Indies On SteamOS, Pt 2: Linux, The Controller

By Nathan Grayson on October 3rd, 2013 at 9:00 pm.

Valve? Making its own OS for living rooms? Madness. Pure, coldly calculated and entirely premeditated madness. But SteamOS’ success is far from guaranteed, and it’s got some serious hurdles to overcome before it can establish a New World Order. Last time around, I gathered developers of games like Project Eternity, Gone Home, Mark of the Ninja, The Banner Saga, and Race The Sun to discuss who SteamOS/Steam Boxes are even for and the relative “openness” of Valve’s platform in light of, er, Greenlight. Today, we dig even deeper, into the strange, nebulous guts of Linux and what sorts of challenges and opportunities Valve’s crazy, newfangled controller presents. There are even some hands-on impressions from Dejobaan and Paradox. Read on for THE FUTURE.

Bro, Do You Even Linux?

Linux is a very hairy thing. Not in the sense that it is physically covered in lush, curly fur forests (I’m pretty sure it’s not), but rather insofar as it’s a difficult thing to properly wrangle. For many, the resulting malleability is part of the appeal. With a bit more than a bit of know-how, you can bend its operational prowess to your will, and Valve’s betting on that flexibility for very big things. But still, it’s Linux. Even with a custom version that – on the front-end – will in all likelihood be quick, game-centric, and user-friendly, this OS won’t suddenly solve all of gaming’s problems overnight – let alone its own. Valve has already (kind of) started to make a push toward Linux on PC, but there are still many challenges to overcome.

If Valve is committed to making this viable for devs, they will devote resources to make sure devs can port games to Linux.

The first issue? Consistency. Linux is a multi-headed hydra of a beast with all its distros, and that’s added a hurdle to the development process for years. That, hopefully, is where SteamOS will come in. As with Valve’s own Steam Box and hardware configurations, developers are hoping that the operating system will provide a relatively stable target to shoot for.

“I love Linux, but I also spent way too many hours last weekend getting MAME to run on my recently acquired Raspberry Pi,” admitted former Mark of the Ninja lead and current Campo Santo co-founder Nels Anderson. “Even though I installed a pretty stock Debian distro customized for the Pi and the Pi itself is uniform hardware, things that were supposed to be just work, well, didn’t. From both a developer and player standpoint, having a target distro will hopefully make things easier when it comes to wrangling all the myriad things that could go wrong getting software running all the possible combinations of hardware out there.”

The Banner Saga’s John Watson shared a similar sentiment, further adding that SteamOS’ built-in ability to stream games from Windows could render a lot of potential compatibility issues moot, even as the OS takes its almost-sure-to-be-awkward first steps.

“If you want to talk about Linux porting specifically, one of the major problems is the huge variety of hardware upon which it runs, and the somewhat spotty driver coverage for said hardware,” he said. “Steam Box helps with a standard hardware spec, drivers, and OS configuration that have been tested, verified, and certified by Valve. If Valve is really committed to making this a viable native platform for developers, they will devote resources to make sure developers can port their games to Linux. For instance, ensuring that ‘CrossOver’ technology from CodeWeavers works well with Steam games. Or reaching out to Adobe to get Linux support on the priority list for Adobe AIR.  The Banner Saga will be on Linux, so we are certainly happy to be on the Steam Box as well.”

“If you want to talk about stream-from-Windows, then the choice of Linux as the Steam Box OS is almost completely irrelevant: an implementation detail. If I were going to make a standalone device that only needs to run my custom software, then Linux would probably be a top choice. I’m sure their reasons are similar to Sony’s when they chose a Unix-like for the PS3 OS, and Google choosing a Linux variant for the Android OS. I do hope that they make the streaming work from Mac OSX as well as Windows.”

Indie developers, especially, are well-equipped to join The Linux Revolution thanks to the mighty, bourgeoisie-smashing equalizer known as Unity. It’s natively cross-platform, so problem solved, in many cases. Or at least, that’s the hope. Race The Sun’s Aaron San Filippo explained:

“Luckily, we use the Unity game engine, so Linux support is about as easy as it gets. We’ve had some distro-specific support issues, but we’re hopeful that with the weight of Steam behind this OS combined with Unity’s track record of making things ‘just work’, we shouldn’t have any trouble at all getting our game working well with the OS.”

But Eldritch co-creator David Pittman doesn’t think this should just be about how Valve and game developers stand to benefit from Linux’s various strengths. Yes, SteamOS will probably line up a few Linux configurations so devs can knock them down nice and easy, but this doesn’t have to be a one-way street.

“For developers who are already using a cross-platform engine like Unity, supporting SteamOS should be no problem,” he reiterated. “But for developers like myself who write our own technology, Linux has historically been an unappealing platform to support because of its small market share and troublesome number of distributions. I am optimistic that SteamOS will help Linux penetrate the mainstream, but I also hope that it will improve the state of Linux development across the board, and not just see developers targeting a strict subset of Linux configurations for SteamOS compatibility.”

In an ideal world, everybody wins. But then, I am not sure if ours has ever been an ideal world. We shall see.

Controlled Chaos

Valve has created its own videogame controller. It looks like someone put a boombox and some burnt-to-a-crisp pancakes in the Hadron Supercollider, but it is none of those things. Instead, Valve claims it packs all the functionality of a mouse-and-keyboard setup into the living-room-friendly form factor of a gamepad. Also, they say it still feels all tangible, reactive, and not like a ghost thanks to sophisticated haptic feedback tech. And there’s a touchscreen! It is Frankenstein’s controller, but maybe, just maybe, man is the greatest monster of all Valve is onto something here.

Gone Home’s Steve Gaynor, however, is skeptical of a few details – mainly, the buttons. Because, well, I mean, look at them.

I was able to grab the controller and exceed my ability to aim with a gamepad in five minutes.

“The placement of the face buttons strikes me as really strange,” he said. “As a developer, it’s useful to know that the face buttons and the right stick are mutually exclusive (i.e. you can always be moving with left stick even while doing face button inputs, but have to stop looking with right stick to press a face button). On Valve’s controller it seems like two of the face buttons require you to take your thumb off of left stick, and two require you to take your thumb off of right stick? Which, maybe that’s fine in practice, but it seems like the lack of parity with the PS4/Xbox controller will make it more annoying to create consistent cross-platform binds between the two devices. This is all theoretical though. Maybe every console game on the market binds perfectly well to the Steam controller. But it strikes me as a fairly odd choice off the bat.”

But perhaps those potential pratfalls aren’t worth getting your fingers in knots over after all. AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! and Drunken Robot Pornography dev Ichiro Lambe actually got to go hands-on with the controller, and he came away exceedingly optimistic.

“It’s different from what either [console gamers or PC gamers] are used to,” he explained. “It’ll be interesting to see what console FPS players think of it. I was able to grab the controller and exceed my ability to aim with a gamepad within about 5 minutes. Will the controller allow those console FPS players to exceed their gamepad FPS skills?”

Lambe’s first impressions were strong, but questions of long-term viability loom on the horizon. There, he saw promise, but first there’s a whole, whole, whole lot of work to be done.

“The one thing I’m curious about is what happens at the edge of the trackpads,” he pondered. “On a gamepad, an analog stick will resist your thumb when you’ve pushed it fully in a particular direction. With the Steam Controller, your thumb gets a different type of feedback (ridges and and haptic response). Over time, will your thumbs learn that that’s a boundary, or will they forever careen off into the sunset, never to be heard from again?”

“It’s all new stuff, so I think the biggest chunk of work will be refinement and experimentation. For instance, our FPS, Drunken Robot Pornography, includes a great deal of vertical movement. Should the game give you touch feedback when you’ve landed on a platform, so you know you’re on firm ground? How about using haptics to tell you when you’re about to slip off of a ledge? Valve’s always made it easy for our games to talk to their software, so I think the bulk of time we spend will be in designing for the controller (‘What cool shit can we do?’) rather than technical implementation (‘What’s the API call to query the device to see if it’s on fire?’).”

Overall, though, he was confident that the controller has plenty of room to grow into multiple genres – and perhaps even thrive in them. While there’s certainly danger that such an all-encompassing controller could end up a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none, Lambe thinks Valve is on the right track.

“I’m hoping it’ll do neat things that gamepads, keyboards, and mice can’t do, from the comfort of my living room, with my friends and frienemies,” he concluded. “But not my enemies, because they aren’t invited.”

Paradox CEO Fredrik Wester also went hands-on, but he came away with slightly more reserved praise. The learning curve for a simple third-person game, he felt, was a snap (well, it took him five minutes, so maybe a multi-part snap chorus), but more complex games might push the controller past its limits.

“I think it’s friendly to both [players from console and PC backgrounds], but some PC games, like our own grand strategy games, will need some work before it’s natural to play with controllers.”

On the upside, he was fairly certain that the controller will reliably and easily auto-adapt keyboard/mouse control layouts to fit its newfangled setup, so you probably won’t have to manually map controls for previously released games. That’s good, seeing as the idea of configuring something like the Portal 2 promo control scheme Valve mocked up sounds like a console gamer’s worst nightmare – an initial hump that could easily scare off many disciples of the holy church of “it just works.”

“From what I understand, this gamepad emulates WASD controls which means that little or no extra work will have to be done for the controller to work in its basic form,” Wester explained. “I guess it will need some tweaking after that depending on the game, but the basic support should already be built in.”

“I think most first and third-person games will work out of the box, it’s always intimidating if people have to do extra work.”

The controller is, however, still obviously early, and Valve likes to iterate and iterate and iterate and iterate and iterate until the word “iterate” loses all meaning. Wester, then, liked what he was able to play, but saw plenty of question marks dotting the road ahead.

“I need more time with the controller to make a judgement, but from where I see things right now I think it’s doing a really good job at being a lot of different things at the same time,” he said. “It all comes down to how much work needs to be done by the gamers to get it to work in a good way. If that can be ironed out, I’m looking forward to using it for our games going forward.”

, , , , , , , .

93 Comments »

  1. ScruZer says:

    controller looks terrible. Just because its valve people shouldnt give them a free pass.

    • Emeraude says:

      At this point in development, unless I am mistaken, how it looks is less important than what it does.

      I must say I am far from convinced thus far (especially the button placement). But it does look interesting. Promising even on some respects.

      • Grey Poupon says:

        The biggest thing about the controller is that you don’t have to use it. You can use kb&m or a normal controller as well. I doubt I’m going to install SteamOS, but I might get one of those controllers, if it ends up being good. It doesn’t look like much to me either, though.

        • Emeraude says:

          I doubt I’m going to install SteamOS

          Hell, unless some BIG change happens, I’m not installing Steam, period.

          But yeah, as for the controller itself, I’m interested to see where it’s going.

          Though, it being optional might go against it too.
          Just look at, say the Nintendo DS. The control scheme was overly inefficient (but then the purpose was to attract people put off by the standard control scheme, not to replace it) , but those few games that were specifically tailored for it were interesting (after all, games being constraints in nature, a subpar control scheme can actually produce a superior game if well designed).
          The problem is that, this controller being optional, I can’t see many, if any, developer designing a game around its specificities, for fear of being cut off the rest of the market.

          • Nevard says:

            …it was?
            As far as I can remember, the 3DS had a pretty standard button control layout.

          • Emeraude says:

            The DS, not the 3DS. The stylus wasn’t considered standard.

          • Nevard says:

            The Stylus was the only unconventional part though, what buttons it had were in the usual place.

            I meant DS too I just appended a 3 by force of habit :(
            I even did it again while typing that sentence and only caught it just before clicking submit

      • Premium User Badge

        basilisk says:

        I agree with the guy who says the positions of the face buttons seem very odd. This choice alone immediately breaks compatibility with lots of games developed for the 360 or PS3 pads, or at the very least introduces a lot of awkwardness.

        Maybe it was necessary for what they are doing (hard to tell if you haven’t actually held it in your hands), but with this the whole thing looks like something that will complement regular gamepads rather than replace them. Like a special gamepad for FPSes, which honestly seems somewhat unnecessary.

        • Premium User Badge

          Rublore says:

          Except those buttons aren’t used as replacements for the regular ABXY on a 360 controller. They’re more like extra start/select buttons. My understanding is that the touchpads can be configured to act as a 5 button set up (north, south, east, west, centre). The problem was labeling the centre buttons that way, causing mass confusion.

          • Premium User Badge

            basilisk says:

            But how do you label those, then, for example for on-screen prompts? NSWE? How do you quickly find them with your thumb when they are mostly virtual and you have no fixed point of reference?
            At this point, the discussion is entirely academic, of course, but it still seems to me like breaking compatibility for its own sake. It’s not like everything about gamepads is wrong, and fixing the joystick issue while simultaneously messing up the button issue seems inelegant. But I may be wrong.

          • PoLLeNSKi says:

            Arrows?

          • Premium User Badge

            Rublore says:

            No idea. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of solution they come up with.

          • ersetzen says:

            Well, as with all controllers there won’t be much to say until we have tried for ourselves. There were a bunch off other developers that tried it out, though.

            http://tommyrefenes.tumblr.com/post/62476523677/my-time-with-the-steam-controller
            Tommy Refenes from Team Meat, and a bunch of other

            http://kotaku.com/valves-controller-has-been-tested-here-are-some-impre-1415579308 ones.

            As long as the worst opinion is ‘I will stay with 360 because I am used to it’ I am gonna be carefully optimistic… Oh, and there are circles on the pads since the Team Meet session, so Valve seems willing to change stuff around.

          • DanMan says:

            I read in an interview that the track pad area can be split into as much as 8 (circular) segments for buttons.

          • Werthead says:

            “But how do you label those, then, for example for on-screen prompts? NSWE? How do you quickly find them with your thumb when they are mostly virtual and you have no fixed point of reference?”

            The trackpads are both clickable, which is how the right pad can be divided into buttons. How that works efficiently with the pad also controlling what direction you’re looking in remains to be seen.

          • ersetzen says:

            You can use the thumbpads as buttons. So how about camera controll by touching and buttons with pressing?

            Which would mean that you could emulate an 360 controller without problem, and still had 6 buttons and a touchscreen left…

        • Juan Regular says:

          I’ve read a lot of posts about the thing since it was announced and it’s a little strange that most people forget that there’s two additional buttons on the back. Plus A at least seems just as easy to reach as one of the usual face buttons.
          So with all that you have just one easy to reach physical button less than on the Xbox controller, not four. Still a problem, but not as critical as some suggest.

        • Phasma Felis says:

          I was pretty skeptical about the face buttons too, as first. One important point that, bizarrely, no one but Tommy Refenes seems to have mentioned is that the controller has the usual two bumpers and two shoulder triggers, *and* an additional two triggers on the underside. That means six dedicated buttons you can hit with both thumbs firmly on the directional controls, as opposed to four on the typical gamepad, which makes the odd ABXY placement a whole lot less pressing.

      • Lemming says:

        People, including those in the article, keep referring to the four centre buttons as the ‘face buttons’ which they aren’t. People who’ve used the controller have the ‘face buttons’ mapped to the right touchpad, which can have distinct clicks in different areas.

        If you want further proof, look at Valve’s very own mock up with the Portal 2 controls above. Do they look like face button functions assigned there, to you?

        • Premium User Badge

          basilisk says:

          No, but I don’t see any face buttons on the right trackpad in the mockup, either. There’s mouselook and what I presume is click to use (“E”), but that’s it.

        • Emeraude says:

          I wasn’t talking about the “face button” though, but the whole button placement.

      • The_Sleeve says:

        I think most people (including the author of this article, several people interviewed in this article, and the authors of articles on several other websites) don’t realize that there are multiple pushbuttons embedded in the trackpads themselves. The visible pushbuttons on the face of the controller are secondary in importance. The primary pushbuttons are actually embedded behind (beneath?) the trackpads where you can simply click them with your thumbs while simultaneously using the trackpads. They’re not immediately visible, so everybody seems to miss them.

        Think about the XBOX 360 controller, and imagine “porting” its functionality to the Valve controller.
        - The left trackpad on Valve’s controller is the left thumbstick on the 360 controller, but the catch is that you can “click” it in multiple positions (at least 4, from what I’ve heard). So now it’s a thumbstick, with greater accuracy, PLUS several buttons.
        - The right trackpad on Valves’s controller not only gives you another two axes to use, but you can “click” it for button functionality. This means it’s actually like another thumbstick, PLUS the 360′s A, B, X, and Y buttons.
        In addition, you now have the 4 buttons on the face of the Valve controller (also labeled A, B, X, and Y). Basically, the 4 buttons on the 360 and its thumbstick are all combined in a single trackpad.

        Add in the other face buttons and the back / shoulder triggers, and you have something like 17 buttons (at least), plus a touchscreen, plus two trackpads. It’s actually has significantly more input capability than any other controllers I know of.

        Of course, I haven’t actually used the thing… so I have no idea how well it works. However, early reports (especially the one from Super Meat Boy dev Tommy Refenes) are promising.

        • timethor says:

          “It doesn’t have the usual face buttons so this controller can’t possibly work!” is such a thoughtless comment.
          Valve obviously knows that normal controllers have face buttons and that they’re used in various combinations. So the initial guess would be that the company who spent a year developing this thing may have thought of a solution that may not be immediately obvious to the “errr.. but it looks different!”-crowd.

          Depending on the specifics of the trackpads, I could also come up with a bunch of different control schemes. What I’d probably find comfortable is if the right pad functioned as a analog stick if you initiate contact in the center and then move your thumb around, and functioned as a bunch of buttons if you initiate contact outside of the center circle. So it’s put your thumb in the middle, slide to the left to move your view, raise your thumb 2 mm, put it down again (or click) to press the X button.

          Valve said they’d share community-made control schemes. I hope that includes different ways of using the trackpads, instead of just keybindings.

      • sophof says:

        The button placement seems to be the biggest concern for most, and I think the biggest problem there is that people assume they are used differently from what Valve assumes. Looking at the Portal ‘mockup’ of button placement, these keys clearly are meant to take the place of less ‘direct’ buttons (like the start and select keys basically, that you still want to use without having to look down. All the others where you have to look down are handled by the touchscreen. The right pad can also be configured to be buttons (because of the haptic feedback).

        So they are named A,B,X,Y, but not used as the classical ABXY because that indeed makes no sense with that placement and I doubt Valve is that oblivious?

        Really the only question that then remains is, what if you want to use both an analog right stick and the action buttons? My assumption is that Valve is basically aiming for a paradigm change there and aiming to never have that be a requirement. In a freelook game you should have your hands on the sticks as much as possible I guess, so those buttons aren’t very ‘good’. On the PC you would always but such buttons either on the mouse or in the reach of your left hand fingers that have nothing to do.

    • Kinch says:

      Don’t judge a book by its cover. I really doubt they would release something that would not work well (as in the case of Ouya, for example).The controller’s still early in development so there’s a lot everyone needs to learn about it. For once, I’d finally like a controller I’d be comfortable with playing FPS games.

      As for Linux, I’m very happy it’s finally gaining on momentum among mainstream gamers. Generally speaking, Valve should be applauded for their efforts to popularize Linux as a platform. I guess it’s true the plethora of distros doesn’t help but I’m not sure it should be treated as a hindrance. After all, Linux is the OS that let’s you tailor anything to your needs (and your hardware, Gentoo-style). Problem is, that might be too complicated and “not-worth-the-effort” for many game dev teams and gamers alike.

    • Premium User Badge

      slerbal says:

      I’m completely open to it and am reserving judgement until I get a chance to play with one. It could be awesome or terrible, though so far I’m tentatively excited and hopeful that it will be decent. If nothing else I applaud the attempt at innovation. Of course the proof is in the pudding.

      I rather like the look of it. This and SteamOS are of interest to me. Steam Machines not so much, but I am sure other folks will find them handy.

    • Dana says:

      I’ll take functionality over looks any day, it’s nothing that warrants giving or denying a pass. Especially since it does not look terrible, it looks like controller without dpad and sticks.

      • Megakoresh says:

        That’s a smart reply right there. It’s really stupid and immature to pre-judge something by the way it looks. I think this thing might just be the right kind of thing for me. I still can’t stomach playing open world games with cars with a controller, because of shooting, even though driving with keyboard is annoying. Perhaps with this controller I will finally be able to play stuff like Sains Row or GTA or Just Cause with just once device instead of constantly switching between them, which is frustrating.

      • Volcanu says:

        Agreed. I remember people complaining about how peculiar and ugly the N64 controller looked prior to release, not to mention sniggering at the analogue stick.

        I for one am pleased they are at least trying to do something different. Of course I’ll reserve judgement until I can get the thing in my hands.

        • Groove says:

          Oh I remember the N64 reactions. ‘Hah, that’s dumb and so unoriginal, they’re trying to copy an arcade stick, that’ll never catch on for consoles. Stupid Nintendo.’

      • 88GJS88 says:

        I think it looks damn sexy….maybe that’s just me.

    • uh20 says:

      wow, i sure hope every other commenter is simply joining the bandwagon because there is absolutely no reason to call the controller terrible, the word limit would be anything approaching “wierd”,

      based off of me and my buddies group discussion about this, there are 2 distinct weak-spots (1.players accidentally squeezing the back buttons and 2.lack of “pysically marked” buttons which can create a steep learning curve) as well as the fact that the controller will not be able to map the competitors controllers button-per-button

      there is some talk that this controller has a lack of buttons, however a lot of possible interactions can be found in the 2 haptic’y slidey pads and the screen. which have much more flexibility in calculating the position of clicks than the other controllers.
      as you see in the portal 2 mapping picture, there is enough of these trackpad interactions in order to let the 4 corner buttons be the misc. things such as push to talk and gestures.

      (to be short: its not terrible, it still has the greatest potential compared to the other controllers)

    • ikinone says:

      Looks great to me

    • CrocoDarrel says:

      I’m very leary of things that are not actually buttons being made to do the job of buttons. Will have to see how it feels though.

  2. Premium User Badge

    Crimsoneer says:

    I honestly don’t care about the controller, at all. I’m using Steam OS entirely for the streaming – not sure why you’d do anything else, frankly – and i’m perfectly happy to use a 360 controller if the steam one sucks.

    • widardd says:

      360 controller for RTS-games? Valve’s controller is supposed to be a comfy alternative for kb+mouse in the living room…

  3. RaoulDuke says:

    “The placement of the face buttons strikes me as really strange,” he said. “As a developer, it’s useful to know that the face buttons and the right stick are mutually exclusive (i.e. you can always be moving with left stick even while doing face button inputs, but have to stop looking with right stick to press a face button). On Valve’s controller it seems like two of the face buttons require you to take your thumb off of left stick, and two require you to take your thumb off of right stick?

    Did he even bother to read the official details written about the controller, they say it can “create” buttons ON THE TRACKPADS using haptic feedback [At least 4 on each side, but maybe 8 on one side if i understood correctly] so you don’t have to remove your fingers to do 90% of the actions in Portal 2.

    I think it looks awesome, can’t wait to try it, looks way more innovative than the Occulus Fart.

    • Blue Shark says:

      Oculus fart. Lol, really made me laugh on that one.
      If you gonna make fun of something, at least look smart enough by knowing how it’s spelled (as in Oculus, not Occulus)

      More innovative? Perhaps. More interesting? Doubtful. VR is something people have been talking about for quite some times. But not once did I hear someone go “I wish there was gamepad without analog sticks.”

    • Tams80 says:

      Even with haptic feedback, you would still momentarily have to stop using the touchpad. Plus, the haptic feedback will not be as distinct as a physical button (whose presence you can sense without pressing).

    • Panda Powered says:

      Oculus Ripped?
      Why does everything have to be reduced to binary X vs Y every frigging time? :/
      Oculus could very well be the biggest “revolution” for gaming since 3D graphics or it may flop like in the 90′s again (but that time it had reasons to never work in the first place). Only time will tell.

      Also, if this controller is any good it may go very well together with the OR. Using VR with KB+M is something I’ve seen a lot of people questioning (“I can’t see the keys” etc.). A ‘good-enough’ gamepad for navigating first-person environments is something to look forward to for other reasons than just for hogging up the living room from the family.

  4. Baines says:

    How many simultaneous points of contact can one of those trackpads register? If the answer is “1″, then the controller’s design already has an issue with any game that expects a player to be able to press multiple face buttons simultaneously.

    As people on other forums have said, it looks like a controller designed for an FPS. Or one designed to be a poor-man’s mouse while ignoring that there are types of games that mice aren’t suited for. (In a way, it is similar to Nintendo’s philosophy of designing a controller based on the type of game that they want to make, and just kind of hoping it works for the games that everyone else wants to make.)

    • Spectre-7 says:

      “Or one designed to be a poor-man’s mouse while ignoring that there are types of games that mice aren’t suited for.”

      I don’t think they’re ignoring those types of games so much as they’re focusing on the controls that virtually all of their current library uses. As I understand it, they’re trying to bring those thousands of games to the living room, so if the controller doesn’t work well as a KB/m replacement, the entire endeavor is a non-starter.

    • DanMan says:

      That’s the one big problem i see with it, too, thus far. Will it allow for multi-button presses like you need in Batman: Arkham Something.

      • uh20 says:

        gosh i have been late-night posting my boredom away

        there is multi-button ability, one of the big things to consider is that it appears clicking on a certain spot of the pads correlates to a specific position, so you could essentially be able to hide at least a few buttons in the direction you click them.

        it is hidden back there, but there is also 2 back “bumper clickers” alongside the standard 4 shoulder buttons

        considering your using the pads for movement and 2 shoulder buttons for shooting, you have about 4-6 points of contact (2 or 3 per hand) and a number of click combinations that are free to carry out these multi-button moves.

  5. Premium User Badge

    steves says:

    Super Meat Boy developer rates it:

    http://tommyrefenes.tumblr.com/post/62476523677/my-time-with-the-steam-controller

    Still not sure how well it’ll work for a mouse/keyboard replacement, but looks good for arcade-style console stuff at least.

    • waaaaaaaals says:

      I dunno, it doesn’t seem like it would be well suited to some genres/subgenres.

      I can’t imagine it would be much fun to play something like Castle Crashers with this pad.

  6. Paul says:

    I really really really hope SteamOS/Machines/Steamroller all take off. It would be very nice if people put open, upgradable PCs into their living room instead of closed, nonupgradable consoles. Games could nicely scale with advancing technology, instead of being stuck at one low level for a decade.

    Controller itself looks super interesting, something completely new. I hope it works, because I love playing my PC games on TV, and while 360pad is ok, for most shooters I do have to use autoaim. If I could do without, that would be fantastic. Not to mention the ability to play mouse/keyboard centric games on TV instead of monitor, that would be awesome too.

  7. SaVi says:

    It kind of got forgotten that Nintendo gave a damn about conventional button placement and controller design on the Wii, and it certainly didn’t seem to have hurt them much.

  8. InternetBatman says:

    I wish they had gone for something like a wiimote with improved technology (the pointer control / analog stick combo are a joy to play fps and platformers on), but I’ll be open-minded. In the end I suspect this might not be for me though.

    I am planning to switch to linux for my primary OS when I replace my current tower, which’ll be interesting.

    • Premium User Badge

      Gap Gen says:

      The latest version of Ubuntu is pretty fine, although I’d really recommend learning some basic command line stuff because a) it does occasionally need fixing (Googling for help works pretty well) and b) the command line is pretty awesome for batch jobs and stuff in general.

      • InternetBatman says:

        I already use linux on two other computers in my house. I prefer Mint over ubuntu as it stands.

        • Premium User Badge

          Gap Gen says:

          Ah, I see. Sorry, I should have read your post more carefully.

    • Premium User Badge

      Vandelay says:

      Kind of surprised Valve didn’t go for something similar, as they initially gave some support to the Razer Hydra, by giving bonus content for Portal 2 at release and later having support in TF2 and CS:GO. I’ve said it here pretty much any time motion controls have been mentioned, but it easily far surpasses the standard controller in FPS games and I can’t see Valve’s Steamroller being anywhere near as good.

      The Wiimote is okay, if you get everything set up just right, but it is still far from as accurate as you would want a motion controller. I suspect this is why so many people are against that style of control, as they have no other experience of them (I expect many people are even basing the assumption of motion controllers on the original non-Motion Plus version of the Wiimote.) People also seem to expect to be able to pick them up and immediately know how to control the things, but in reality you need to dedicate a good 5-6 hours before you are competent.

      • Premium User Badge

        Gap Gen says:

        It depends what kind of precision you want. Can you make pointing devices as accurate as a mouse? Also, holding a wiimote for long periods of time is possibly more tiring than a mouse, but I suppose best not to sit on the sofa all day anyway…

        • GamesInquirer says:

          The Wiimote is about as tiring as the mouse. You simply rest your hands in your lap like with any controller and barely have to angle your wrist to instantly and accurately point to any part of the screen you need. The only reason to do anything more (with the pointing, obviously there are some motion heavy games) is if you are playing some lightgun shooter with a plastic gun shell like House of the Dead, which would be intentional rather than a nuisance. The only reasons it would be inaccurate would be a bad game specific implementation or defective hardware. I would have personally been thrilled if Valve had stolen the design and bettered the form form factor and button/analog offerings on it. Still, even its precision can probably be improved 7 years later.

          Here’s a guy dominating (78-4 in ~9 minutes) the game using the Wiimote & Nunchuck in Black Ops II on Wii U which most likely means most other people playing were using the standard dual analog controller (though he dominated in the Wii COD games also where most would be using the Wiimote, he’s a pro).

          Just mute the commentary I guess. And ignore the video quality.

          Edit: I should add that if Valve had made such a controller then games would need to officially support it, you can’t simply have that legacy mode support and expect games to work well, you need very different cursor/camera behavior than you get with the mouse so it’s understandable that they didn’t do it. Yet sad.

        • InternetBatman says:

          The wiimote isn’t, but it’s been seven or eight years since it was released. I haven’t tried razer hydra, but I hear it’s better. Either way, while the pointing is slightly less accurate, having an analog stick in one hand and pointer control in the other is really fun to use for 3D games. It shares the complexity weakness of all controllers vs. a keyboard, but it was good enough that an RTS (albeit a slow one) was fun on the wii.

          Holding it for a while (six hours) could get tiring, but it was about on parity with a mouse.

    • uh20 says:

      i made the full-on just a few months ago too, my cheep budget forced me to buy parts on sale over a good time-span, and decided i would be dolling out too much for windows (what is it, $100 right now?). my self-taught programming was quite a weird start though when nearly every tutorial is using a windows-only helper library. other than that i find the flexibility very great to have (6 virtual desktops and going into a quiet mode to run my buddies server are pretty nice features to have)

  9. belgand says:

    I’m not a fan of trackpads for even casual PC use so I’m pretty uncertain how I’ll react to them in a controller. I also don’t see myself wanting to play PC-centric games with this thing. I like using a keyboard and mouse for a good reason and I haven’t yet heard anything that implies this would do a better job than a control scheme that feels like a natural extension of my body. Using a mouse feels more like reaching out and touching something for me than even using a touch screen, which always feels clunky and simian. Like I’m just sort of pawing at the screen.

    • fabulousfurrygingerfreakbrothers says:

      Made me laugh. I totally agree, with touch screens I feel I’ve lost the subtle fine movements of a mouse and resorted to finger painting on my monitor like a toddler.

  10. mpk says:

    I am honestly excited by the controller, because it looks as crazy an evolution of the existing device(s) as the N64 controller did, way back when. Now, we all know that the left hand-side of that particular device ended up being neglected, and controllers adapted away from three-prongs back to two, but it really was a spectacular and brilliant controller, which I still love.*

    Valve have the industry gravitas to at least make people look at this device and think about supporting it/exploiting it, but even if SteamOS and the Steam Box end up as this generation’s Dreamcast, I’ll fork out for a controller to use with my desktop.

    *although I think Dual Shock 2 is still best overall, closely followed by the 16-bit perfection of the SNES controller

  11. Baggykiin says:

    “[One of the problems is] the somewhat spotty driver coverage for said hardware”

    Euphemism of the century.

  12. Frank says:

    Eh, Paradox’s PC UI is always a mess; I don’t think there’s anything Valve could do to help them develop couch-playable games.

    • Premium User Badge

      Gap Gen says:

      On-the-rails Hapsburg shooter. 3D platformer set in the Pacific theatre of WWII. Rhythm action party game featuring two government houses, an executive branch and a legislative branch.

  13. realitysconcierge says:

    I think that the controller should handle the RTSs by having the left trackpad handling macro mouse movements and then the right trackpad handling micro mouse movements. I don’t know if it would work or not, but it seems like a good idea!

    I’m honestly really excited about the OS and controller. The first OS centered around games? Yes please. The only way I wouldn’t run it is if its usability is less than windows 8. I like the controller because it’s the most interesting gadget that I’ve seen for a long while and I think it has a ton of potential.

  14. mashakos says:

    I can’t use this controller Simple as that.

    I can only physically use a controller using my left hand so how good the controller is, just doesn’t apply to people like me who need accessibility.

    I would have much rather Valve focus on a keyboard-to-gamepad mapping software utility similar to XPadder that’s embedded into Steam rather than work on this.

    • Premium User Badge

      Gap Gen says:

      Hopefully it’ll also have keyboard support. At the very least you can hook a cheap PC up to your TV and play that way. At least, I seriously hope Steam for PCs still exists.

    • Premium User Badge

      LTK says:

      Do you mind if I ask what’s wrong with your right hand?

      • Premium User Badge

        Gap Gen says:

        In my experience of the issue, there’s either the boring truth, or you can invoke crocodile fights.

  15. Premium User Badge

    DrScuttles says:

    Maybe I’m being blind here, but looking over those Portal 2 bindings I’ve suddenly realised that I can’t see ‘jump’ anywhere. Which also makes me question whether or not there were any parts of Portal 2 where it was actually necessary to jump?

    • fabulousfurrygingerfreakbrothers says:

      Loads of parts, mainly when you were trying to see interesting bits of a level you weren’t allowed to move to. I loved Portal 2, but its linearness really frustrated me.

      • Premium User Badge

        DrScuttles says:

        edit: never mind, tired and misread you. Looking at bits Valve didn’t want you to see aren’t quite what I meant, but if there were others bits where you had to jump then fair enough. So is it not possible to complete the campaign with Valve’s bindings (without crazy sequence breaking or whatever the cool Portal kids do)?

        • fabulousfurrygingerfreakbrothers says:

          I have no idea, but it’s a question you’re right to ask. I jumped a lot in the game, certainly in the paint levels, but I was really just making a light-hearted point about being unable to wander round some of Portal 2′s interesting landscapes.

        • timfraserbrown says:

          It seems the left haptic thing is assigned to ‘WASD, LEFT SHIFT and SP…’.
          I’d assume that’s the space bar if you click it.

          • cunningmunki says:

            Yep. Looks like when your thumb reaches the edge of the circle this will send a “LSHIFT” keypress, for sprinting, and pushing the circle will mean you jump. Which is genius because it already beats other controllers which don’t support a “sprint” option on older games when you push your stick all the way. So excited for this.

    • Spectre-7 says:

      It’s a little hard to see, but the left pad’s click-in is bound to Space, which is the default jump key.

  16. rfa says:

    As long as my steamoshine lets me apt-get Instal xbmc I’ll be a happy vegemite.

    Looking forward to civilization v from the couch

  17. DrMcCoy says:

    I love Linux, but I also spent way too many hours last weekend getting MAME to run on my recently acquired Raspberry Pi

    Yeah, but, well, you’re talking about setting up an open source project on a computer the size of a credit card running an ARM11 here. That’s not even apples to oranges, that’s apples to tuna! In this very weird example, what would your standard user-friendly gaming OS be? FreeBSD? Because you sure as hell won’t get a Windows to run on that thing.

    Seriously, what does it have to do with anything? This is apropos of completely nothing! The other day, I read about a person going to great lengths installing Linux on an ATmega1284P. And it was complicated. And slow! Booting up the system took several hours! Despite that microcontroller being uniform and know hardware! Pathetic, right? Right?

    If you want to talk about Linux porting specifically, one of the major problems is the huge variety of hardware upon which it runs

    No one is saying anything about wanting their games to run on ARM or MIPS, or, hell, S/390. We’re talking bog-standard CISCy x86_64 architecture with your default consumer GPUs here.

  18. Megazell says:

    Not sure what everyone’s proficiency is with Linux but Linux Mint Lisa and Linux Mint Olivia made gaming on Linux a lot easier for me as a user. Granted I only play freeware and the free retail releases but with exception of older games I found the OS to be quite easy to game with out the box. I hoping that STEAM will follow suit with their hands in the distro mix. The more choices PC Gamers have the better.

  19. trjp says:

    What worries me most about this device is that it’s something else a developer has to support.

    You can’t ignore the other options (keyboard/mouse/joypad) because you need players using those to play your game too – so it’s “more work” and “something else to consider”.

    Any claim Valve make that this device will ‘replace’ a mouse/keyboard or joypad is clearly nonsense – it’s been tried before, it’s never happened.

    The actual buttons this thing has are in bonkers positions and people like BUTTONS – playing a game which requires precision on a touch-based surface will always lack precision and feedback – and whilst you can customise a game around a touchsurface where it’s the only/default option (iOS/Android) you aren’t going to do that when it’s just one possible option (or if you do – lots more work).

    Bottom line – it’s just more work for developers which means, I suspect, it will get limited support from ‘the usual suspect’ developers who seem very friendly with Valve and not really anyone else.

    This whole SteamOS thing is actually just ‘more work’ for developers – I’ve yet to see the payback – I’ve yet to really work-out who Valve are targetting all this stuff at. If it’s existing Steam users then it’s “more work” for no actual gain – if it’s people not currently using Steam – erm – gl with that one, if you find them, then we’ll think about it.

    • trjp says:

      p.s. Tommy (SMB) said some nice things about this thing – but he also explained how he tuned SMBs controls entirely on ‘feel’ – and particularly on the ‘feel’ of a 360 controller.

      He might well make a game based on the ‘feel’ of one of these IF – and it’s a BIG IF – Valve can sell a shittonne of them, but otherwise it’s hard to see why he’d bother.

      Whether they manage the sales will depend on

      a – it’s price (must be cheaper than a 360 pad)
      b – loads of games working well with it

      So you need the games to sell the device AND the devices out there to get the games – hmm….

      Also – remember that MS have managed to sell a LOT of Kinects and – well – they’re almost all either gathering dust or being used by teenage girls for dancing games – its not like anyone is bothering to make anything for it?

  20. Uboa Noticed You says:

    How the fuck am I gonna play Skullgirls with this?

    That aside, I’m excited to see if this thing works well, because the concepts being applied look really cool.

  21. Baines says:

    The question no one has asked yet: “Will the Steam controller be the primary design controller for Half-Life 3?”

    • Panda Powered says:

      My unqualified guess is no. Keyboard and mouse will still be king and queen.

      HL3 will probably not see the light of day until a good while after SteamOS/Steam’Roller releases but I can guarantee it will be able to use every little feature on the controller and perhaps some extra “look ma’ I’m controllering!” features only the Steam’Roller can make use of.

    • uh20 says:

      obviously they will support their own device, and although some keyboard+mouse guys might still be able to pull off a little bit more simultaneous moves (such as talking, crouching, walking, panning and shooting , whereas a controller could only walk, crouch, pan and shoot) it should still be a very even playing field for local/world multiplayers (if it’s available)

  22. Teovald says:

    But for developers like myself who write our own technology, Linux has historically been an unappealing platform to support because of its small market share and troublesome number of distributions

    He might want to stop talking for all devs on that.. Some studios with their own tech (like wolfire) have been porting their games to linux for years and reported great sales on that platform.

  23. Lestibournes says:

    The “Bro, Do You Even Linux?” section doesn’t say anything new, and even talks about facts as if they are uncertain just so that it would have something to say. Pretty pointless.

  24. Dozer says:

    Nathan Grayson! Where is the Staring Eye tag? Good grief RPS has really gone downhill in the last few hours, it’s the end I say, and I won’t read any more articles (but I’ll still write bitter comments on each and every one).

    • Panda Powered says:

      I’ve been mildly annoyed by at least four things on the internet so my daily schedule is about twelve hours of payback revenge commenting. I had to quit my job and everything.

  25. cunningmunki says:

    “I am optimistic that SteamOS will help Linux penetrate the mainstream” – Didn’t Android already do that?