Last week Steam announced a trio of gaming goodness, starting with the company’s plans to release a Linux-based free operating system called SteamOS, which will essentially be a gamer’s OS for the living room PC. Secondly, Valve finally gave us more than a tidbit about Steam Machines, the hardware which would run the SteamOS, and apparently be produced by different manufacturers. Finally, Steam announced the steering wheel for the Steam gaming platform, the Steam Controller. Because as much as we love keyboard controls for PC games, a handheld can often be a lot more practical.
The overall shape of the device itself is not unlike that of a PS3, Ouya or Xbox controller. But instead of sticks the Steam Controller has two circular trackpads, making traditional sit-down PC games that require a mouse playable on the floor, couch, or whatever other furniture makes you comfortable. The track pads (easily seen the image above) are easily reached by your thumbs, so in a sense it’ll be like controller two mice at the same time.
According to Steam the trackpads offer higher fidelity input than traditional handheld controllers. Steam says the controller was “built with high-precision input technologies and focused on low-latency performance.”
As far as compatibility, the Steam Controller is said to be compatible with all games on Steam – past, present and future. RTS games, casual, cursor-driven games, strategy games, 4x space exploration games, and simulation games are all playable with the SteamOS controller.
For movement in the controller, Steam incorporated dual linear resonant actuators behind the trackpads, creating vibratory movements that are precisely controlled in frequency, amplitude, and direction of movement. The “hactic” capability of the trackpads can relay information to the user such as speed, boundaries, thresholds, textures, and action confirmations.
The SteamOS controller will also come with a touch screen at the center of the device (covered in the picture above by the Steam logo, gear and call box icons). The entire screen is clickable, and can be used for an almost infinite number of functions including as a scrolling menu, radial dial, navigation map, among the possibilities.
There are, of course, actual physical buttons; sixteen of them, in fact, placed symmetrically all around the controller. And, the controller has a built in legacy mode to support older games from Steam.
Steam says the first 300 Steam Controllers available in limited beta won’t be exactly be the same as the controllers that will ship with Steam Machines next year. Mainly, because the beta versions will not feature the center touch screen.
Steam was launched in 2002 by Valve as a digital distribution platform for games. As of the beginning of this year, Steam boasted 6.6 million concurrent players.
Jeff Chabot has a background in web development and design, as well as working in broadcast television as a studio engineer, lighting director and editor. He frequently writes about technology, broadcasting, digital entertainment, and the internet.