Valve has decided to make some major revisions to their Steam Controller. The new version of controller is much more conventional but still has some innovative features.
The original Steam Controller had only four face buttons. They were placed at the corners of a square touchpad in the middle. The touchpad could be pressed or swiped to perform multiple functions in the same game:
This touchpad is completely missing from the new controller, though. Now the center of the controller is dominated by a circular Valve button, which presumably works like the guide button on Xbox One and PS4 controllers. Next to Valve button are two rectangular buttons with "stop" and "play" buttons. They have the standard "Select" and "Start" button placement so can probably fill the same role.
Valve also added two sets of four buttons. The set on the right has the same colors and letters - X, Y, A, B - as the face buttons on the Xbox 360 and Xbox One. The buttons to the left make up a traditional D-pad.
The biggest innovation of the Steam Controller is still intact, though: the two clickable trackpads. The two pads fill the role of thumbsticks from other controllers. They're intended to have the precision of mouse and keyboard controls. The idea is that the controller will work well with traditional point-and-click games like Dota 2 or Civilization V as well as gamepad-friendly games like Call of Duty: Ghosts.
I suppose Valve decided that the original design of the Steam Controller was too much change too quickly. The trackpads are controversial enough; Valve is trying to convince PC and console gamers to give up their mouse and analog sticks. These gamers might be more inclined to do so if the trackpads are presented in the context of a more familiar controller.
Valve is bringing working prototypes of the Steam Controller to GDC 2014, which runs from March 17th to March 21st in San Francisco. I'm sure we'll see plenty of hands-on impressions of the hardware published after the journalists in attendance get to try out the redesign. I have trouble imagining that the redesign won't be greeted positively, though. The new version of the controller is now utilizing button layouts that have been standard for gamepads for decades. Even if critics aren't sold on the Steam Controller, I suspect they'll at least consider the revision a step in the right direction.
The Steam Controller is one part of Valve's plan to expand into living room gaming. The controller will be sold alongside Steam Machines, pre-built PC's using a Linux-based operating system called SteamOS. The beta for Steam Machines is currently underway. The beta version of SteamOS is available for download as well but it's only recommended for advanced users at the moment.