Valve reveals Steam Controller with touch-screen, haptic feedback

Half-Life studio announces proprietary controller; will work with all past, present, and future games; described as "high-precision" with "low-latency performance."

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Portal and Half-Life studio Valve today announced the Steam Controller, which features a touch-screen and haptic feedback. The announcement is the third from Valve this week, following SteamOS on Monday and Steam Machines on Wednesday.

"We set out with a singular goal: bring the Steam experience, in its entirety, into the living room. We knew how to build the user interface, we knew how to build a machine, and even an operating system. But that still left input--our biggest missing link," Valve said. "We realized early on that our goals required a new kind of input technology--one that could bridge the gap from the desk to the living room without compromises. So we spent a year experimenting with new approaches to input and we now believe we've arrived at something worth sharing and testing with you."

According to Valve, the Steam Controller will work with all past, present, and future games on Steam, including those that were not built with controller support. Valve can achieve this by "fooling" the older games into thinking they are being played with mouse and keyboard.

In explaining its design philosophy for the Steam Controller, Valve said traditional gamepads "force us to accept compromises."

"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," Valve said. "Built with high-precision input technologies and focused on low-latency performance, the Steam controller is just what the living room ordered."

According to Valve, the most prominent elements of the Steam Controller are its dual circular trackpads that players will manipulate using their thumbs. The trackpads are clickable, turning the entire surface into a button.

"The trackpads allow far higher fidelity input than has previously been possible with traditional handheld controllers," Valve said. "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."

Valve said entire genres of games that were once playable only through keyboard and mouse are now accessible in the living room thanks to the new controller. The developer specifically called out real-time strategy games, casual games, and cursor-driven games as examples.

First-person shooters will also benefit from the Steam Controller's "high resolution and absolute position control," Valve said.

Valve explained that trackpads are inherently less physical than thumbsticks, so the company sought out a way to "add more physicality to the experience." Part of this advancement in physicality is expanding on the "rumble" feature found in contemporary controllers forward.

To that end, the Steam Controller features a "new generation of super-precise haptic feedback," Valve said. This includes making use of linear resonant actuators, described as "small, strong, weighted electro-magnets" that are attached to each of the trackpads.

"They are capable of delivering a wide range of force and vibration, allowing precise control over frequency, amplitude, and direction of movement," Valve said.

"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 added. "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."

Another new feature of the Steam Controller is its touch-enabled surface, backed by a "high-resolution screen." According to Valve, this surface is "critical" to achieving the input's primary goal: to support all games in the Steam library. The screen allows for an "infinite number" of discrete actions, Valve said.

The entire screen itself is also clickable, making it a single large button.

"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," Valve said. "Players can swipe through pages of actions in games where that's appropriate. When programmed by game developers using our API, the touchscreen can work as a scrolling menu, a radial dial, provide secondary info like a map or use other custom input modes we haven’t thought of yet."

As a means to avoid forcing players to continually jump back and forth between screens, the Steam Controller is integrated with Steam so that when a player touches the controller screen, its display is overlayed on top of the game they're playing. Thus, the player never needs to divert their eyes from the action, Valve said.

There are a total of 16 buttons on the Steam Controller, half of which are accessible to the player without requiring them to lift their thumbs from the trackpads. This includes two buttons on the back.

"All controls and buttons have been placed symmetrically, making left or right handedness switchable via a software config checkbox," Valve said.

The Steam Controller also boasts "shared configurations," technology that will assist in supporting the entire catalog of Steam games, Valve said.

"We have built in a legacy mode that allows the controller to present itself as a keyboard and mouse," Valve said. "The Steam Community can use the configuration tool to create and share bindings for their favorite games. Players can choose from a list of the most popular configurations."

Lastly, Valve said the Steam Controller was designed from the onset to be hackable. The company will make tools available in the future that will allow 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," Valve said.

Those who are selected for the Steam Machines beta will receive a Steam Controller, though Valve said the first units out the door will not include a touchscreen and will not be wireless. Four buttons will be used in place of the touchscreen, and these units will require a USB cable.

Valve also confirmed that the Steam Controller will be compatible with any version of Steam, meaning players will not need a Steam Machine to use the controller.

For developers interested in supporting the Steam Controller in their games, Valve will release the first version of its API to creators on the same day that prototype controllers ship later this year.

Pricing information for the Steam Controller was not announced.

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Discussion

3642 comments
Rheinmetal
Rheinmetal

Good news, well for me at least. Games that were played excusively with the keybord was a kind of restriction for me that I can't play a game with anything else but a game-pad.

theKSMM
theKSMM

That controller looks crazy.  And I'm not too keen on having yet another controller cluttering up my living room.  I like Valve, but I feel like they're getting a bit outside of their core competency here.  (To be fair, I had similar thoughts about Steam, so I'm far from psychic.)

PixelAddict
PixelAddict

Odd looking controller.  Wonder how it plays?  I'd be interested in at least giving it a try.

For me, the oddest thing about the video was the inclusion of Euro Truck Simulator 2.  Why was this seemingly obscure game chosen as background video?

And wow was there a "1", much less a sequel with "2"?!?

Commissariot
Commissariot

Could be cool. I dunno though, having a click ability in the trackpad might, hurt. I know i can get rather physical with my joysticks on any other controller at times of high stress. The benefit of having a joystick over that button is my thumbs dont have to be on top of it, but can flick the joysticks at their sides just to avoid button presses I dont mean to hit.


Just have to see how it works out.

guitarist1980
guitarist1980

As I read the first few paragraphs containing the trackpad, I can honestly say, it doesnt sound that enticing to me personally. But I will of course keep an open mind if and when they are released.

skywalkerforce
skywalkerforce

Its almost like the gaming industry hates us. We all want, HL3 but cant say yay or nay so deal with it and the same can be said about Halo 3 for PC and a FFVII Remake. Like WTF!!!! We get everything we don't want and nothing we do. These companies are stabbing the gamer in me yelling DIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEE!!!!

LordRork
LordRork

This looks like something that could fail - not because it's bad, but because it's so "out there" compared to what people are used to. 

It's a good product in the making...but maybe 5 years ahead of its time?

CodingGenius
CodingGenius moderator

I think any type of new controller design is worth trying out.  I'm sure Valve has thought through its implementation, so I want to try it out.

kljvoph
kljvoph

As nice as it all sounds I fear this whole concept will find it's way quickly to the big console/gaming device scrapyard along with all the other also rans from the last three decades of gaming. I just don't see a place for this device in 2013s competitive console environment. Good luck to steam and hope they prove me wrong. I doubt they do.

BelmontWolf
BelmontWolf

I can see what it is trying to do with it's aesthetics but it doesn't look comfortable to be dragging your thumbs over a surface for the length of time most gamers game.

Sushiglutton
Sushiglutton

If it has more precise aiming that would be a huge win for something like GTA! If the consensus is that aiming is significantly better than with traditional pads when it has released, I will get one!

kenhu
kenhu

this "thing" is hideous.

Vertigem
Vertigem

This whole PC in the living room thing is growing on me, I was feeling meh about the next gen consoles, nothing really new coming out of it.

Then these guys show up and start showing new stuff, thinking "out of the box" actually proposing to bring together the best of 2 worlds PC and Console. You know what? They have a point. This controler might be the best next thing in interface, Sony and M$ pay attention and take notes.

anonymousicko
anonymousicko

It looks like it mainly cater to FPS games. I'm pretty sure it's suck to use it for fighting games and platforming

jcknapier711
jcknapier711

This reminds me of the MAX control pad that I got in the mail for free.  Well, it was for Genesis and my brother had the Genesis, so I had to give it to him. :X

Raeldor
Raeldor

If they are as high precision as they say then they will probably be slightly better than a regular gamepad for FPS type games, but still no substitution for keyboard and mouse.  As long as Steam Machine supports both then there's really no problem here.

hadlee73
hadlee73

The only dual trackpads I've ever used were on the Xperia Play, and those were horrible. They were definitely no replacement for thumbsticks. Here's hoping these ones are better. And who knows? When thumbsticks first came out for controllers many people were like "WTF" and yet now thumbsticks are a must for most controllers, so this could end up being the same way.

Biotasticmeat
Biotasticmeat

Or you can just hook your Xbox controller up to your computer for a lot less money... and you know the fact that Xbox controllers are well made and comfortable and the valve controller looks like awkward and touch pad technology sucks balls. Valve, I love you but this just doesn't fit the bill we might be looking at valves first big mistake.

DrKill09
DrKill09

Looks awful to me.  I have a little laptop desk I put my keyboard and mouse on, works JUST FINE.

Mraou
Mraou

I don't like the idea of scraping my thumbs across a trackpad for an extended period of time. There's a reason most people prefer to plug a USB mouse in to their laptops. And the physical feedback you get when moving an analog stick/ pressing face buttons is a part of the joy of gaming. For instance, you get a physical joy from  playing Smash with a GameCube controller.

4-Legged-Shark
4-Legged-Shark

The more I think about this controller, the more I love the idea. People can call me a Valve fanboy, but if you look at Valve's track record, I honestly don't think they have the capacity to do anything wrong. 

wyan_
wyan_

I like the idea of the trackpads. I hope they work as well as they say. The placement of the abxy doesn't make the best of sense. I wish they had more than two buttons for each side on the back a la Super Action Controller for the Colecovision. Again, I still like it.

shahdeewasahoe
shahdeewasahoe

Dear diary: It's 2013 and people still comment on looks rather than performance.

BudoDan
BudoDan

Whilst I'm skeptical about the track pads I would be up for giving them a try. They may be better than the conventional thumbsticks. The placement of A,B,X and Y buttons makes no sense at all. As it has already been pointed out you would have to let go of the left track pad to press the X and Y buttons, which doesn't work whilst playing most games. I appreciate Valve wanted to try something new and unique but wouldn't this mean changing the development of games at a fundamental level to suit this control set.

blaze_boy30
blaze_boy30

The idea sounds exciting. I want to try one to see how using dual track pads would work. I'll just have to wait for the second round of controllers.

AlexKidd5000
AlexKidd5000

I bet if anyone here actually got to hold, and try out the controller for themselves, they'd probably love it.

edinko
edinko

THe screen beyonf the touchpad is what I wanted the PS4 pad to have. GAmes wont need to be dumbed down for this controllers but on PS4 you cant have little icons displayed compensating the lack of buttons.PIty.ANd the xbone-there is  nothing new.Same crippling compromises unless you want to hold your phone with your feet and press touch buttons there or do some kinect jumping

JoInfo
JoInfo

I don't want it.

snaketus
snaketus

The ideal layout would be keep analogue stick on the left for movement and this touch thingy on the right for aiming. This would keep this controller good in driving games too. Or platformers. Or any other than FPS and RTS.

rushiosan
rushiosan

Touchscreen isn't the best choice. A d-pad will be always better and more accurate. What were they thinking?

lazycomplife
lazycomplife

I do like that they're bringing back trigger buttons on the back of the controller. I loved the Z button on the N64 controller. The rest of it I'm skeptical on, simply because I don't push buttons with my left thumb. I never have.

topeira
topeira

it has an interesting concept and im not judging the trackpads - they might be good or not, but i AM judging the lack of 4 face buttons on the right side. how can i play, for example, batman:AO with this if i dont have a dodge+hit+counter+cape buttons on the right side? i cant let go of the left trackpad to press the X and Y buttons so how will this function?... this is the only reason im truly skeptic. 

theKSMM
theKSMM

@PixelAddict I assume Euro Truck Sim 2 was presented as a game that one wouldn't naturally play with a controller to demonstrate that all things are possible.  And for the record, it's not a bad game if you're into Simulators.  Now Farming Simulator on the other hand...

lupitamore
lupitamore

@kenhu why are you putting it in your face and not in your hands?

Mraou
Mraou

@Vertigem I prefer the idea of a device which lets me view my existing upstairs PC on my downstairs TV, somehow - maybe through video streaming. I don't want to buy a whole new powerful system.

jcknapier711
jcknapier711

Oh... Not the Max... the Turbo Touch 360.  It wasn't as bad as the critics said it was...it definitely put an end to 'video game thumb.'  It worked for some games and was terrible at others.

IAMTYLERDURDEN
IAMTYLERDURDEN

@Biotasticmeat I don't know, this looks interesting enough. Won't hurt to try it out and see how it feels and who knows... It might be the next big thing.

GSGuy321
GSGuy321

I like the xbox controllers as well on PC.

sephsplace
sephsplace

@4-Legged-Shark well, everyone can and probably will fuck up, but i dont think it will be this controller, seems ingenious to me

sephsplace
sephsplace

@BudoDan i dont think you understand how the control works and is meant to be used

IAMTYLERDURDEN
IAMTYLERDURDEN

@blaze_boy30  I'm excited about this. Something new and fresh that may change the way we control our games. I'm in!

haze0986
haze0986

@rushiosan trying to be different. it just seems like a prototype though not the final product because those track pads look bad and probably feel worse

s3as3a
s3as3a

@topeira I'm not sure if this controller will be good but, I have a feeling that this controller is only good for people who want to play first person shooters on a couch. You could always use an Xbox 360 controller with Valve's hardware, for example, if that's what is best suited for a certain game such as the beautiful video game series that is the Batman Arkham series. :)

MHzBurglar
MHzBurglar

@Mraou 

If you set up a cheap/less-powerful PC in your livingroom, you could use VNC, RDP, Teamviewer, etc to view/control your other one.  They would only work for "desktop" (OS/work/productivity) stuff though, not video or gaming.

BUT... for video you could always share your media folders off the main PC and watch your stuff on your livingroom PC over the network by accessing them from the share or use XBMC, Boxee, or another home network media library program to accomplish this.

For gaming, the SteamOS (and possibly the regular Windows Steam client) are supposed to have/get streaming features.  Though that will only cover games you purchased through Steam...

Either way, that will -mostly- cover your needs, but it's not perfect.  Personally, I'm in the same predicament as you.

MHzBurglar
MHzBurglar

@s3as3a @topeira 

The idea here is that the PC needs a 'standard' controller for games where kb+m controls don't make sense.  Right now that standard is the Xbox 360 pad and most developers support it by default (and in many cases, ONLY it.)

The 360 pad is pretty well-rounded and works well with almost every game.

This Steam controller is not suited well for many genres and looks to be a kb+m replacement.  If it becomes the 'standard' and devs stop supporting the Xbox 360 controller (or more likely scenario, MS stops making it and devs don't pick up support for the Xbox One controller), it could have grave effects.