Valve has revealed their plans for gaming in the living room. A new platform, SteamOS to run on Steam machines that will be manufactured by various partners and last and most importantly for accessibility, a new Steam controller. It has the shape of a standard controller but with two trackpads, a touch screen and sixteen buttons.
Game developers will be able to add controls for their games, but it also presents itself as a keyboard and mouse, which makes two very important things possible. One, all games, even those without controller support, can be played on the Steam controller. Two, all the keys are configurable and the Steam Community will be able to “use the configuration tool to create and share bindings for their favorite games.”
Two clickable circular high resolution trackpads
The trackpads are a quirky new design that is either going to work wonderfully or not at all and it is impossible to tell from pictures alone. Dual linear resonant actuators (LRAs) are attached to each trackpad that make haptic feedback possible. LRAs are small electro-magnets commonly used to provide tactile feedback and vibration on mobile devices. In this case, “[t]hey are capable of delivering a wide range of force and vibration, allowing precise control over frequency, amplitude, and direction of movement.
The trackpads will do all the things other controllers do – sensitivity can be adjusted, direction of movement is controlled and vibration is possible, but Valve says it will do all these things much better than the traditional models.
Clickable touch screen in the middle
The touch screen in the middle “can work as a scrolling menu, a radial dial, provide secondary info like a map or use other custom input modes we haven’t thought of yet.” The innovative part is that the touch screen display will also be an on-screen overlay so that there is no need to try and look at two screens at once. This is a great idea and I hope its one that catches on in general. “When a player touches the controller screen, its display is overlayed on top of the game they’re playing”. Super.
The Steam controller has 16 buttons and “[h]alf of them are accessible to the player without requiring thumbs to be lifted from the trackpads, including two on the back”. The controls and buttons are placed symmetrically, but that isn’t something new, controllers are usually built symmetrically, but the important piece of information is that left or right handedness will be “switchable via a software config checkbox.”
“We plan to make tools available that will enable users to participate in all aspects of the experience, from industrial design to electrical engineering.” This is great news. At the moment modding a controller is complicated as most are not designed to be hacked and in fact, hacking them could breach the terms and conditions of use. For people with disabilities, being able to customize a controller that is engineered to be hacked makes it a lot easier to customize a controller to an individual user’s ability and preference.
Valve has an excellent track record for making things that work so well that they soon become the stuff of legends. Iconic games like Portal and Half-Life 2, a massively successful platform in Steam that started as a handy tool to upgrade Counter-Strike and now has more than 50 million users across 237 countries in 21 different languages. The Steam controller is a quirky, odd thing, but with the endless possibilities made available by making it hackable and with the Steam Community potentially behind it to help create custom controls for games, it has the potential to make gaming in the living room easily accessible for everyone who wants to play with a controller on a big screen.
It is an early pre-Beta announcement, but Valve is aiming to bring Steam gaming machines to the market in 2014. Everyone is watching Valve with great interest at the moment and the upcoming months should reveal a lot more details about pricing, availability and specs, but for now, there’s images to look at and it is refreshing to see something so different.
Source: Steam Controller