Valve unveils the Steam Controller, complete with haptics, a touch screen, and an open design

Valve unveils the Steam Controller, complete with haptics, a touch screen, and an open design

Valve announced the SteamOS and the upcoming Steam Machines, but now it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty. How the hell are you going to control the games on that brand new set-top box?

“Traditional gamepads force us to accept compromises. We’ve made it a goal to improve upon the resolution and fidelity of input that’s possible with those devices,” the announcement states. “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. Built with high-precision input technologies and focused on low-latency performance, the Steam controller is just what the living-room ordered.”

So what does this controller do that’s so new? This is how Valve describes it:

The most prominent elements of the Steam controller are its two circular trackpads. Driven by the player’s thumbs, each one has a high-resolution trackpad as its base. It 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. 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.

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.

The controller will also incorporate haptic technology that will deliver a “wide range of force and vibration” to the player.

“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,” Valve explains. “It is a higher-bandwidth haptic information channel than exists in any other consumer product that we know of. As a parlour trick they can even play audio waveforms and function as speakers.”

There is also a clickable touchscreen in the middle of the controller, which will allow games to give the player more information, or provide a touch-based control method.

“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,” the announcement says. “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.”

There will also be a legacy mode that treats the controller as a keyboard and mouse, with standardized controls. This allows every game that works on Steam to be played with the controller.

The controller will also be “open,” and you'll be able to work on it yourself. “The Steam Controller was designed from the ground up to be hackable. Just as the Steam Community and Workshop contributors currently deliver tremendous value via additions to software products on Steam, we believe that they will meaningfully contribute to the design of the Steam Controller,” Valve explained. “We plan to make tools available that will enable users to participate in all aspects of the experience, from industrial design to electrical engineering. We can’t wait to see what you come up with.”

Whoa boy, what a week. A new OS, upcoming systems, and now a very… interesting controller. Let's talk about this together: What do you think?