Valve “Frustrated By The Lack Of Innovation In Hardware”

By Alec Meer on September 4th, 2012 at 7:00 pm.

Really from Scotland, really

Valve – and specifically their all-seeing bossguy Gabe Newell – have long been making noises about ‘entering the hardware space’, as tech journalists say, but here’s what we don’t yet know about their plans:

1) Most of it.

A new job ad sheds a little light on their thinking, however, in much the same way as did another one earlier this year. So we think it’s all to do with wearable computing – ‘Terminator vision’ – but now there’s an implication it might even go beyond that: “We’re frustrated by the lack of innovation in the computer hardware space.” Ooh, get them. I’m frustrated by the lack of innovation in the beer that doesn’t give you a hangover space, but you don’t see me doing anything about it. Then again I’m not a company worth billions.

In their posting for an “Industrial Designer” - surely a title right out of Apple’s playbook – they’re looking for someone to “join a world-class group of electrical, mechanical, software engineers and designers who are busily defining new entertainment experiences through both hardware and software. We’re hoping to add your expertise in product design and manufacturing, ergonomics, usability, aesthetics, and surfacing to our team.”

Surfacing?

Here’s the important bit, the bit where a job listing also becomes a bold statement of intent:

“Valve is traditionally a software company. Open platforms like the PC and Mac are important to us, as they enable us and our partners to have a robust and direct relationship with customers. We’re frustrated by the lack of innovation in the computer hardware space though, so we’re jumping in. Even basic input, the keyboard and mouse, haven’t really changed in any meaningful way over the years. There’s a real void in the marketplace, and opportunities to create compelling user experiences are being overlooked.”

As such, their ideal candidate will have “6+ years of professional experience shipping world-class, high-tech hardware products.” So it’s probably not you, unless Jony Ives turns out to be an RPS reader. (I’d be surprised – I don’t think he’s into devices that can a) be modified and b) have things freely installed onto them).

So what can we intuit from this? That the person who wrote the job listing suffers from nasty RSI perhaps. Or, more likely, that Valve feel strongly that the PC’s comparative stagnation as a physical device risks harming both it and Valve’s future. Online functionality and raw performance has blossomed continuially, but the basic PC make-up has not changed meaningfully in decades. The standard argument around these parts is that it doesn’t need to – it got it right first time with keyboard and mouse. But perhaps that is narrow-minded, and would change in the face of something that truly was superior. I, personally, don’t buy that tablets and smartphones are the necessary future of the PC – while touchscreens are well-suited to mobile devices, they do ultimately mean a more crude interface, most especially for gaming. Inventive game designers do wonderful things with touch, but they’ll forever be hampered by the need to be simple.

Question is what Valve are actually referring to here. They’ve had much to say on the concept of wearable computers, but I wonder if this implies they’re also interested in something a little closer to the PC as we know it, updating its mainstays for the 21st century. And that would mean they’re potentially squaring up to Apple, which would make for a hell of a fight and, hopefully, not one that’s based on copying each other.

Oh, speculation. Where does it really get us? Alls I do knows is that there have been shedloads of attempts to update computers’ basic input over the years, at least in a gaming sense – from gesture-based gloves to a vest that simulates being shot to the strangely covetable Microsoft Strategic Commander to assorted aborted camera-based controls to any number of attempted reworkings of the humble keyboard and mouse. The trouble is they’ve all been a bit shit.

That would be a fine way to end this post, but actually it’s not fair. There have been bold experiments, but they’ve been, for one reason, too specialised – and that has scared off both software companies who might support them and any potential customers. A firm of Valve’s size and reputation coming out with something could change things dramatically – but it could also risk being so far apart from what the rest of the gaming/tech industry is doing that no-one else gets on board. Ack, speculation again. It’s because I’m incredibly interested in what a company that has been reliably fascinating might do in a whole new field. And because I do have some RSI myself.

__________________

« | »

, .

128 Comments »

  1. povu says:

    “Even basic input, the keyboard and mouse, haven’t really changed in any meaningful way over the years. ”

    I don’t mind that part, really. They work just fine, and I can’t imagine what would be better, unless you go full on virtual reality.

    Though having some means of doing analogue movement on a keyboard would be nice.

    • rawrty says:

      Well they work just fine for most things, but I guess the idea there might be some innovations specifically for gaming.

      I suppose something like a touch screen keyboard/controller might be cool, with different layouts controlled by the game (think big buttons, small buttons, pretty buttons, ugly buttons) allowing one to use swipe,pinch/pull gestures, analog control with one hand on the touch screen and the mouse on the other, etc.

      Then instead of having to go through a tutorial or scroll through the settings to find out I need to push g to turn on my flashlight, I could instead just press the big button with a picture of a flashlight on it. If I don’t like where it is by default, I could just drag and resize the buttons to get my preferred configuration.

      Something like that might be cool, but realisitic, economical, actually useful, who knows…I’m at least excited to see what they might come up with.

      • Jason Moyer says:

        I honestly can’t think of anything I’d want less for gaming than a touchscreen keyboard. Unless you really, really like looking at your hands while you’re playing a game I don’t see how that could work.

        • rawrty says:

          I guess if the tactile response from feeling the keys is necessary, then I could see why you wouldn’t like it. It’s really hard for me to say without trying it, but I would think you would get adjusted to the layout fairly quickly without the need to constantly be looking at the keyboard. I still like the idea of being able to simply look at they keys to know what they do and being able to resize and drag them around to configurations that aren’t possible on the more traditional, philistine keyboards.

          • LionsPhil says:

            philistine keyboards

            The hell, man. Seriously.

            Some of us have to type for a living. We’d like actual mechanical devices we can touchtype on, with half-decent travel, that won’t destroy every joint south of our elbows within a decade.

            I’m sorry that they’re not flat and brushed-aluminium and sci-fi enough for your delicate aesthetic sensibilities, but some people need tools.

          • Stromko says:

            A visual touch interface works best as a touch-screen, as then you’re still focused visually on the monitor instead of having to switch down and up again. The lack of tactile feedback is the main problem with any touch screen that isn’t positioned directly in front of the user.

            Wider touch-screen monitors, or just affordable low-bezel touch monitors that can be chained together, could obviate the need for a touch screen keyboard. Humans have a pretty good horizontal field of focus, and even peripheral vision can pick out gross detail pretty well, so there would be a lot of space to spare for interface options. The expense would keep this out of the mainstream for quite some time though, and that’s pretty much where we’re at with it right now.

            Windows 8 sounds like it’s trying to push touch screen PC interfaces into the main stream, but the whole walled garden / company-store OS doesn’t appeal to me or most gamers. iPads are already servicing the audience of people who want accessibility instead of options pretty well.

          • Mr. Mister says:

            Why not 3-axial mouse cursor freedom in a 3D desktop?

          • Snargelfargen says:

            Tactile feedback is absolutely necessary for a good workflow, and it’s being lost in the current generation of touchscreen devices. Not even just work applies. Changing tracks on an mp3 player, speed dialing a number, typing in a password… You should be able to do all of these things without having to look at the device in question, or even having to take it out of your pocket if it’s a wireless device. Audio cues aren’t a satisfactory substitution for tactile feedback either, at least not in public spaces like a meetings or public transport.

            Sounds a bit anal, but in the quest for simplifying interfaces, companies like Apple are making the use of their products take up much more time than is strictly necessary.

          • Big Murray says:

            Yeah … you need the tactile feedback. If I’m typing and I make a mistake by hitting the wrong key, I instantly know it and can correct it immediately because I felt that I missed the key. Even if I have my eyes closed, I can correct mistakes.

            That’s just not possible on a touchscreen keyboard right now. Typing on a touchscreen keyboard is slower … it just is. It’s the Gamepad Vs K+M argument all over again.

          • LionsPhil says:

            Indeed, Snargelfargen. Why do people even think there are bumps on F and J, or on the buttons on your car stereo? It’s not for the blind.

          • kanali654 says:

            Yeah, that image made my day. I love those old movies!
            http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL4825DBA198EBE9B9&feature=plcp

          • Jason Moyer says:

            That is really neat. On the other hand, while it’s better than nothing, I can’t imagine using a tablet with that would be any better than something like a membrane keyboard, and those were terrible.

      • Stardog says:

        Except if you’ve used a tablet, you’d know how awful on-screen keyboards and controls are.

        That’s the main reason why tablets won’t kill consoles. People don’t buy peripherals, so they’d have to have a built-in controller like the Xperia Play.

        • rawrty says:

          Depends on the game really, some things I prefer playing on my ipad.

          • Jools says:

            I actually do prefer playing strategy games and anything turn-based on my iPad (although, sadly, there aren’t that many decent offerings), but that’s it. A touchscreen is just no good for reflex games, unless they’re one-button dealies like Tiny Wings or the endless runner-of-the-week. You need some way not only to feel when you’ve pressed a button, but to be sure your fingers are still centered where they’re supposed to be.

            The truth is that there’s probably never going to be One True Gaming Controller. Gamepads have existed for decades and despite being pure gaming devices they’re still a compromise that doesn’t work optimally for all games and all genres. In the PC space, I’d say the most interesting alternate input methods are things like the Razer Nostromo – basically something that allows you to use the mouse in one hand and a gamepad-like device in the other hand. Even those are pretty awkward to use, though.

      • Snargelfargen says:

        Razer actually came up with a netbook that had programmable led keys. It looked like it worked quite well, but of course the specs for the device were ludicrously optimistic, the price would have been insane and the silly thing was plastered in plastic and glowing lights.

        • rawrty says:

          Yeah that is the biggest issue. It might be great for certain games but the fact that gaming is such a niche market when it comes to computer hardware makes most of these kind of ideas implausible.

          It’s that pesky economies of scale notion that usually puts a stop to stuff like this.

        • AmateurScience says:

          There was one released a year or two ago, fully customisable individual mechanical keyboard with individual OLED screens on each key. A thing of beauty it was. Cost 4 grand or something.

        • Stromko says:

          The trouble is that games for specialized interfaces won’t get made until those specialized interfaces become common. Adding new types of hardware to the mix is a huge gamble, just ask the people who ponied up for dedicated PhysX cards. And remember all those games that required that dedicated PhysX card? Me either. Now PhysX is a tie-in with Nvidia, it’s been built in to every one of their cards for years, and it still hasn’t had a ‘killer app’.

          On the other hand, when a company puts out a game that benefits from a novel interface or peripheral, they have a built in audience. That’s how iPhone and iPad games have been such a big deal the last few years. They’re not deep, they’re not cutting-edge in design, but they’re cheap and they’re novel. Crush the Castle wasn’t a phenomenon when it was a free PC flash game, but call it Angry Birds, add good marketing and branding, and it makes hojillions of dollars as a touch app.

      • Joshua Northey says:

        What gaming really needs is a keyboard replacement for the left hand. The mouse more or less works great, but some sort of glove with say 2 buttons at the end of each finger would give you plenty of things to bind to (especially if two of them are alt and ctrl), and be way way more comfortable than WASD for people with adult sized hands.

        No matter how I configure my keyboard most first person games leave my hand feeling like it is going to need surgery by the end of a session, and it would be so much easier if you had a hand shaped device with the 5-10 keys you needed instead of a flat device with 60 keys.

        You could even leave holes in the “glove” so that while wearing it you could still use a keyboard to type in words when necessary, though with headsets becoming more common that isn’t as important.

        • LionsPhil says:

          There have been quite a few attempts at “left hand keyboard” game controllers; for example, the Razer Nostromo.

          I don’t know how well they work in practice, but they haven’t become ubiquitous.

          • jon_hill987 says:

            The Zboard Fang is really good, sadly it has been discontinued and the only similar device, the Cyber Snipa (or something like that) was really badly made and the buttons were about as responsive as… something not very responsive.

          • Snargelfargen says:

            They seem to be moderately successful. I know quite a few mmo players swear by them, and I often see the Nostromo or Logitech’s version for sale in stores and online.

            It’s too bad the zboard is discontinued. The Nostromo (which I have) lacks a fourth row of number keys and the Logitech has a rather unnecessary lcd screen attached along with an inflated price tag.

          • Joshua Northey says:

            Those are ok, but they really still have too many buttons and aren’t very ergonomic, and why replicate an wasd for movement when you could just use a thumbstick?

            I am talking about something you would have on your hand/hold in your hand, instead of a mini keyboard.

        • Snargelfargen says:

          Ahh, so sort of like the left half of a gamepad?

          Crap, this was meant to be a reply to Joshua’s reply above.

        • SirTiggly says:

          I bought a Razer Hydra in the hope of finding a good WASD replacement. It looked perfect for the job – an analogue stick and plenty of buttons in a single hand, leaving the other hand free for a mouse.

          Unfortunately, the ergonomics aren’t as good as any of the mainstream console controllers. And as great as it is to have an analogue stick, it’s not much good when PC games don’t support it – eight-way WASD movement mapped to an analogue stick produces seriously duff results.

          I’ll be on board for any of Valve’s mad input devices if they allow me to ditch the keyboard for gaming. I don’t want the spectre of RSI hovering over my gaming sessions.

        • cunningmunki says:

          I bought a Splitfish FragFX for my PS3, but have ended up using the left hand controller for my PC gaming (the mouse half is too slow on the PS3) with my usual PC mouse. It took a little bit of getting used to, and you still get a sore hand after a while, but I now play all my Valve FPS, and all my other PC games, on a big TV screen from the comfort of my sofa.

          Baffles me why no peripheral manufacturer has come up with something similar just for PC as I’m sure I’m not the only one who prefers to play FPS games on my TV, and the FragFX is way too expensive.

          Shame there’s no decent 10 foot UI for PC gamers (yet!).

      • gunny1993 says:

        It exists and is around 2000 dollars http://www.artlebedev.com/everything/optimus/

      • Victuz says:

        To touch screens related to anything I say “ugh”. My 2 phones have touch screens and I’m honestly considering buying an old Nokia that has an actual keyboard. I could time a 180 symbol message on that in under a minute. On a touch screen I keep tapping the wrong button, or it doesn’t detect the tap, or all kind of other things happen.
        No the only thing that might be nice with a touch screen attached to it is a table. And that’s only because playing board games would turn awesome.

        On a different note as a person that moves in a 3d environment a lot (making 3d objects and animations) I would kill for something that’s better than a keyboard in that term. Mouse is good enough for clicking things on a 2d plane very precisely so it can stay, but if there is a piece of hardware that allows me to quickly move around a 3d space while still having access to hotkeys, macros and probably some numerical keys to change values I’d be all over that in minutes.

      • tehfish says:

        Ew, i’m not a big fan of touchscreen gaming at all…

        Whilst they do make sense for some things (most notably smartphones due to the screen taking all the space). IMHO they are not better than hardware/tactile controls for any other situation.

        Best thing i ever brought for my PC was a Razer naga mouse, a bank of an extra remappable 12 hardware buttons underneath your thumb improves nearly any game.
        I feel a touchscreen implementation of the same concept would be unworkable due to the total lack of tactile feedback…

    • Shivoa says:

      The analogue on keyboards thing comes up from time to time but I can two two major issues:
      1/ I like RDFG to give my pinky more options and I’ve heard of an ESDF movement as well as arrow guys and numpad guys so it seems like you’d want a keyboard to hook a lot of the keys up to linear detectors to return that data to the computer so it isn’t as cheap as making 4 keys detect their position in the depression and report more than a 0/1 value back.
      2/ A lot of people really like the click of a depression to tell them they’ve hit a key and it has engaged while pure-gaming keyboard don’t have that click and are very much a niche product and not recommended for people who both game and type a lot of words on their keyboard. It would seem like keys that give a linear scale to being pressed would be ideal for the gamer keyboard set where the depression of the key is roughly linear with pressure added but useless for keys that resist pressure and ‘give’ after a certain point with a click that most keyboard users demand.

      Price issues mean no one has such a keyboard and so even if released who would support it? (and using my thumb stick to give a direction to the degree plus a magnitude seems a lot easier than depressing two of 4 keys by the right amount to indicate an analogue direction and magnitude – it’s just not an ideal fit for movement and we make do with a great mouse to tweak our direction and a rather basic 8-way digital movement control on PC if we don’t use a controller).

      The second issue means you’d have to see people have extra keyboards or give up a good typing surface and at that point are those Nostromo style devices evolving in that direction (I’m not actually sure if they have analogue sensitivity for arrow keys or left thumbstick but it would seem like a half a controller with some buttons and maybe a table suction cup would be the best idea for replacing the keyboard as a gaming input for this stuff)?

    • Hoaxfish says:

      Arguably the biggest point is that not only do they work, they work for business… one of the big other PC usages (along with watching keyboard cat on youtubes) .

      Things like voice-control fall down in noisy workplace environments, augmented reality brings health and safety issues (like tripping over actual objects obscured by “virtual” objects… or just straight up blind you to reality with full-blown stuff like the Occulus), Kinect can misinterpret gesture, be laggy, and just painful for extended arm waving 9 to 5.

      While every PC is bundled with a (cheap) mouse and keyboard, any developer relying on “exotic” speciality peripherals risks their income because of a smaller market.

      Even console games like Guitar Hero are basically forced to bundle the peripheral with the game in order to sell.

    • iucounu says:

      Well, how about eye tracking? A user-facing camera which could tell which part of the screen you were looking at and hide or show the HUD. Want to see your ammo count? Flick your eyes to the bottom right. Want to see the minimap? Top corner. That sort of thing.

      It feels like they’re recruiting a team to explore new kinds of interface, rather than putting something they’ve already worked out into production. I’m glad someone is thinking about this kind of thing other than the big hardware companies.

      • Hoaxfish says:

        A possible reversal of the whole “accessibility” thing from yesterday

        Eye-tracking, brain-scanning, etc has its development primarily for disabled users. Tapping into that development, and bringing it into main-stream usage could benefit everyone in the same way Kinect brought down the cost of developing motion-control experimentation.

      • pyroneil says:

        This actually already works, if you want to see your health, you look in the lower left, you know… where the health bar is. This kind of thing sounds really helpful, but it’s hard to find a solid use for it.

        • iucounu says:

          What I’m saying is those HUD elements wouldn’t appear on the screen unless you specifically looked at the corner…? Just an idea.

    • DJ Madeira says:

      The main difficulty with PC input is that it’s binary; either on or off. so other than the mouse, it’s a somewhat limited way to interact. As much as I love computers, I’d love to see new ways to input to them.

      • Hoaxfish says:

        Not entirely true… styluses (stylii?) for graphics tablets (and some straight up tablets) usually have pressure-sensitivity (as a value between 0, soft, and 255, hard) as a way of translating the effect of pushing down softly or hard with a pencil/brush/etc.

        Not sure the worth of that in terms of shooting in an FPS or something, since a trigger is only really “pulled” when you pull it enough to shoot.

        • LionsPhil says:

          FWIW, that’s a pretty pathetic range for pressure sensitivity: even a cheap digitizer like on my Bamboo will easily be into the thousands. (It can also lob over a hundred updates a second down USB1. Technical bus limts need not enter into this, because we’ve already blown way past them.)

      • Stromko says:

        Then again we have over a hundred keys and buttons to commit to functions, and the modern mouse has three analog axis in one hand (moving the mouse vertically, horizontal, and scroll wheel). Though I suppose if you take something like a 360 pad, it’s giving the same thing (thumbstick vertical, horizontal, and analog trigger).

        PC gaming has a pretty odd interface if you think about it. With our dominant hand we have (usually) three buttons plus analog controls, and our off-hand has several dozen buttons of different sizes and types within reach. It wasn’t certain it would end up like this, a lot of older games put the lion’s share of control on either the keyboard or mouse, but now an overwhelming majority of games require constant tandem control.

        As hardcore gamers we don’t really get the big deal, but obviously a lot of the hubbub about new interfaces, be they touch or motion or whatever, is because more ‘natural’ motions are easier for non-gamers to adapt to. They get that when you pull on the slingshot, the bird goes back, and when you let go, it shoots off.

        I’m afraid that new interfaces aren’t going to be for those of us who already game. They’re not going to be about greater immersion and control, they’re going to be about accessibility and intuitiveness.

      • grundus says:

        Sorry, but no. ‘Binary’ does mean something is either on or off, yes, and all computers work on binary, you’re right, but it’s possible to combine several binary digits together to make a longer binary ‘word’ which can have any number of states; an 8-bit word (aka a single byte) can represent 0-255 using eight binary digits. That’s why 32 bit processors can only address a certain amount of memory, and also why 64 bit processors’ limits aren’t just twice what 32 bit processors can address. It’s also why some people pay for higher-bit ADCs for their sim racing pedals; the extra resolution (for example, 4096 ‘steps’ over the mere 1024 they would have if they plugged the pedals into the wheel) is worth money to some people, apparently.

        This is basically how it works:

        00000001 = 1
        00000010 = 2
        00000100 = 4
        00001000 = 8
        00010000 = 16
        00100000 = 32
        01000000 = 64
        10000000 = 128

        Therefore:

        00000011 = 1 + 2 = 3
        00000101 = 1 + 4 = 5
        00000111 = 1 + 2 + 4 = 7
        11111111 = 1 + 2 + 4 + 8 + 16 + 32 + 64 + 128 = 255.

        So if you had a pressure sensitive device hooked up to, say, a 4-bit ADC (a chip that converts an analogue voltage into a string of binary) you could have 15 states, and while it’s still binary it can be fully on, fully off or one of 13 places in between.

        Of course I’m not suggesting keyboards should work on this principle, it would be bloody impossible given how your typical keyboard matrix works. I’M JUST SAYING.

    • D3xter says:

      But that isn’t really true is it, there’s the washable Keyboard!: http://www.logitech.com/en-gb/keyboards/keyboards/washable-keyboard-K310 or Touch/Wireless Solar Keyboards
      And let’s not forget Macro Keyboards with LCDs: http://www.logitech.com/en-gb/keyboards/keyboards/4956

  2. jiaco says:

    The “Steamsole” perhaps?

  3. elevown says:

    Heres the BBC new article on this story-

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-19475312

    Can you believe they even covered the upcoming release of the black mesa mod the other day?

  4. WMain00 says:

    “Computer?”

    “Computer?”

    “…Just use the keyboard.”

    “Keyboard? How quaint…”

    *taps furiously*

  5. DaftPunk says:

    Who gives a crap,just give me new HALF LIFE gameee!!

    • Hoaxfish says:

      you’ve clearly misunderstood

      They’ve already made Half Life 3-6, but the games are vibrating at a higher frequency of existence. In order the play them, we need gaming equipment that taps into the very harmonics of reality itself… also some way to overcome the Valve-time expansion wave.

    • ShatteredAwe says:

      YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE NEXT HALF LIFE GAME.

  6. Muzman says:

    Interesting.
    I’m not sure why hiring an Industrial Designer would have anything to do with Apple. They’re famous for their stylings, sure. But any piece of consumer hardware has been designed.
    I’m sure I’m missing the point somehow.
    Looking for surfacing knowledge suggests they’re getting crafty and perhaps experimental with materials. Probably end up with someone from the car industry.

    • Dances to Podcasts says:

      It sounds like he’s trying to be funny, but didn’t quite pull it off. Now it just looks like he doesn’t know what an industrial designer is or does, which would make him really unqualified to speculate on things like this…

  7. DOLBYdigital says:

    Hmm I get some positive and negative impressions from this but overall I think its always good to try different things out from time to time. I’m interested in what they have up their sleeve :)

    Positives:
    - I love Valve and think they are really good at bringing common sense ideas to reality, ones that often profit-grubbing shareholders wouldn’t do

    - I am all about new ways to game and new experiences with gaming.

    - Would love to see better handling of movement with PC games, I love the mouse/kb for shooting but really like the analog stick for movement of a character through space/time.

    ————————
    Negatives:
    - One of my biggest gripes with the current gaming landscape is the segregation of gamers. I hate that gamers are forced into silos when choosing platforms or hardware. I hate that we can’t play all games due to idiotic exclusive deals. I understand why but think its a practice that obviously favors profits and not the consumer. So hopefully whatever Valve creates doesn’t segregate PC gamers, like if they come up with a new mouse or something… I hope whatever they create doesn’t cause unintended boundaries with gaming and gaming communities

    - I kinda like the idea that we can play games from over 20 years ago with the same input devices. So while I don’t mind change, I would want it to be something that could possibly work with the old ways as well.

  8. LionsPhil says:

    Timing, given what Gnoupi just spotted in the adjacent article.

  9. michaelkelleherthename says:

    Yup. RSI gotta go!

  10. rustybroomhandle says:

    I linked this over on me bloggy thing, but worth re-mentioning here.

    http://www.faqs.org/patents/app/20110105231#b

    It’s a patent Valve holds for a controller with interchangeable parts.

  11. Ragabhava says:

    the keyboard or the mouse is a concept: like the wheel, the jug, the window; they havent changed since millenia; just their implementation.

  12. AmateurScience says:

    Keyboard and mouse might be a bit staid, but it does have the advantage of being ubiquitous. Any piece of software that *requires* a peripheral is automatically niche and immediately limits your potential market to the those who have or intend to purchase that peripheral. That’s just not good business.

    Edit: just a thought, but is the delay in HL3 down to valve deciding that to truly deliver something innovative and game changing that they need a new way to interact with the game?

  13. Vagrant says:

    There’s been actually a fair bit of innovation the past few years. Many have failed for various reasons, a handful have been relegated to very niche markets. Generally speaking, successful controller innovations evolve to meet needs of games. many of those failed projects required games to meet the needs of the interface:

    Novint Falcon
    Razor Hydra (and it’s Nintendo inspiration)
    Microsoft Kinect
    TrackIR
    Lots of glove things
    G13 / Nostromo (used to be a big fan)
    Occulus Rift
    iPhone
    At a stretch, PhysX fits this.

    I’m a big fan of innovation attempts at user interaction, but what currently works, works for a good reason. It’s a risky venture.

    • Snargelfargen says:

      “Generally speaking, successful controller innovations evolve to meet needs of games. many of those failed projects required games to meet the needs of the interface”

      That’s a very good point, the Steel Battalion Controller is the perfect example of an amazing innovation that simply didn’t have enough game supporting it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steel_Battalion

      A lot of these controller innovations also tend to price and market themselves into only serving a niche group of gamers. Razer is particularly bad at this, I wish they would put some effort into making their concepts less gaudy and somewhat cheaper. The Hydra is a great example of converting a proven, accessible product and losing the majority of people who might be interested in the process.

      • Vagrant says:

        Kinect turned out dissapointing in it’s lack of detail, but I think it’s the best concept. Being able to read fingers is they key here (and accurately read motions, which is a difficult software-side issue to solve). The increased fidelity of games could benefit from the increased interactivity. Motion controls like the razor or Wii can only paint broad strokes of player motion.

        PS: After a LOT of fiddling with drivers & adapters, the Steel Battalion controller makes for a fun IL2 controller. Needs a centering spring to really work, though.

      • Vandelay says:

        So true. As much as I am pleased with my purchase of a Hydra, I can certainly see why others would be turned off by the price tag that has hardly budged since release.

        New controlling devices, particular something that opens up new methods of control and not just refining an old style, also suffer from lack of support, which ends up creating a catch 22. People are not going to buy a product unless there are plenty of games that take full advantage of the controls. Likewise, developers are not going to make games tailored to a device, unless people actually buy it.

        Edit: In response to Vagrant, although I think you are probably right that the Kinect does have some of the most interesting potential for new types of games, I do not see it working well with the style of games we on RPS are (currently) particularly interested in. Trying to create an FPS, strategy game or anything that requires vaguely precise controls with the Kinect is nearly impossible and the odd attempt I have seen have come off worse then using a game pad. More standard controllers with motion control, such as the Hydra, Wii mote or (I presume, not used one) PS Move, allows for the types of games we currently play, but with an added layer of control. The (short) Portal 2 Hydra DLC gives a good example of the potential for such a device, allowing you to do quite a bit that would be possible, but awkward on Keyboard and mouse.

    • alundra says:

      “Razor Hydra (and it’s Nintendo inspiration)”

      Isn’t the other way around??? AFAIK The hydra came after the first gen wiimote

  14. MythArcana says:

    I’ve been frustrated with their lack of software innovation, guidance of developers toward the mundane, and ridiculous cartoon trends in every game over the past 2 years. You have tower defense, 8 bit adventures, emo puzzle games, arcade titles and that’s about it. Where’s the depth, Valve? My computer can handle whatever you throw at it tenfold.

    • EPICTHEFAIL says:

      Finally someone else who sees the absurdity of it all. “Hey guys, technology has advanced so far!” “Cool! Let`s make a game that would look outdated in 1989!”. You don`t have to be a rabid gfx-phobe in order to make good games, devs.

      On the other hand, I may just have been sarcasm-baited, thus confirming my theory that 90% of RPS are strangely conformist hipsters.

      • Steven Hutton says:

        I mean, yeah, I’d like some great looking but also innovative and well made games too. It’s not like you can just choose to make a game like that though.

        Older technologies are easier and cheaper to work with and that means you can actually try something new and experiment a bit. If you want to go for top of the line technology you need someone to bank-roll the probably tens of millions it’ll cost to develop your game. And they’re going to want guarantees of return on investment. And they’re going to want them in the form of pie-charts and numbers and graphs. Which means they’re going to want evidence of similar ideas that have done well. Which is why Medal of Honour WAR-CHOPS! is a thing.

        The structure of the industry is such that that actually yeah, you do have to deliberately avoid top flight graphics to make a good game.

        Course there’s also Bioshock giving the lie to that idea by being both amazing and really technologically impressive.

  15. dontnormally says:

    wrong comment

  16. postrook says:

    I wish Alec Meer was a company worth billions.

  17. Geen says:

    I love you Valve.

  18. SkittleDiddler says:

    I hate these types of articles — they only reinforce the fact that Valve are playing the press by leaking uselessly speculative tidbits, thus perpetuating the never-ending media circle jerk that seems to be Valve’s only form of marketing these days. That’s not a job posting, it’s a fucking advertisement.

    Come on, RPS, ignore the hype and give us something with a little substance. You guys should know better than to fall prey to something so transparently manipulative.

    • mondomau says:

      Do you need a hug?

    • Vandelay says:

      Yes, because why else would you leak a job advert…

      • SkittleDiddler says:

        Way to miss the point. That “job advert” isn’t simply an ad for a job, it’s blatant copy for another one of Valve’s speculative to-be-released-sometime-in-the-unforseeable-future creations.

        It’s just one of the many marketing ploys they’re using to get more unwarranted media adoration for some project no one outside of Valve knows anything about.

    • OMMad says:

      How is it not newsworthy? Valve is a software company that wants to make hardware now. That’s pretty big news. I’m pretty sure if it were Blizzard your minds would be blown… I guess the fact that this kind of announcement is met with indifferent shrugs is a testament to Valve’s history of innovation.

      • SkittleDiddler says:

        It’s not newsworthy because it’s utterly devoid of substantive information, something that Valve excels at. At least if Blizzard were announcing something, they’d be a little more forthcoming with the bare minimum of details. Besides, we’ve seen this story a hundred times before on a hundred different sites, and it’s always the same old bullshit press release filler.

  19. Ardyvee says:

    Eve would be a game that could be played with a touchscreen. If you enlarge the icons/context menu and figure a way for right-clicking(or left, depending on your mouse configuration). You can play it by just looking at windows and barely ever seeing the 3D space.

    Hell, touchscreen could be a nice addition to handling menus in general. See something like a ds: you have menus on your touchscreen. You have the inventory there. you have skills and stats. You just go and use the touch interface to deal with those 2D interactive elements. Then you have your main not-touchscreen display where you see the 3d world. And your method of input would be the kb+mouse or gamepad. Sure, it’s two screens, but it would work very well.

    Now, more methods of input are ok. The main problem with them is that unless they are a kb+m or gamepad, most people don’t have it. Maybe the wheel, for those who like racing games. And if they are not everywhere, you need to support gamepad/kb+m. Because everybody has those. Or some form of it anyway.

    • Vandelay says:

      Edit: Coincidently, a touch screen mishap made me post a comment in the middle of typing it! Actual comment below.

    • Vandelay says:

      This is one of the reasons I am very interested in the Wii U. The potential that the additional large-ish screen on the controller offers could be pretty big. Some of the footage of ZombiU is a good example of this. The possibility of some asynchronous multiplayer, particular as they have back tracked on allowing just one of the new controllers at a time, could be huge too, although there hasn’t been anything of note shown yet, as far as I can see.

      The fact that I have had the most in ages fun playing Super Mario Galaxy and Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess on Dolphin makes me even more interested in the Wii U.

  20. Therion_I says:

    Valve, please get behind the Occulus Rift.

  21. SwedishChef says:

    Has anyone here ever used a spaceball? They are great for CAD workstations but really expensive for the home user right now. I would love to have a version that had a bunch of keys also as it would be great for replacing the keyboard. Replacing the mouse will be a lot tougher though.

  22. cptgone says:

    Gabe invented a valve that can be fitted in the back of one’s head.
    trepanation for the masses!

  23. Tayh says:

    Oh god, I can see it now…
    “HWSteam cannot connect to servers to verify your account, your peripherals have been disabled until a such connection can be established.”

    “HWSteam is updating, your graphics card will be unavailable until this update has been completed.”

    “HWSteam cannot connect to servers in order to enable offline mode. Certain services might be unavailable until a connection has been established. Services affected include: Harddrive, RAM and DVD drive.”

  24. vandinz says:

    “Even basic input, the keyboard and mouse, haven’t really changed in any meaningful way over the years. ”

    Um, yes they have. The Logitech G15 and 19 were a step up, as were Z Boards. The problem is, nobody really wants to spend the money on gimmicks. A keyboard is a keyboard, s’long as you can type and move your characters, most people are happy with £10 devices. As for mice, what else could you do with it? The speed, feel and number of buttons have all increased over years but if you change it too much, people won’t want it.

    I love Valve but I just think they talk crap sometimes.

  25. aliksy says:

    I, uh, don’t want to spend a bunch of money on new peripherals. If you make a game that I can’t just download and play, I probably won’t buy it.

  26. HilariousCow says:

    In my experience, (bad) designers tend toward designing games despite the interfaces they’re given, not as an expression of those interfaces. well… that or they’re forced to work multiplatform and kinda pretend like a joypad is interchangeable with a mouse is interchangeable with a touch screen.

    Every interface has its strengths and weaknesses. Touch screens mean you can’t see what you touch (and happen to be somewhat laggy- but that can be mitigated in time). Meanwhile mice are ultra accurate, but my mum can’t make a connection between her hand movement and a remote cursor movement.

    Good designers adapt to those strengths and weaknesses. But the sucker punch is, it takes a LOT of experimentation, trial and error to discern those benefits and drawbacks. And, very strictly speaking, gameplay for one interface does not automagically map onto another, no matter how hard you want to believe it. It’s a partially overlapping venn diagram at best.

    One last thing: They say a bad workman blames his tools. Get whoever said that to make a game on Kinect.

  27. somnolentsurfer says:

    I thought Valve didn’t have job descriptions? Surely once they’ve hired this person, they’ll just wheel their desk straight into the hats department?

    • mrwonko says:

      Exactly. The job listing on coroflot mentions it:

      *What is a Principal? Well, aside from the one who presided over our primary school with an iron fist (we’re sorry for the firecrackers Mr. Duncan) we don’t really know. But it doesn’t matter, because we don’t have any “Principals” on staff – and despite the job title at the top of this description, we actually never will. At Valve, nobody has an official job title. Instead there’s just you, your peers, and your customers. We hire talented, experienced people who can manage themselves and contribute at a strategic level. We post jobs on the internet with titles and descriptions as guidelines to help people understand whether they’d likely be a fit for Valve, but it’s important to know that once you’re here we’re going to throw all that away and let you tell us what your actual job should be. For more on how all this works, see Valve’s Handbook for New Employees.

  28. kickme22 says:

    Is it bad that I recognize that scene? It’s the part where Scotty shows them how to make super strong plexiglass and then orders a ton of it

  29. ukpanik says:

    Good old Alec..always last with the “news”. Bless him.

  30. Radiant says:

    A MOUSEPAD SIZED TOUCHSCREEN.

    PLEASE GOD.
    ALLAH
    JESUS
    BUDDAH
    RAMA
    SITA
    RAKIM
    AMEN RAH
    ANYONE PLEASE!

    • Radiant says:

      I am well aware about the problems with lag for touch input devices [as a maker of fine iphone and web amusements].

      I am also aware that touch screen devices reduces the ability to construct and produce by an order of magnitude.

      Turning the user from [the PC default position of] a creator into a consumer.

      I don’t care. Keep the keyboard, I just want an additional and reliable second screen that’s responsive to input you pinko commie bastards.

    • ShatteredAwe says:

      You forgot Bishamoten. Now Bishamoten is upset. When Bishamoten is angry, African Babies die.

    • Malibu Stacey says:

      Horace is not amused.

  31. Cam says:

    Talking about new interfaces for gaming will be a waste of time until we have functional, accurate, and safe mind-control devices for computers. Until then, even if we have all sorts of “touch” and virtual interfaces, we’ll still be limited by our physical form.

  32. Silvermarch says:

    Valve, fix all your issues with your software first then come back and talk to me.

  33. soldant says:

    There’s a good reason controllers haven’t changed significantly.

    It’s because the alternatives are universally crap compared to the venerable KB+M or gamepad/joystick. We’re not controlling cars and fighter jets or drones with Wiimotes! Why is there such an insistence to replace things that work fine with things that don’t?

    Plus I don’t want to hook up a bunch of other peripherals just to play Half Life 3 in 8 years’ time. My PC has enough crap hooked up to it, I don’t want to wear an ECG monitor so Valve can play closet monsters every so often.

  34. MiKHEILL says:

    “I’d be surprised – I don’t think he’s into devices that can a) be modified and b) have things freely installed onto them”

    Those are software concerns, something that Jony has absolutely nothing to do with..

  35. TechnicalBen says:

    I’m going to complain that hammers have not changed for thousands of years. Lack of development is holding back the industry…

    OH wait…

  36. U-99 says:

    They better be making some games. You know, games. Not just reworks of almost decade old ideas like Portal 2 or DOTA, or CS.

  37. airmikee says:

    Am I the only one that doesn’t give a rats ass about wearable computers or computers that can be talked to?

    Are we so addicted to the internet we can’t go without having a computer with us 24/7, and are we so lazy we can no longer type or move a mouse to interact with a computer?

  38. Wisq says:

    It’s true that the keyboard hasn’t changed, but Apple has been doing some impressive stuff with multitouch touchpads and turning that into intuitive controls. Resizing with a pinch, rotating with a two-finger twist, not to mention their clickable touchpads that give you a real tactile feel to your clicks. (i absolutely detest the old PC “tap to click” standard.)

    There’s also the fact that a lot of gamers are using gamepads on their PCs. Whether you agree with this or not, it’s certainly an evolution of PC gaming.

    The keyboard hasn’t changed because … Well, because it’s the keyboard. It does the job just fine. It’s not always the most suitable controller for a game, but it’s the only truly ubiquitous controller you’ve got. (Can’t rely on a mouse, only on a pointing device of some sort.)

    For that matter, you can pretty much level these complaints at the consoles as well, except even more so. The last innovation was pressure sensitive buttons. Triggers and analog sticks before that. And that’s about it, really. Not to say that complaints about PC stagnation are invalid because consoles are worse, but it’s worth keeping in mind.

Comment on this story

XHTML: Allowed code: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>