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Valve's final announcement is a bit of a letdown and yet slightly exciting. While many of us were hoping for Source 2 + a game announcement – something to accompany the launch of the Steam Machines in 2014 – Valve instead rolled out the announcement for their controller, something that looks like it escaped a futuristic Steven Spielberg film.
Announced on the official Steam Powered website, the Steam controller is a different kind of beast, a new kind of terror for the playground and a very interesting concept of interactivity and play control.
We mentioned before that Valve was experimenting with biometric feedback and haptic sync technology... well, the Steam controller contains haptic sensors, but we'll get to that later.
The traditional analogs have been replaced with trackpads (thankfully), meaning that you now get ALL the precision from mouse reactions but within the confinements of a controller. This is the controller that will kill the mouse in competitive online gaming.
I've long since switched from traditional mouses to trackpads for better precision in shooting games, and Valve seems to have had that kind of precision in mind with their Steam controller, given that you no longer have to make room on your desktop for a clunky mouse and you no longer need to find a convenient place for your trackpad next to your keyboard to get optimal ergonomic control. Instead, you have all the comfort from a traditional gamepad, complete with triggers and face buttons, but all the precision, pinpoint accuracy and maneuverability from a mouse. Check it out in the image below.
But that's not all. The controller isn't just designed to replace our beloved Xbox 360 gamepads or the highly anticipated DualShock 4. This thing will replace the traditional keyboard and mouse because it works with EVERY game, past, present and those yet to be made.
For games without controller support the Steam controller works in emulation mode, taking on the key configurations of a keyboard and mouse simultaneously. This means for older games like Omikron or X-Com: Terror from the Deep, StarCraft or Big Red Racing, you can still get all the enjoyment out of these titles without having to use your keyboard or mouse. The controller can even be customized to your liking, as you can see in the configuration below where the Steam controller is actually configured to work for Portal 2 as a keyboard and mouse and not as a traditional gamepad. Check it out.
But that's not all. As mentioned earlier, the controller has haptic response technology in place of traditional rumble pads, along with touchscreen support – so technically if there ever was a Wii U emulator this would be the only controller that could effectively emulate some of the Wii U's capabilities. The touchscreen can work as multiple buttons or a single button and can be used for swiping or button presses, opening up a wide range of new possibilities.
In addition to this, the haptic sensors enable for different variations and responses in rumble feedback beyond the standard rumble motors found in other devices. Instead, the haptic technology – claimed not to be found in any other device out there – allows Valve and developers a wide range of control over the way the controller behaves. This means that this could provide interesting force-feedback in racing games to make it feel more stiff or rigid like a steering wheel; or provide slight fluctuations of rumble in parts of the controller to simulate rudder controls on a plane. The possibilities are steep.
The buttons may look oddly placed but take into consideration that the face buttons are designed so your thumbs will rarely have to leave the trackpads for long, opposite of the DualShock or 360's face buttons where you kind of have to “leave home” to press them, especially the Xbox 360's digital pad. The Steam controller also contains triggers, so for those of you still hungry for your spring-operated triggers for shooting and iron-sighting... they're still there.
The controllers are part of the Steam Machine beta. So if you already signed up you're good. If you don't get into the beta, don't worry, the Steam controller will be launching later this year for consumers. .. and no, you don't need a Steam Machine to use the controller. The Steam controller works with any system and will come in wired and wireless forms.
You can learn more over on the official Steam Powered website.