Games developer Valve on Friday shown off its Steam Controller, the final part of its strategy to bring its PC-based platform to the living room.
The Steam Controller is designed to work with all the games on Steam, including the older titles in the catalog. It features two circular trackpads which provide "haptic" feedback capable of delivering various physical sensations to the player. Each trackpad is also clickable, allowing the entire surface to act as a button. Whole genres of games that were previously only playable with a keyboard and mouse are now accessible from the sofa. 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 Steam Controller is built around a new generation of precise haptic feedback, employing dual linear resonant actuators. These small electro-magnets are attached to each of the dual trackpads. They are capable of delivering a wide range of force and vibration, allowing precise control over frequency, amplitude, and direction of movement. This haptic capability provides 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. As a parlour trick they can even play audio waveforms and function as speakers.
In the center of the controller is another touch-enabled surface, this one backed by a high-resolution screen. The screen allows an infinite number of discrete actions to be made available to the player, without requiring an infinite number of physical buttons.
The whole screen itself is also clickable, so actions are not invoked by a simple touch, they instead require a click. This allows a player to touch the screen, browse available actions, and only then commit to the one they want. When programmed by game developers using Valve's 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. 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.
There are a total of sixteen buttons on the Steam Controller. Half of them are accessible to the player without requiring thumbs to be lifted from the trackpads, including two on the back. All controls and buttons have been placed symmetrically, making left or right handedness switchable via a software config checkbox.
In order to support the full catalog of existing Steam games, Valve has also built in a legacy mode that allows the controller to present itself as a keyboard and mouse.
The Steam Controller was designed from the ground up to be hackable. Valve plans to make tools available that will enable users to participate in all aspects of the experience, from industrial design to electrical engineering.
Gamers have been invited test the device before it goes on sale in 2014.
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 controller completes what Valve will hope is a strategy that can shift gamers that use traditional PCs.
The company is to send out 300 early versions of the controller to people who sign up for beta testing.