By Dave Lee
Games developer and publisher Valve has shown off its Steam Controller, the final part of its strategy to bring its PC-based platform to the living room.
The controller offers two trackpads which provide “haptic” feedback capable of delivering various physical sensations to the player.
Valve said it offers a better way to play games that have traditionally been controlled with a keyboard and mouse.
Gamers have been invited test the device before it goes on sale in 2014.
“Traditional gamepads force us to accept compromises,” the company said via its announcement page.
“We’ve made it a goal to improve upon the resolution and fidelity of input that’s possible with those devices.
“The Steam controller offers a new and, we believe, vastly superior control scheme, all while enabling you to play from the comfort of your sofa.”
Research and testing
The controller is the third announcement the company has made this week. On Monday, it outlined plans to create an entire Linux-based operating system for running games, and followed up on Wednesday with details of the Steam Machine, essentially a new type of games console.
The widely-anticipated controller completes what Valve will hope is a strategy that can shift gamers that use traditional PCs – which is seen as a market headed for decline – and coax them into the living room.
However, the biggest challenge the company faces in doing so is in convincing gamers who have spent years playing titles, particularly first-person shooters, by using a combination of keyboard and mouse that a handheld controller can offer a more enjoyable solution.
The company said it had spent a year researching and testing different control methods. It said the haptic feedback offered new possibilities for creating immersive gaming.
“This haptic capability provides a vital channel of information to the player – delivering in-game information about speed, boundaries, thresholds, textures, action confirmations, or any other events about which game designers want players to be aware.”
The company is to send out 300 early versions of the controller to people who sign up for beta testing.
Giant owl eyes
Rob Crossley, associate editor of Computer and Video Games, has been following Valve’s announcements throughout this week. He has described the latest move as “fearless”.
“Controller design standards haven’t changed since the first PlayStation… the D-pad, the two sticks… that’s evolved only slightly over the last 20 years.
“Sure, it looks a little funny – those two giant owl eyes – but I think that this could lead to a change in the way we look at controllers.”
Valve is banking on the trackpads providing the same kind of precision offered by a mouse, Mr Crossley added.
“I think they believe this is their best attempt at trying to map the precision of the mouse onto a gamepad.
“If it does pay off, if they do manage to emulate the mouse on a controller, that opens up whole new genres.”
Some had speculated – somewhat hopefully – that Valve would make a surprise announcement about the next instalment in its Half-Life series.
However, there was no mention of the game in any of Valve’s announcements – but many now speculate that Half-Life 3 could be a launch title for the new Steam system and controller.
“The natural thinking is surely they will show off Half-Life 3 when SteamOS is launched,” said Mr Crossley.
“A lot of people are also saying that it would be exclusive to the Steam Machine – but that would be a very un-Valve-like thing to do. They’ve always been very open.”
By Dave Lee