Poor Steam Controller. Hanging on long after Valve's efforts to bring PCs into the living room fizzed out, the last batch of the gamepads finally sold out last November, bringing an end to the era of Steam Machines. And that was that, until curious eyes spotted a patent filing for a new Steam Controller - one that's trying to one-up the Xbox One Elite Controller on customisability.
A new patent has been published from Valve of a Steam Controller with swap-able components. pic.twitter.com/8X5IiKIHvm
— Tyler McVicker (@ValveNewsNetwor) April 11, 2020
Like Microsoft's "Elite" Xbox One controller, the patent describes a controller whose parts can be swapped in and out at will. But rather than just picking a different kind of stick or D-Pad based on personal preference, the new Steam pad wants to let you plug in entirely different forms of input.
The most explicit example given throughout the filing explains how an analogue stick could easily be swapped out for a directional-pad, depending on what feels best on a game-by-game basis. Software within the pad would detect which input is currently plugged in. It seems like this would apply to inputs across the controller - including the Steam Controller's infamous owl-eye trackpads.
It might even mean scope for branching into more accessible input, a la the Xbox Adaptive Controller - at this early stage, though, it's not explicitly mentioned. At this early stage, it's worth noting that everything is highly subject to change - even the diagrams are likely just using outlines from the last generation of Steam pad.
When Valve debuted the Steam Controller, it was trying to shake-up a static paradigm in gamepad design. Those massive trackpads were aimed at making genres that were long the domain of keyboard and mouse accessible on the sofa - and to a degree, sure, they worked. You could, technically, play Sid Meier's Civilisation on the telly. But they came at the expense of genres that worked fantastically with more traditional layouts, on a piece of hardware that felt startlingly cheap.
Reviewing the Steam Controller three months on, Alec Meer (RPS in peace) found it a frustrating thing - a pad that's "conceptually the solution to an age-old problem, and in many respects gets much closer than innumerable gonzo projects to replace keyboard and mouse have over the last 30 years, but it’s just not good enough".
The Steam Controller's one big sell was in bringing endless control customisation to every game on Steam. If a new gamepad could bring that quality to the hardware itself, Valve might finally have cracked this controller lark.