. melonbuster1

    He said he would use it only if all the controllers were wiped off the earth and you had no choice. . Not a ringing endorsement. But he loves the 360. Hmmmm. Not saying. Just saying. Best controller is out there already stop trying to reinvent the wheel.

    #9 10 months ago
  10. TheWulf

    @9

    Except it’s not, not at all. As much as I like the 360 pad, I have to admit that it’s barely functional for even third person action games. For anything that requires any degree of accuracy the analogue sticks are pure torture. Playing FPS games with a 360 or PS3 pad just makes me hate myself, because the crosshair jerks around and it’s just impossible without aim assist. If the controller worked, you wouldn’t need aim assist.

    The thing is though is having the entire control system for a game sit snugly in your hands feels fun. It comes from the old consoles, the NES and the Sega Master System. Or even further back with a joystick and the home computers. So there’s that appeal, it’s just oddly cathartic to play a game on a pad, and it feels a little more intuitive for third person games, even though it sacrifices accuracy.

    So what if we could take the enjoyment of a gamepad, and marry it with the accuracy of a mouse?

    That’s what Valve is trying to do, and it’s a valiant effort. I actually wish them the greatest of success with this, because I feel sorry for console gamers who have to play FPS games on a 360 pad. It’s not exactly fun, but if Valve can get this right, then it might mean that for the first time in history, the mouse has a real contender in regards to accuracy. That’d be nice, and great for console owners.

    #10 10 months ago
  11. Calistarius

    @9 “He said he would use it only if all the controllers were wiped off the earth and you had no choice.”..?

    Nope, he did not say that at all.

    #11 10 months ago
  12. viralshag

    If you’re bad with pads now, there’s a good chance you’re going to be bad with this one too.

    #12 10 months ago
  13. DrDamn

    @10
    “If the controller worked, you wouldn’t need aim assist.”

    Interesting side point. There is no aim assist in KZ:SF. Devs took it out because they thought the DS4 was good enough to not need it.

    @Article
    Want to try one of these at least. Valve were in the best position to try this sort of thing, would have been too risky for MS or Sony.

    #13 10 months ago
  14. Djoenz

    http://kotaku.com/valves-controller-has-been-tested-here-are-some-impre-1415579308

    Who dubbed this the owlpad? I want the owlpad!

    More impressions

    #14 10 months ago
  15. monkeygourmet

    People keep mentioning SFIV working on this pad…

    The 360 pad didn’t even work for SFIV!!!

    #15 10 months ago
  16. monkeygourmet

    @13

    As long as everyone uses the same control tye, it doesn’t really matter.

    I doubt the Dualshock 4 is so good it wasn’t needed. The 360 pad is pretty much perfect for shooters, it’s not going to be a huge step up from that IMO.

    #16 10 months ago
  17. freedoms_stain

    @16, I have to take my thumb off Look to reload or jump or change weapons.

    That’s not perfect.

    #17 10 months ago
  18. DrDamn

    @15
    That’s because the 360 d-pad was atrocious :)

    @16
    It’s more DS4 is much better than DS3 – they never would have considered it for PS3 Killzones. Non-aim assisted would benefit the more skillful players.

    #18 10 months ago
  19. Gekidami

    So unsurprisingly inferior to whats already out then.

    #19 10 months ago
  20. pcbros

    @17 – The SteamPad makes it possible to keep that thumb on the right circle pad, where it belongs.

    The future is among us, embrace the owl or it will peck your eyes out.

    @19 – Besides playing games like Mario 64 and other 3rd person action games, the current gamepad offer inferior controls in just about every genre.

    Fighting games: Arcade stick > PS3/360 gamepad
    Strategy games: Mouse/Keyboard > PS3/360 gamepad
    FPS games: Mouse/Keyboard > PS3/360 gamepad
    Racing games: Racing wheel > PS3/360 gamepad
    Retro-platformer games: D-pad controller (PS3′s pad can work) > 360 gamepad

    Modern controllers are not perfect in anyway…

    #20 10 months ago
  21. Lengendaryboss

    @20
    Okay then: http://giffiles.alphacoders.com/295/2954.gif

    #21 10 months ago
  22. DSB

    @14 Don’t you mean “Hoo dubbed it the owlpad?” ;)

    I’m sure someone beat me to it, but the second I saw it I was like “owlpad!”. I think it’s a cute nickname for it.

    #22 10 months ago
  23. rrw

    @5

    you still need dpad for majority of action game

    luckily DS4 can be used on PC without any hustle now. so I might used that one for some of game

    #23 10 months ago
  24. DSB

    @23 I think that’s a vast exageration of the D-pad. Some people mentioned D-pads being useful for fighting games – I don’t know that that justifies the space it takes up on a regular pad, but either way that’s plausible.

    … But essentially you’re talking about four buttons that are usually just used as a selector in the vast majority of modern games. For the Owlpad, you have a touchscreen with four clickable buttons in the center, so if you map those as your selector, you shouldn’t miss a beat.

    #24 10 months ago
  25. Cobra951

    The D-pad is indeed just 4 buttons. When properly designed, it can be used as 4 separate buttons, or a single legacy control. The 360 controller does NOT have a properly designed D-pad. That thing is downright unreliable. It may be why some are calling for the death of the D-pad. Bad memories from Microsoft’s poor design unjustly damn the concept.

    @10: “Playing FPS games with a 360 or PS3 pad just makes me hate myself, because the crosshair jerks around and it’s just impossible without aim assist. If the controller worked, you wouldn’t need aim assist.”

    I agree completely, if we’re talking about FPS games, or anything else that needs a precise analogue of human motions. Nothing comes close to a mouse for that. You need a one-to-one motion device, and a relatively large amount of space for it to travel. The mouse is the ideal solution, given a proper surface in the gaming environment. That’s the problem. They want to make you sit on a couch in the living room, where a mouse is impractical. Tiny thumbsticks are fine for vehicle control, but they won’t do for unassisted shooters.

    The question then becomes how much better this owlpad is. (Yes, I like that nickname too.) Is it better? Or does it add a bit of precision at the expense of a lot of tactile feel? And how durable is that haptic feedback? It’s not optional like rumble. It’s central to making the thing useful.

    #25 10 months ago
  26. xFreelanceOBGYN

    I assume there will be the option to use a normal pad… at least I hope because that upside down looking gimmick is a deal breaker for me. I can’t stand touchpad joysticks, you lose all sense of where the center is. I prefer Xbox gamepad for fps games and dual shock controller for third person games. I am an old school gamer who buys all his games new and has already paid for both next gen consoles. I was planning on picking up the steam machine at launch as well, but valve is going to need to say that monstrosity of a gimmick is optional if they want me and many othersto get behind them.

    #26 10 months ago
  27. sebastien rivas

    @13

    I must disagree with you on that point.
    There is nothing risky per se for neither Ps4 or MS so far but it is true neither were risk takers on that controller behavior and features R&D, though they stick by what their user base is used to or it would have been an uproar for either community.
    I am pretty sure MS or Sony are going to study Steambox controller if it has good or better response from the public then come up with a concept of their own… maybe…

    #27 10 months ago
  28. DSB

    @25 That’s precisely the achilles heel as I see it. People are talking about RTS and shooters, but dude, the pace of those games is brutal these days.

    You might be able to play an FPS campaign on the PC with a gamepad just fine, but online you’re likely gonna get slaughtered.

    RTS really isn’t much different. They’ve pretty much gone from being about proper planning, and taking your time setting up a force, to basically being about making decisions extremely fast, and carefully positioning your units to maximum effect. It’s all about speed and accuracy now.

    Even if the Owlpad proves to be effective in controlling the interface, I think you’re gonna struggle with the pace.

    That being said, speaking for myself as a PC gamer, I would expect to use a Steam Machine as a console, for console style games. I wouldn’t have a huge interest in playing strategy games in that environment, and if I did, then putting a keyboard on my lap and using a hardback novel to support a wireless mouse would be my choice.

    That’s really not super uncomfortable, although it’s definitely not good for your wrist. We do that already with gaming laptops, so no biggy.

    I’ll never get used to shooters with gamepads, it feels all wrong. I liked Halo because the design really spoke to the limitations of the pad, but classic style shooters, never.

    @26 It’s not a standard touchpad though. The touchpads you’re used to have no feedback, and are generally less accurate than a mouse. This is something different.

    Some devs are actually saying it has too much feedback.

    #28 10 months ago
  29. TheWulf

    @13

    That’s one developer, though. For the 360 and PS3 pads, pretty much every other developer ever sees aim assist as an absolute priority for console games. Furthermore, there are elements like camera smoothing, which carry over in bad ports as ‘mouse smoothing,’ which is something one turns off immediately to retain their sanity as it actually makes the mouse less accurate.

    Can I believe that a pad is working as intended if it needs so many crutches? Crutches like aim assist and camera smoothing? Crutches which almost have the game play itself because the input is sub par? No, no I can’t. There are obviously problems with the input method that the software is trying to work around.

    We haven’t seen any innovation in this field since the analogue stick. Considering the aforementioned software crutches, I’d even go so far as to say that certain games aren’t released on the consoles due to the how imprecise an analogue stick is. Why are RTS games rarely ever released on the consoles, is it some kind of hardware limitation? I honestly don’t think it is, I think it’s an input limitation. Same goes for simulations and god games, really. The analogue sticks are just too inaccurate.

    So we need someone trying to innovate in this field. Whether it’s Valve or someone else, we need someone who’ll admit that analogue sticks just don’t work for a very big number of genres. Once that happens, maybe we can look to the future and figure out how to make a gamepad that is accurate enough. Once that happens, console owners can enjoy new genres of games.

    I’d honestly like to see that happen. I’m not the type of person who likes hoarding stuff for my platform, really. I’d love to see what I play released on all platforms so that everyone can enjoy it. This is one of the barriers of entry that stops console owners from playing some of the games that PC owners play.

    Onward toward the future, eh?

    #29 10 months ago
  30. TheWulf

    @19

    You may want to click #14′s link and read #15′s and #17′s posts, then read my post at #29. For some games, this is already a superior solution, but it still needs work. Innovation in this field has to occur because the controller is proving to be a barrier, stopping some genres from existing on the consoles. In part or at all.

    #30 10 months ago
  31. TheWulf

    @25

    Yay. A reasonable person. You’re incredibly rare and you should feel proud of yourself. I mean that. The Internet is usually just an endless stream of ragespew, so it’s hard to talk to people.

    Anyway, yeah, I agree. Valve’s pad needs a lot examination and review. I think it’ll be better than an analogue stick when they have the kinks worked out, but will it be good enough to actually play FPS games without making the gamer hate him or herself? That’s what we’ll have to wait and see. The reason I encourage Valve though is that because since the analogue stick, we’ve seen no innovation in this field whatsoever.

    Oh, we’ve had gimmicks. Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo have given us no end of gimmicks, but we haven’t had anyone trying to actually improve the situation. What this might do, if it is any amount better, is encourage competition. Look at it this way: If Valve’s controller is at least 10 per cent more responsive and comfortable for playing FPS games than a regular controller, it means that Sony, Microsoft, and even possibly Nintendo will start putting research money into providing valid competition.

    That’s a good thing. I don’t necessarily want Valve’s pad to be the best thing ever. No, want I want is valid competition, I want to see innovation happening again, and I want to see iteration on that innovation. The last innovation was, again, analogue sticks. Now everyone has their own version of analogue sticks, whoop whoop, but… where do we go now? Why stick with just analogue sticks?

    I’m hoping this opens the floor to continued experimentation and examination of the systems we use to control games. And honestly, I’m hoping it opens the door to more genres being played with more comfort and precision. I don’t care who ends up with the most successful and refined pad so long as someone does, you know? Consider this: As sad as this might be, the original Saturn USB pad is still hands-down the best way to play a one-on-one fighter game like Street Fighter.

    I’m actually glad that I could just plug my Saturn pad into the PS3 and have it work, otherwise I would have learned to hate myself whilst trying to play Marvel vs Capcom 3 on it. Thankfully it did work, so I was extremely happy about that. The thing is though is that recent pads have gone backwards even compared to the precision offered by the Saturn controller.

    So this is an area that we need to be looking at. I think inputs are taken for granted, and they shouldn’t be.

    Again, thank you for being reasonable.

    #31 10 months ago
  32. Pitts

    Since I’m entirely gaming on PC, I definitely want to try this.

    No reason to hang on to some console controller that doesn’t support half the games I own if I can have better imo.

    #32 10 months ago
  33. DrDamn

    @27
    I think you are actually agreeing with me. My point was MS and Sony couldn’t risk something like this as it would have caused problems with their fan base. You can see people dismissing it all over without having tried it. If it does work well enough it’s certainly something they or third parties will consider.

    @29
    Part of the problem is that any console controller has to cover a lot of bases. It doesn’t matter if it’s not the best controller for a particular genre if it can adequately cover the vast majority. The levelling factor being that everyone is using the same.

    No innovation since dual analog? Motion control, wii-motes, Move, Kinect, touch pads, rumble, rumble in triggers. Lots of things tried to varying degrees of success. There have been plenty of attempts at new control methods.

    #33 10 months ago
  34. pcbros

    @33 – Consoles and AAA games usually have to play it safe to make lots of money. Very few AAA games and consoles “break the mold”, too risky. Look at the PS4 controller, this is the PS dual-shock from over 20 years ago with a small touch pad in the center. Look at COD, people been playing the same game for decades with tweaks here and there. Yet it’s one of the best selling games.

    Yet, while everyone hypes up 60fps @ 1080p, I could care less about it. I’m more interested in playing Might No.9 and Super Time Force. IMHO, the most exciting things in gaming are coming from indie games and Valve.

    #34 10 months ago
  35. gromen

    Fine 3d model of steam controller here http://sketchfab.com/nk4jihgfdc
    looks pretty god

    #35 10 months ago
  36. DrDamn

    @34
    AAA by it’s very nature has to sell big numbers so little risk is allowed and the genres are fairly tightly confined to those which traditionally sell. I think one of the benefits of indie titles and smaller budget releases, which now have a place to sell digitally, is that it’s a great proving ground for ideas. Some if these will go on to be much bigger budget titles hopefully showing the traditional AAA titles a thing or two.

    I know what you are saying about controllers – though you are well off with your dates :).Original PS1 didn’t exist over 20 years ago and it launch with no analog sticks at all. So it’s actually very different from 20 odd years ago. It’s got dual analog sticks which are also buttons, it’s got motion controls, rumble, proper triggers, a touch pad, a speaker, a headset jack, it’s wireless, rechargeable and (at last) a more ergonomic design.

    #36 10 months ago
  37. viralshag

    Based on what I played at Eurogamer both XB1 and PS4 have much improved pads. I was very impressed with the DS4, it’s improved in every area for me other than the side by side sticks.

    #37 10 months ago
  38. pcbros

    @37 – I tried both of them as well at E3. But I didn’t feel a noticeable difference between the 360 and XB1 controller, besides the smoother matte finish and sharper edges. The PS4 was a bigger difference but mainly just the feel of it, felt more solid vs the PS3 hollow cracker controller.

    But other than feel, I don’t see any big difference. Same exact layouts (plus a small touchpad for the PS4).

    I can see myself playing the same types of games with the same controller for another 10 years. Does not really grab my attention at this momment.

    Kinect 2, if used correctly, is the most exciting thing coming out of consoles for me.

    #38 10 months ago
  39. Dragon246

    @viral,
    So what are you buying? PS4 or X1?

    #39 10 months ago
  40. Djoenz

    DSB king of nicknames.
    LengendaryBoss king of gifs.

    Dont yall forget it.

    #40 10 months ago
  41. Clupula

    Any controller without a d-pad is one I wouldn’t buy. I don’t like arcade sticks for fighting games. I never liked playing them in the arcade purposely because of the joystick. Playing them on a d-pad always felt more natural to me.

    #41 10 months ago
  42. viralshag

    @Dragon, Gonna stick with my X1 pre-order. Ryse is the game I most want to play at launch and going forward Titanfall. I still prefer the MS pad and have a larger group of online mates sticking with MS so right now I have no urgency to get a PS4 but my worries about the DS4 pad settled I definitely see myself getting one next year, after summer probably.

    #42 10 months ago

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