Gosh, I’m glad I’m not in charge of designing the Steam Controller and making sure it works just as well with mouse-focused RTS titles as it does with shooters. And racers. And MOBAs. And those suspect anime titles. Christ, to have to head a project that ensures adequate haptic control for those suspect anime titles.
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Luckily for me and PC gaming the world over, I’m not in charge of making the Steam Controller. Valve are. And as veteran programmer and designer Robin Walker demonstrates on the PAX 2015 show floor, the focus is very much on user customisation and versatility.
But let’s be real – it would take nothing short of a rose-scented, auto-headshotting hand massager that literally dispenses money into your lap to dislodge that trusty 360 controller from your PC. What can the Steam Controller do when it arrives this November that your current gamepad can’t?
Primarily, its innovation lies in those two eye-catching thumb pads. As Walker explains, they can be ‘virtualised’ to behave like a mouse, joystick or trackball. Users can upload particular profiles with their own virtualisation schemes and button layouts for specific games and share them via Steam. As someone who regularly trawls message boards for force feedback profiles for my steering wheel and painstakingly adjusts in-game sliders accordingly, I’m very much pro this.
It’s also possible to set the rumble to behave differently – giving you a jolt when you reach the edge of the thumb pad to indicate that it’ll keep your view scrolling from this point, for example, or rumbling every time you touch it.
I’m also broadly enthusiastic about the paddle-like buttons at the rear of the pad, which Walker explains will help to keep your thumbs on the pads at the face of the controller and allow frequently used actions to be remapped to the rear.
Those dual stage triggers look satisfying to use too, don’t they? The idea here is that you’ll have an analogue ‘squeeze’ mapped to one function, then a ‘click’ as the trigger’s fully depressed to perform another function. Ironsights and firing is the obvious example.
It’ll be fascinating to see how users customise and refine the pad’s functions once it’s released. Currently though, the Steam Controller demonstrates a number of things it’s doing differently to conventional pads, without giving a clear idea of what it’s doing better.
Steam’s taking pre-orders right now before the controller’s release on 10 November, when the proof of the pudding will be determined.