We now know what the last of Valve's big three announcements is this week. Following the introduction of SteamOS and Steam Machines earlier this week, Valve today unveiled its Steam Controller, the last piece of the puzzle intended to get you playing PC games on your big screen TV using Linux. In making the transition to the living room, Valve is somewhat following in the footsteps of traditional consoles with a controller that looks nothing like a keyboard and mouse combination.
Valve maintains that its controller, which resembles an Xbox 360 gamepad in shape, is "vastly superior" to what's out there currently. It's also been designed to work with all games on Steam, including past, present, and future titles. For older titles that don't support gamepads, Steam says it "fooled" them into thinking they're communicating with a mouse and keyboard.
The Steam Controller sports dual high resolution trackpads as its base. They're also clickable, allowing the entire surface to act as a button. According to Steam, the higher fidelity input that's made possible here will be appreciated by PC gamers who are used to gaming on high resolution mice.
"Trackpads, by their nature, are less physical than thumbsticks. By themselves, they are 'light touch' devices and don’t offer the kind of visceral feedback that players get from pushing joysticks around," Valve explains. As we investigated trackpad-based input devices, it became clear through testing that we had to find ways to add more physicality to the experience. It also became clear that 'rumble', as it has been traditionally implemented (a lopsided weight spun around a single axis), was not going to be enough. Not even close."
Valve's Steam Controller uses a new generation of super-precise haptic feedback with dual linear resonant actuators. They consist of small, strong, and weighted electro-magnets attached to each of the dual trackpads.
There's a touchscreen in the center of the controller, and that too is clickable. It will be interesting to see how developers take advantage of this feature, though in its most basic form, you can expect to be able to swipe through menus and tap on various options.
The Steam Controller boasts 16 buttons in all, half of which are accessible without ever lifting your thumbs. All of them have been placed symmetrically, which will be a boon to left-handed gamers who want to reverse the layout.
Finally, the Steam Controller is hackable, so expect some funky mods by the gaming community and third-party developers alike.