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Valve's Final Announcement: The Steam Controller

And so the announcements are complete. And with no last-minute surprises, Valve have announced their peripheral for the Steam Machine that will carry SteamOS, in an attempt to bring PC gaming into the living room. It is, they say, a new kind of controller, one designed to be able to trick older games into thinking they’re being played with a keyboard and mouse. It looks pretty damned smart, at first glance.

They say this controller, a creepily buttonless, stickless dead-eyed staring creature, has been in development for a year now. But now they want “your help with the design process”. Oh can’t ANYONE in games development do something without my help any more?! Put me on the payroll and we’ll talk.

It’s built of dual trackpads, a thumb for each, and both clickable. This, they say, offers far higher fidelity than analogue sticks or d-pads, saying it’s similar to using a mouse. Which means they are, to some degree, meeting that much queried possibility, or giving us something equivalent to the finer controls we’re used to. But I’m not really seeing a keyboard here.

There’s also a big push forward with haptics, using electromagnets, they say. Which does sound like the beginning of a Portal plot. Then there’s the central touchscreen, which they say will offer variable buttons necessary for individual games. And it clicks. A nice detail is that touching it automatically creates an overlay on the main screen to let you see what you’re doing, so you don’t have to look down. Take that, Wii-U.

And perhaps most importantly, it’s hackable. They want people to reinvent how it’s used, what it can be for. There’s a lot of exciting potential there.

It’ll be interesting to see how significant an improvement this controller is over the traditional models. Will Sony and Microsoft be scrabbling to create equivalents for their nextgen consoles? Or will it stand as a peculiarity, a piece of PC peripheral obscura?

With the obvious lack of Half-Life 3 getting a mention, that leaves us in a place to start speculating about exactly who and what this whole device is for. Owning PCs and consoles is not exactly mutually exclusive, and it’s not as if people can’t already have PCs in their living rooms. Valve needs to pitch this really well, and have some excellent surprises about specs and prices up its sleeves before launch, if it wants to create a demand.

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John Walker

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One of the original co-founders of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, I'm now a senior editor and hero of humanity. Old and special.

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