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The Steam Controller

September 28, 2013

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Update: Super Meat Boy programmer Tommy Refenes’ hands-on with the controller.

Fascinating! I have no idea if the track pads will provide for more accurate input over joysticks, but I would love to give it a try for myself to find out. Unlike Zoso, I have no attachment to joysticks. With the exception of that on the N64 controller, none has ever faithfully translated my intentions to actions on the screen. There will be no love lost if they disappear off the face of all gamepads for the rest of gaming history.

Similarly, Valve has demonstrated the good sense to increase by 50% the number of buttons that can be operated without requiring thumb involvement: bumpers, triggers, and “clinchers”, as I shall call them, located on the underbelly (see the picture for location). It is incomprehensible to me that only third party manufacturers and modders have realized the problem of requiring the thumbs to do almost everything. ABXY for the right thumb?! What idiot thought that was a good idea, and what idiots carried it over for two more generations of Xbox controllers?!

Finally, the fact that it is instantly backwards compatible with the entire Steam catalog (regardless of any controller-ready programming on the part of developers) is very surprising and alone merits purchase for me. It makes me regret even more that I didn’t buy Humble Bundle #9.

Valve has earned the “shut-up-and-take-my-money-any-way-you-want” love of gamers through their Steam deals. But, they have also earned an utter lack of trust through their empty promises. So, their first two big announcements this week, SteamOS and “Steam Machines” don’t really hold my attention. Just more hot air until they actually produce something and make it available to the public, even just in concrete information form. However, this third announcement, The Steam Controller, is picture proofed and is something all gamers should be curious about.

And hit the jump for a special picture.

Haters Gonna Hate-panda

  1. rEDChief55 permalink*
    September 28, 2013 2:23 pm

    I guess I differ in that I have no problems with the current controllers/thumbsticks. I personally find them comfortable and accurate enough to have fun with. Other than the Super Nintendo and Genesis, I have used thumbsticks my whole life across the n64, atari, dreamcast, ps1, ps2, xbox, and 360.

    To your point about the layout…I didn’t realize the standard two joystick layout was bothersome to you. Traditionally our group plays shooters, so the emphasis usually falls on the triggers and bumpers, not the face buttons. The face buttons usually reload, crouch, jump, or change weapon. Never have I felt “caught” pressing one of those actions with my right thumb off the stick. It’s usually such a quick slap of the button and return to the thumbstick that it’s insignificant. Whether it’s shooters, racers, or even sports games..the triggers seem to be where it’s at, and they don’t require you to let go of either stick.

    The only strong exception I can think of is halo. I played halo 2 religiously and was almost as good at halo 3. The standard configuration has A as jump (which is used quite often) and I never really gave it a second thought. It wasn’t until Reach that I even knew the “bumper jumper” layout existed (where the right bumper is jump, keeping your thumb on the right stick). I heard this was much better, but never had a chance to try it out since I had burned out on halo by then lol.

    As far as the N64 controller goes, it was definitely my least favorite. I remember that the stick wasn’t surrounded by a smooth circle like the xbox and PS controllers…it was more of a n octagon shape. So I could see where you would like it’s more precise movements and such. The stick could be pushed into hard “corners”. But man that three-pronged controller was not friendly at all to my 8 year old hands. Even now it’d be a pain to use, stretching your right thumb alll the way over to reach the stick. That controller also had SIX face buttons. It was usable but not ideal in my opinion. Idk if it was one too many face buttons or what…but I definitely didn’t like that controller overall.

    This steam controller LOOKS cool. It’s new. Innovation is cool and everything, but personally I don’t NEED it. I like the current controller. I’m even hesitant that MS will change the One’s controller too much from the current feel. Hopefully it’ll be even better. I personally don’t need to see a fundamental change in controllers. Add improvements like more feedback, better precision, easier handling sure…but I don’t think I need track pads.

  2. September 28, 2013 3:10 pm

    rED, here is a video I made just after I got a 360 (the date stamp is wrong and indicates internal changes at Gametrailers). I think you may have even watched this before.

    The unfortunate thing is that the track pads may suffer from the exact same problem of axis alignment, in which case, they won’t be any better. It was on this point that the N64 controller was perfect. The thumb stick was aligned with the natural extension of the thumb – so that it was like – cocking a gun. Yes, the face buttons were crazy, but even with those nasty yellow buttons instead of a second stick, I could circle strafe with James Bond smoothly and accurately – something I haven’t been able to do on any controller since.

    I don’t know that the Steam controller will be any better than what we have now, but I am always on the look out for innovation in this area.

    Thanks for the great reply!

  3. Blankman permalink*
    September 29, 2013 2:49 pm

    Wouldn’t that be that Valve increased thumbless operation by 33%, Suns? Contemporary controllers already employ shoulder & trigger buttons. You might think that it was idiotic to have buttons placed on the right thumb, but it’s part of muscle memory now. As rED has already mentioned, I, too, have never had a problem with the face buttons. As far as the N64’s controller, I cannot comment since I never played that system. I will say that it had a funky design that didn’t appeal to me whatsoever.

    Steam’s controller does look intriguing. Using trackpads is a cool idea if it can substantially improve controller input. It’s a shame that it will most likely be exclusive to the PC platform. Kotaku just reported that several developers including Sega Europe had some time with controller. They came away impressed even though many of them went on record that they preferred the Xbox controller due to the familiarity with the thumb sticks.

    The Xbox controller S & 360 controller have been two of the best controllers that I’ve played with on any platform. I just hope that the XB1’s controller can carry that tradition. The only thing that I’m worried about is that huge, cumbersome microphone adapter getting in the way.

  4. September 29, 2013 3:11 pm

    Good points. Thanks for the heads-up on the articles. No surprise about the conclusions. It is the same point Zos made back in the other thread. Thumbsticks are what people are used to.

    EDIT: For future reference:
    As for the math, I am correct. When going from 4 to 6 buttons, it is a fifty percent increase. When going the opposite direction from 6 to 4 it is a 33 percent decrease. One of those mysteries in the world of numbers.

  5. rEDChief55 permalink*
    September 30, 2013 2:55 am

    I forgot about the huge mic adapter… -_____-

  6. September 30, 2013 8:25 pm

    I still can’t wrap my head around Valve’s announcements. I feel kind of like everyone here in that I think it could go either way. If a Steambox catches on, for consoles, and gamers as a whole, this would be HUGE as you’d have a system that’s open and you can upgrade. I also think it would have the potential to create more synergistic, symbiotic relationships with developers and their communities. The bottom line is if they can have it at a reasonable price, and/or a machine that runs windows natively as the SteamOS isn’t supported ATM.

    Controller-wise, this thing sounds cool but looks weird as hell. If Valve is actually open to suggestion from developers and the community, this will be something quite possibly revolutionary as it’s meant as a KEYBOARD/MOUSE alternative. I think it also goes with their aim to bring the PC to the living room. From my end, I’ll possibly get one if they’re cheap, but I’m now at a spot where I don’t like controllers, as I feel they lack the precision and accuracy that a mouse provides.

  7. October 12, 2013 11:09 pm

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