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Hands-on: Valve's Redesigned Steam Controller

Posted on Saturday, March 22 @ 13:16:49 PST by

GR news editor Alex Osborn reported on Valve's newly designed Steam Controller which will be compatible with any Steam Machine or any computer running SteamOS. Luckily, Steam showed off its latest prototype, just created ten days ago by way of a nifty 3D printer. Of course, the plastic used to craft the controller won't be the same as the final retail product, but it's sturdy enough.

Taking me through the new Steam controller, engineer Jeff Bellinghausen directed me to one of the booth's many stations which had Capcom's side-scrolling Strider reboot running as a demonstration. Before letting me feel the controller and start swiping robots with a ninja sword, Jeff explained some of the changes his team made, considering feedback from fans and developers to the controller's original design.

The starkest difference would be the removal of the central touchscreen, which was expensive enough to place it out of the standard price for a game controller and took up too much space in the first place. This relegated the traditionaldiamond buttons to the corners of the touchscreen, an awkward placement to say the least. Along with the innovative but strange touchpads, the controller was deemed far too alien and impractical for exsiting PC games that already had an Xbox 360 controller in mind as a viable input device. Thus, Valve has replaced the unwieldy touchscreen with the arrows and diamond face button configuration for better familiarity and consistency across games.

The touchpads themselves, as the main innovative feature that might as well be permanent in the design no matter how many iterations the controller goes through, have a grooved quality that combines the best of the trackball with a laptop-like touchpad. Moving Strider Hiryu about the field is simple enough, just by depressing the circular touchpad like a regular D-pad. The one caveat that's difficult to learn (or is that, un-learn?) is that merely touching left or right on the touchpad will move Strider in that direction. Luckily, you can customize the controls so that you must press down on the pad for the movement to activate. The touchpad also makes it easier to control the mouse for point-and-click adventures.

The original model's touchscreen and corner-layout for buttons have been replaced by the more traditional start and select button in the middle and then two traditional diamond layouts for arrows and the X-Y-A-B buttons. The reaction to the first layout had some developers call it "alien," and practically speaking, the touchscreen would have been too expansive and the strange layout wouldn't make sense for the majority of games that already exist. Thus the change.

My main concern with the touchpads, though, is that they might be too cumbersome for any game that requires precision like fighting games. Now, most hardcore fighter fans own a joystick anyway so that's not much of a problem, but any high-action title that requires complex and immediate directional movement may not perform well with the Steam Controller. However, it just may take longer than the ten minutes I had with the controller to get accustomed to its original design.
Related Games:   Strider, Strider
Tags:   GDC, Steam, Valve

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