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Steam Controller (steampowered.com)
783 points by cocoflunchy on Sept 27, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 361 comments

I got to hold one of these a few months ago. It's solid. The ergonomics are there. The same designer[1] was previously at {one of the other three very large gaming console manufacturers} and knows a thing or two about controllers. My understanding is it will be significantly more accurate than traditional joysticks and competitive with a mouse (with a mouse you have a single 'large' plane of motion, with this, you have two smaller independent planes for each thumb). For FPS's it will really shine, but keep in mind that Valve also makes DOTA2 so I'm sure they're more than aware of the need to make this work across genres.

For Valve to bring PC gaming to your TV/Couch, they really needed to nail the interface. I imagine they have spent many iterations on the problem, and I am very excited to see the fruits of their labor.

[1] Full disclosure, by some odd coincidence she happens to be my sister and also did the industrial design for Lockitron so I am wayy biased here.

I don't see how my right thumb could be as precise as moving the mouse, which I do with all 5 of my fingers (for tiny movements) or from my shoulder (for larger movements). If thumb touchpads were good for FPS games, how come nobody is playing them with their thumb on their laptop's touchpad? Maybe I'm just old, but I don't see myself ever being able to use this.

Controllers like this are notoriously hard to get right. The tiniest details matter immensely and mean the difference between joyous and unusable.

There's just no way to judge a controller without physically holding it and walking an FPS mile with it as your shoes.

I spent the early 90's going from one giant, gaudy "flight stick" to the next, never knowing that what I really wanted was a pair of miniature thumb-sticks. My mind is wide open to stuff like this.

Thank you for saying this. Logical arguments, especially around fuzzy notions like the feel of a controller, are useful for prioritizing the hypotheses we test. But not for deciding on them.

Given 15 different controller designs, use logic to figure out what order you test them/build them. But at the end, it comes down to the feel.

This[1] CH joystick was my bread-and-butter for gaming. I used one one-handed with a joystick in the other for FPS; I used one with the spring switch off on a Y-adapter as a throttle. it's only downside was not enough buttons for fighting games. Also they wear out after about 2-4 years of hard use (or a decade of light use).

I'm down to my last one that works perfectly, and considering building a USB one since all of the joystick parts are still manufactured and available from CH.


Why not FPS with a laptop? Laptop trackpads are low precision and high latency. They're also ergonomically inferior and the placement is difficult when considering the all-important WASD just above it.

When you read into the details of these two pads they're developing, it sounds extremely exciting.

Some of the highest resolution and performant sensors ever put into a controller.

When combined with the supposed "configuration utility" whereby we have hopefully powerful control to map and bind to will, I can see this being a big win.

I like my 360 controller for PC gaming for many reasons: pain from mouse/kbb overuse being one, comfort when sitting and playing for another, and the simple fact that many games are made for controller and ported to kbb/mouse as well.

So you talk about an ergonomic, high quality, extremely performant, Linux native, configurable, built-for-PC controller?

Color me very interested.

Apple's trackpads aren't low precision and high latency.

Heh, have you tried playing an FPS on a mac, with its awful mouse acceleration?

This has been my biggest frustration with Macs. I've never been able to get used to the weird mouse acceleration curve. Using a non-Apple mouse usually makes things a little better, but it's still just not right. I even tried installing a 3rd party tool once to fix the issue, but it didn't help much.

Was it SmoothMouse[0]? We likely have different needs but I've been pretty satisfied since installing it, especially for my trackball.

[0]: http://smoothmouse.com/

Based on screenshots, it seems like it, but it's been a few years, so if it hasn't been around that long, then no.

wow, that really improved the feel of the mouse in OSX for me, thanks alot!

Yes, played entire Portal/Portal2 on it. It was fine. Maybe you should be railing at game developers that port to the Mac but then don’t update their acceleration curves to fit the platform. That’s the problem, when games are developed on Windows with the Windows mouse curve and then never adjusted on the Mac port.

Maybe this can help for games that don't bother to adjust/disable acceleration:

    defaults write .GlobalPreferences com.apple.mouse.scaling -1
    defaults write .GlobalPreferences com.apple.trackpad.scaling -1
I could care less about programmable buttons, but my RAT5 required a kext installed along with the companion software to work properly (hover bugs and whatnot), and it does not seem to have any acceleration, even outside games (I did not use the above settings)

> how come nobody is playing them with their thumb on their laptop's touchpad?

Touchpads (and mice) don't work like thumbsticks.

Touchpads/mice measure a vector with the size equal to distance traveled. Thumbsticks measure a vector with a size equal to the deflection from center.

Thumbsticks are terrible for mousing tasks (e.g., moving a virtual cursor [rts games]), and mice/touchpads are terrible for thumbstick tasks (e.g., playing a racing/flying game).

Actually raw touchpad output does work like that, it's just adapted to drive a mouse cursor. Imagine a touchpad mode where the position of the mouse cursor on screen gets mapped to the position of the finger on the pad.

True enough, my (uninformed) guess is that for this to work it would have to be on the level of the touchpad driver.

Long time users of trackball mice will disagree with you


Using Counter Strike as the flag ship FPS for Valve there currently aren't any professional players using a trackball: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/pub?key=0AkghPvIh7ZVwdGZ...

As a trackball heavy user (i use both thumb and index ones, with both hands) I avoid playing FPS without a mouse!

the thumbs trackball is more precise. But still not good. A good and cheap microsoft mouse is always with me when i'm playing FPSs.

Also, even if the control wasn't an issue, no trackball has more than 300DPI. EVER. The minimum for mouses is 400. I don't know why that is. But even the overly expensive Kensington ones are crappy even to click on a 10x10 button on regular usage, let alone to headshot in a FPS.

I wholeheartedly agree that trackballs suck for FPS games, but most pro FPS players advocate keeping the mouse at a fairly low DPI, so that deficiency isn't really the problem.

I have trouble believing that any device that relies on thumb-only input is going to be anywhere near as good as a mouse, but I hope I'm proven wrong.

Trackballs really aren't _that_ terrible for precision in FPS. Not pro level, but heckuva lot better than the joystick control consoles currently use. I found I had a harder time in StarCraft than I did in UT2K4, but both were quite playable.

I used a Logitech Trackman for seven years, and the biggest issue was that the force required to move the ball around wasn't constant; it would vary depending on how gunked up the little rollers inside had gotten. I had to clean mine out every day to keep it smooth.

If a person prefers using a trackball, that's great, but when the same tools used by the pros costs about $50, there isn't really any other reason to use anything else.

no trackball has more than 300DPI

My 1600DPI L-Trac disagrees.

Ok, One or two $100+ trackballs have it. While all sub $50 mouses are over 3000DPI...

I used a Logitech Trackball for more than a decade due to De Quervain syndrome. My specific experience in this topic is that the TB allows for high speed macro motions (RTS control), often easier/faster than a mouse; but for high speed precision (headshots), the mouse wins every time.

I use a logitech trackman and still have an optical mouse just for FPS games

Part of the problem with laptop touchpads is that it's hard to find the center if you lose it. The texturing and concavity on the Steam controller will make that much easier.

The positioning on the Steampad helps, too. Imagine a D-pad or thumbstick built into your laptop in the place where a trackpad normally goes. That's what laptop trackpads are like.

Imagine one thumb being 1x, the other 10x - then you could dial in precision and speed at the same time.

>I don't see how my right thumb could be as precise as moving the mouse

It's a controller, it will never be as precise as a mouse. Trust me when this thing comes out people will be complaining about how they're suddenly losing every game of TF2.

Yeah i tired playing LoL with a mouse. Not a good experience. EPICLY HARD. You just can't get that level of rapid precision with a mouse. for FPS games, this controller looks like a BEAST!!! but for games like Dota, this is gonna be a huge pain. I can already see people complaining after every death that they are playing form a controller

A laptop's touchpad isn't a handheld controller. Using your thumb would feel awkward.

>For Valve to bring PC gaming to your TV/Couch, they really needed to nail the interface.

I don't understand the problem with traditional mouse+kb for couch gaming. I've been using it for years and haven't encountered any drawbacks (using wireless mouse+kb combo). Am able to play online FPS and RTS, both of which require extreme precision and extreme low latency, at very high levels.

You use a solid mousemat, place that on the couch beside you. The keyboard goes in your lap. Kick your feet up and game away. It works great.

This controller looks like trying to reinvent the wheel, and I just don't think that it'll work. The problem which all of these schemes have is that they make you uncomptetive versus mouse+kb foes in multiplayer games. No one has ever been able to match the precision and control of mouse+kb, and even if this solution is far better than previously attempts, it will still likely not be anywhere near the traditional control.

For 'casual' single player games, it'll work great. I'm sure that's a large part of the market for SteamBox. But for the hardcore, it probably won't work at all. I think they'd be better off finding a solution which incorporates traditional mouse+kb than trying to work around it, but that's just my opinion from the outside looking in.

*"You use a solid mousemat, place that on the couch beside you. The keyboard goes in your lap. Kick your feet up and game away. It works great."

I've played console games with three other people scrunched up on a love seat; lying on the couch; sitting crosslegged on the floor; and sprawled out in a beanbag chair. Sometimes I get tired of having my hands in my lap, so I stretch them out behind my head. If I want to relocate, I can keep playing as I walk across the room, or pause and carry the controller in one hand and my drink in the other.

That's the sort of flexibility I want in a "couch controller," not just sitting still on the couch by myself.

They explicitly aren't trying to replace the mouse and keyboard. they're just trying to make an option available for people who want a controller. if you like a mouse and keyboard, good for you, keep using it. from the product page FAQ:

"I’m a happy Steam customer happily using my happy mouse and keyboard. I don’t want a controller? You can’t make a sentence into a question by just putting a question-mark at the end. But we’re happy you’re happy, and by all means keep using whatever input method makes sense for you. Rest assured, we won’t abandon you. We love mice and keyboards, too."

Again, why not find a solution which incorporates mouse+kb instead of avoiding it? Would console-ers really be too put off by an elegant solution?

And the problem here is not negligible. CoD series games will be miserable to play with a gamepad versus mouse+kb'ers, and those games would likely be quite popular on SteamBox.

"I don't understand the problem with traditional mouse+kb for couch gaming"

"why not find a solution which incorporates mouse+kb instead of avoiding it?"

It sounds like they feel the same way to do. Mouse + Keyboard is already viable across a very wide spectrum of games. They don't need "a solution which incorporates mouse+kb", because that already is a solution (as you note, there's no real problem there).

However, for those that want a controller experience, there's not a viable solution. Controllers work across a pretty narrow spectrum of games. That is the problem that they're trying to address.

Because at some point, Valve is about making money, and people don't buy consoles and attach them to their tv with mouse and keyboard en masse. If they did, this wouldn't exist.

If you want/need to sell something in the millions, it kind of needs to be least common denominator. Gamers understand controllers as the basic interface for tv gaming, so they will buy them.

Gamers don't buy keyboards to put on their TV's so Valve is being smart by not forcing a square peg in a round hole. They want the Steam Machines to sell. A mouse and keyboard won't sell.

I can think of two good reasons:

1. cultural expecations. consoles have controller gizmos. people expect it. its a different experience than just running an HDMI cable from your PC to a TV and calling it a day. Its a console. It lives next to your TV all the time. Its supposed to have a controller, because Nintendo's NES had one back in 1985. Cultural expectations and traditions are a powerful force.

2. there are many games that are actually superior to play with a controller than with a mouse and keyboard. Platformer games come to mind. Thats a major genre of consoles and always has been, and alot of indie game companies are exploring the genre again on the steam platform. At the moment I have to use an XBox controller plugged in to my PC to play. If Valve offered their own controller I'd gladly use it instead (assuming its good).

SteamOS should support a keyboard and mouse just fine if that's your bag. They aren't avoiding it.

There are certain games that work better with controllers—the best example I can think of is Mirror's Edge. I would be upset if I couldn't use a controller, because sometimes you need joysticks.

Is that even a good example? Mirror's Edge without the speed and precision of the mouse sounds awful for speed runs, and nothing is lost with the lack of an analog stick for movement (since you're always running).

If you haven't tried before, I highly recommend doing time trials with KB+M. It's a completely different game.

I don't doubt that this controller design likely won't cut it for precision FPS play. On the flipside, however, having a giant keyboard, plus a mousemat taking up space (and to work well, a mouse needs a significant amount of space) and flopping around when people sit up and down on the couch may work for hardcore gamers, but it's likely a non-starter for anyone else. Even if you integrated the mouse so it could be on your lap, it would still be a large ugly thing that's likely to fall down and is hard to use in many of the relaxed positions people are used to gaming in.

Fair enough.

I suppose my "complaint" is that they could do a better job of bridging the gap, but perhaps I am wrong. You do make a good point that the mouse+kb may be too cumbersome for some (most?) consoler switchers.

I do wish that I could see what sort of solution Valve could come up with if forced to keep the primary mouse+kb, though. Some sort of streamlined solution which you partly imagine in your post.

A few friends and I once had imagined a keyboard with an attached mousepad and a mouse that was magnetically (or otherwise) attached to the pad, that prevented from falling off, so that you could rest it on your lap while sitting on the couch.

I always wondered if something like that would be possible.. So you'd have all your precision mouse movement without the akward balancing of loose things while sitting on the couch, or getting up and sitting down.

This was the planned input peripheral for the ill-fated "Phantom" gaming console.


Aaaand looks like the keyboard actually made it to market, there's even one on ebay. I had no idea.

"No one has ever been able to match the precision and control of mouse+kb"

Someone did some tests a while back with a gamepad-trackball (trackball replacing the right thumbstick). They found that pro PC FPS gamers did just as well with it as with mouse+keyboard, after a short adjustment period.

Here's some quotes from the most recent attempt (out of three that I know of) to crowdfund one of those (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/485185897/revolve-goes-w...):

"...I attained a level of accuracy I had never experienced without a mouse and keyboard combination." - Gerry Block, IGN

"You will spend less time fighting your controls and more time fighting bad guys." - Grant Collier, Co-Founder of Infinity Ward and Co-Creator of Call of Duty

Of course it failed anyway, because gamers all went "LOOKS DUMB LOL" and refused to read further. I was really hoping that Valve's controller would be a trackballpad; if it actually made it to market, I'm confident that ongoing positive reviews would lead to popular adoption.

When you make bold statements you generally have to back it up with some evidence. I find it really hard to believe that anyone has the level off accuracy and speed that you get from a good keyboard/mouse combo.

It is a reason that console games come with built in auto aim on all FPS shooters...

I'm looking for the original study I saw. I haven't found it yet, but here's one that found that trackballs were superior to thumbsticks, even for users familiar with gamepads and not trackballs (hardly a revelation, certainly, but you'd be surprised how many people contest it): http://www.yorku.ca/mack/FuturePlay1.html

But come now, my original statement was hardly all that bold. Obviously the reason that gamepad aiming sucks is just that thumbstick aiming sucks. Replace the thumbstick, solve the problem. (And as a bonus, get analog movement as well as analog aiming--the traditional WASD doesn't allow for speed gradations.) I used to game exclusively with a trackball and never had any troubles. The only reason I stopped is that nobody makes trackballs for left-handers anymore that are any damn good. And if you don't believe me, I just gave you a couple of quotes from gaming professionals.

There is a large difference between CoD and CS. That's what you would have to convince me with... that or SC.

I'm pretty sure CoD and CS both involve aiming a crosshairs. That's the only thing that's really relevant to this discussion.

As for Starcraft, you're right, it wouldn't work; not because of the pointing device, but because a gamepad doesn't have enough buttons to manage all the hotkeys. In my original post, I called out FPSes specifically for that reason.

But most console players dont want to use their KB + mouse in the living room, it just doesnt feel right. I know i wouldnt, and i love playing PC games with keyboard and mouse..but if im playing a serious FPS that needs decent KB+ mouse controls i do that on my desk, on the couch i would just be crippled. Anyway this isnt really their market, they want to make PC games playable in the living room for the masses, which would be a huge achievement if this works.

You can have a laid back, more clutter-free experience with a controller in front of a TV - and the TV experience is meant to be laid back, anyway.

I mostly agree with you but to play the devil's advocate... if it is a game I love, I am usually at the edge of my seat (probably a bad idea ergonomically)

Are you suggesting that most hardcore console gamers use a keyboard and mouse? I don't think that's true...

Edit: Rereading your comment, I guess you might mean PC gamers who are sitting on their couches. I don't think that's the market this is after; it's trying to get console gamers onto Steam by providing them a cool new product that will work well with the games they have. This makes that a much smaller shift for those gamers than the keyboard and mouse. Will they still get owned by more traditional PC gamers (since they're now competing directly), as you suggest? I guess that's possible, but that's just saying "console gaming needs to stay separate", not "they should use a keyboard and mouse for console games", which just isn't on the table any more than PC gamers are going to switch to a handheld controller.

Any game with a PC version that is vetted as a competitive esport will find its pc version, with superior and portable control interfaces, to be the choice for competition.

See: CoD, Battlefield, Quake, etc. All prefer exact aiming with a mouse over fudging analog input sticks with aim assist.

By your wording, no, console gamers don't use keyboards / mice, because the games they play on consoles are not compatible with them, and are not designed to use them. Very few genres (fighting, brawlers) sometimes prefer controllers to keyboards, and when they do it is usually a personal choice, or the market has better alternatives to both (ie, fight sticks).

The major difference between a mouse and a controller stick is the type of input.

Mouse is a pointing input - for a movement of 1 unit, your view changes by 1 unit. If you stop moving the mouse, your view stops moving.

Controller stick is a velocity input - for a movement of 1 unit, your view starts moving at a speed of 1 unit. If you bring the stick back to center, your view stops moving.

It could be that the Steam controller trackpad is precise enough to be a pointing input sensor, which could enable precise aiming. But it's too early to tell before the first reviews are out.

There's no reason you can't use a mouse a velocity input and a stick as a position input; either one is returning a value in a two-dimensional space -- treating that value as "position" or "velocity" is a matter of what the receiving software does with the input, not the input itself.

Joystick calibration utilities, for instance, tend to take stick position as a position input, and ISTR a number of PC sims that preferred joystick input but could use a mouse like a non-auto-centering joystick.

That is hardly relevant, using a stick as position input would give you, what, five units of movement on either axis?

> That is hardly relevant, using a stick as position input would give you, what, five units of movement on either axis?

From what I can find online, the PS3 controller is 10-bit per axis (1024 positions on either axis), the Xbox 360 is either 8-bit (256 positions) or 16-bit (64k positions.)

A 25-way joystick of the type you describe wouldn't be usable for most console games, whether as a position or velocity input.

It sounds like you're defining "hardcore gamer" as a competitive professional or semi-professional gamer. If so, I guess that's fine, but irrelevant to whether Valve will sell a lot of controllers. That's just not an important demographic.

Much more important is the platform market share for hardcore games, like CoD and Battlefield. It simply isn't true that people prefer the PC version [1], despite the inferior controls. CoD sells vastly more copies for console than for PC [2]. It's not even close.

If Valve wants to break into that market and compete with Xbox and PS, it needs a controller.

[1] Though I do, and it sounds like you do too.

[2] http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/31995/Exclusive_Black_Ops... (I recognize this doesn't include Steam sales, but the point still stands)

> I recognize this doesn't include Steam sales

Who buys retail games anymore?

Many of the more serious FPS console gamers do you a mouse and keyboard: http://xim3.com/

Console will always be at disadvantage to the PC in this genre due to its low frame rate (usually 121+ fps is considered slandered for the genre in order to make use of a 120hz refresh rate). Consoles currently output about 20 - 30 fps, not really acceptable for competitive play in a FPS.

I got a chance to try this out with a first-person shooter. I was not very happy with it. It felt worse than mouse+keyboard and simultaneously worse than dual-analog gamepads. Everybody in the room had issues calibrating and re-centering themselves. I'm sure it gets better with more use, but that's just the problem: it fails a fundamental usability test, because the initial experience of using it is pretty awful and requires a significant learning curve to achieve results that aren't necessarily or obviously better than either of the current standards.

My first impression on viewing the controller is that reporting the 'location' of the thumb is going to be hard. Unlike a joystick or mouse that has a well-defined point, the thumb touches over a large area. You can find the centroid of this area - and the area will change size and shape as the thumb is rolled around. Different people will roll their thumbs differently, and there may be a mismatch between intent and physical interaction.

It'll be interesting to see how well they manage to deal with this.

I suspect that will be a feature, not a bug. I already use finger-rolling on my laptop trackpad when I need pixel-level precision. For noobs, the difference probably won't be noticeable; for experts, I expect they'll be using that technique on purpose.

To be fair, dual-stick FPS gaming and mouse+keyboard gaming has a vicious learning-curve the first time out as well. The question is whether it's worth struggling through that.

Out of curiosity, was the haptic tech in the build you tried out?

Keeping thumbs oriented seems to be the biggest challenge of a controller like this, but I as hoping the haptic feedback would help keep your thumbs in place.

What do you mean by having an extra plane. The mouse already covers a 2d surface, how would an extra plane help you with that?

The analog trackpad does have an advantage over a keyboard but not over a mouse, i think.

In a typical keyboard+mouse FPS game, for example, you get 2D analog "look" controls with the mouse, but much more limited 2D "move" controls with the keyboard.

With two analog sticks/trackpads/mice/etc. you can get the same range of control over both. That's what the two "planes" give you.

To expand on this:

In most FPSes your move commands are binary, "W" or nothing. You can alter them a bit with combinations, Shift-W to sprint or perhaps Ctrl-W to crawl but you're still limited to a handful of preset speeds.

I could easily imagine being able to use a continuous axis to encapsulate walk/jog/sprint being quite a bit more intuitive and precise.

What about circle strafing a moving target while jumping/ducking and shooting? For me, that takes 3 simultaneous inputs on my left hand and 3 on my right hand. On each hand, some of those inputs vary or alternate. I can't speak for "most FPS" but competitive FPS require this coordinated action.

Splinter Cell did this to great effect, with the scroll wheel used to smoothly progress between creeping/walking/jogging/sprinting.

Regarding your comment about DOTA2, i see how they have a stake in making this good for rts, but i am not sure how it will work. Me and a cousin hacked an old XBOX (not 360) controller and made it into a usb controller and i tried playing League Of Legends with it... hellishly tough man. I figured it would be more suited to a controller than other rts games because it involves a lot of button action, instead of just the point-and-click of rts games. so while the controller was pretty cool for casting spells, but mouse movement is a pain. because u have to click all over the screen pretty rapidly (MOBA games get pretty intense) and such rapid precision is very VERY hard to obtain from a controller.

Maybe its just all of us aren't used to doing those tasks with a controller as we are used to it by a mouse (btw long time halo veteran so am more comfortable on controllers for FPS games) but i think a learning curve would prevent high level players from switching to controllers becuase it would (albeit temporarily) really shunt their skills

I'm actually pretty optimistic about this. It's a big divergence from current couch input schemes, and the open nature of it might mean that it'll be improved for ergonomics and whatnot. It's got some interesting promise.

Best of all, worst case, I can fall back to my trusty 360 controllers and use those without a hitch, so even if this is a disaster, it doesn't sink the platform (as can be the case with other platforms)

I would say I am optimistic as well because, having been a dedicated "Big Picture" user for the past few months, it is clear Valve has put a lot of thought into this transition. However, what bothered me about the controller is that it doesn't seem to actually be that different.

I don't see how this markedly improves over current controllers and their integration. The key genres for which the current controllers don't work, such as RTS, don't seem to be that much better off with this solution. Maybe its just a lack of imagination on my part, but I will have to see more to be convinced.

The first game they show a sreenshot of is Civilization. I'm sure RTS was one of the main genres they tested the controller with.

From the announcement:

> Even the older titles in the catalog and the ones which were not built with controller support. (We’ve fooled those older games into thinking they’re being played with a keyboard and mouse, but we’ve designed a gamepad that’s nothing like either one of those devices.)

(Yes, i know Civ isn't an RTS, but it is a strategy game that is unplayable on a stardard controller)

Civilization is a turn based strategy game. The "RT" (real-time) part is what really makes gamepads unsuitable for RTS. I play Starcraft 2 and I can't imagine how you could possibly select individual units and pull them back when they are taking damage. Show me someone doing blink stalker micro with a gamepad and I will eat my words.

>I play Starcraft 2 and I can't imagine how you could possibly select individual units and pull them back when they are taking damage

You're not really arguing whether the Steam controller is bad -- you're simply saying any gamepad would be bad for Starcraft/RTS.

This is likely never going to change -- unless an RTS is designed from the early stages of development to be usable on gamepads, no gamepad will ever be acceptable for a game like Starcraft that requires 40+ actions per minute at the very lowest levels of play and 300-500 actions per minute by the professional level players. I doubt that there will ever be any controller better suited for a high-micro RTS than the keyboard/mouse combo (except perhaps some kind of direct brain-signals-to-game-input method in the not so near future ).

You know, as a 80APM mid level player I wonder if this will be usable for me. I love Starcraft but I'm pretty sure the fast wrist movements are seriously screwing up my wrists, and I don't even play that much, so it would be worth it to me to try out an alternative interface, even if it's a little slower, if I can not fuck up my wrists before I turn 30. Though I have tried playing with a trackball and it also sucks so dunno if this can be any better, but I'll probably give it a try at least. Hmm... probably not really going to work with control groups and spells and the like, but maybe I could play team games with it lol.

i'd bet some dollars on dota 2 and tf2 working at near-mouse+keyboard efficiency - those are their main money printing machines right now (...besides the cut sales) and they can't afford to segment their player base by controller, so they must have something in store.

DotA was the main title I was thinking about. If they can make DotA playable with this then I think they are on to something special. DotA is intimidating enough using K+M, if they break down the hotkey barrier with an intuitive controller, they stand to gain a lot.

As somebody that played a lot of dota, specially in W3 Dota, if they can pull of dota with a pad I would be shocked.

The only games that are even harder are very fast RTS like Star Craft 2.

I cant imagen that it will work well, but Im open to beeing suprised.

I imagine it'd take some practice getting used to, but if they implemented both pads affecting the same cursor at different ratios, i.e. one for broad movements and one for more precise control, I would think someone who got used to it could be even more precise that they could be with a mouse.

It sounds to me like you would be able to use the trackpad regions as either "joysticks" or "trackpads" which means for an RTS game you would be no worse off than using a trackpad over a mouse. Other games might be better using them as joysticks where the input re-centers if you lift up from the control surface. Seems like a pretty big improvement over traditional controllers without any significant downsides.

> which means for an RTS game you would be no worse off than using a trackpad over a mouse.

Just about anyone who plays RTSs would agree that trackpads are completely unacceptable for input. For a game like SC2, you might as well not even play, because you would be lose so badly at against anyone at a similar skill level.

I figure they're trying to be optimistc about it... it might not measure up to a mouse, of course, but either way it's a huge improvement. This device will get you from "this is completely unplayable" to "hey I can get through the single-player campaign and maybe do some co-op comp-stomping with my buds"

Exactly. They could even allow an option for only matching you with people with similar control configs for some games.

I agree, though I think a thumb trackpad probably gives you a little more precision than a regular trackpad. That might be the difference between unplayable and barely playable. I guess you might be able to play against someone a league below you or something, which might not be too bad if you just want to relax for a bit.

Hotkeys are pretty important for RTSes too (at least SC2). I will definitely try this out for ergonomics reasons but I don't know if they'll have enough hotkeys to make it playable at a reasonable level. But maybe if buttons are context sensitive or something it could work out.

That's why you've got the touchscreen.

SC2 at least uses ~half the keys on the keyboard. Anyone above the absolute bottom rung (bronze) is going to use these extensively.

It has a mouse replacement for RTS and FPS, can emulate all the buttons for games that need buttons, and has 2 big analogic sticks for games that need them.

Looks like a nice new thing, not as different as the kinetic or wiimote, but not more of the same either.

I'm trying to be optimistic about it. I like that they are going somewhere new with controllers. Already I can imagine those Y and B buttons not being easy/natural to get to. and of course not having at least one actual joystick is going to throw me off. (I game a lot with my Macbook Pro and I've gotten very very good with the mac trackpad, but I still like my WASD keys for the left hand). But again, all of these are my own issues and I'm very much willing to give this joystick a shot.

I was a bit disappointed until I read the bit about hardware hack-ability. Accessibility in games is an oft ignored topic. The open nature of these controllers will hopefully lead to more games being playable by disabled gamers as people extend the hardware. Of course, the flip side of that coin is people modifying the controller to gain an unfair advantage.

> Of course, the flip side of that coin is people modifying the controller to gain an unfair advantage.

Nothing stopping the community doing the same thing and sharing the results with everyone, though!

Very true! When it releases, I may try to use data from an Eye Tribe (http://theeyetribe.com/) to drive the right trackpad output. The added cost seems like a valid deterrent against people just trying to cheat, and a bearable cost for someone who wants to play games but is incapable of using a traditional controller.

never underestimate people who want to be first regardless of the cost.

If you look at the sample controller mapping, you might note that all the abxy buttons are mapped to communication functions, so I'd say they aren't intended to be natural to get to (much like the start button on other gamepads).

The ergonomic buttons like the triggers and rear buttons are best for actions you need to perform while moving. There's six of those in total. Compare to WASD and a common 3-button mouse setup: the mouse buttons, shift/ctrl, and the easy-to-reach keys 1234EQZXCF. So yeah, you won't have as many quick-reach keys available to you. I would grade the keyboard keys as a bit harder to reach though because you have to take fingers off movement to hit them.

"Steam gamers, who are used to the input associated with PCs, will appreciate that the Steam Controller's resolution approaches that of a desktop mouse."


"The Steam Controller is built around a new generation of super-precise haptic feedback, employing dual linear resonant actuators. These small, strong, weighted electro-magnets are attached to each of the dual trackpads."


It sounds as though they have managed to combine mouse-like precision with the simulated, tactile feel of a physical, analog stick. I suspect that there will be user-defined settings, so that you can set the precision of the tracking, allowing you to achieve the perfect "free look" (a.k.a. mouse look) and standard character movement, based on how much pressure you tend to personally (and independently) apply to each surface.

That is very compelling.

How would one play something like Street Fighter with this controller, the button placement seems like it wouldn't allow for a good experience with fighters or even platformers.

Yeah, this controller is definitely for "PC type" gamers.

Most fighting gamers prefer to use wired USB fighting sticks anyways, and given that those sticks tend to work out of the box on most operating systems, I would expect them to work on the Steam Machines too.

IIRC, Steam only really has three modern fighting games (SFIV:AE2012, SF vs Tekken and KoF13) -- I don't know that Capcom or SNK would plan to port those Windows games over to Linux anyways -- you'd likely have to play them streamed, and I'm not sure that any serious fighting gamer would want to do that.

I'm not entirely sure it's been designed with games like that in mind. I imagine the expectation is you use another pad (e.g Xbox controller) for a game like Street Fighter - or in that case, ideally an arcade stick.

Note that there are also six button fighting pads that should be compatible with the Steam Machines too.

The one in particular that I find most interesting is the one for the upcoming Hyperkin RetroN5 -- it's a six button bluetooth controller with a microswitch based thumbpad (much like the ones that came with Neo Geo home units from the 90s).


That is not true, it's designed for you to be able to modify the controls.

Just because you can modify the controls doesn't mean it's a good controller for all use cases.

For example, it would be very difficult to do an ultra move in Street Fighter IV on one of these pads -- i.e., quarter-circle-forward x 2 (LP + MP + HP). A standard d-pad with tactile buttons is much more precise.

How about mapping the triggers to LP/MP/HP and what you would normally have on the triggers to the right trackpad?

Might work for some people, but I'm personally used to using a fighting gamepad that has six face buttons in the standard 'Capcom' orientation.

People who learned Capcom fighting games on normal pads are usually OK with triggers, but I learned on a stick, so using the triggers goes against my muscle memory as I still use a stick regularly as well. My fighting pad, however, is much more portable than my stick.

I think it will work very well for platformers actually. Those games usually have just 2-4 buttons. There are definitely 4 easily accessible front face buttons.

Fighting games will probably still require an arcade stick. I've tried playing these games with an Xbox controller, and while it certainly works better than a keyboard, it still sucks. Gotta have the stick.

Map positions on the right touchpad to buttons?

I kept reading your comment expecting it to retort at some point; but no, you're interested in the controller.

From the pictures, as it mentions nothing in text, it looks like they have setup dual zones on the trackpads. If they do allow user defined settings, I hope they will allow you to adjust different precisions on the areas - allowing for use of the outer ring as quicker turning, faster running and the inner rings for more precise aiming and walking. That would definitely help a transition for PC gamers, whose mice can be swapped across a mousepad quickly or slowly for fine tuning to the gamer. Many gamers also use a button on their mice to realtime change the DPI for more precise aiming.

The Valve page mostly talked about mechanical and electrical design openness, but if the input mapping api is open too, I'm sure they'll be as many mapping options as there are game mods.

I'm skeptical that the trackpads will provide the same precision feel that a good analog stick can do, even with the haptics.

But I'm not going to count it out. I'll reserve all judgement until I get to try it. And that's the only real sticking point for me on this announcement; everything else about this controller I love.

I think the challenge is Valve is trying to create one-size-fits-all inputs with those trackpads. They have to work as joysticks and pointing devices, since Valve sells both console games and PC games on their platform.

As a PC gamer, I'm super-excited for this gamepad because it will beat the ever-loving-crap out of a joystick for games that depend on a pointing-device (strategy, RTS, no-aim-assist-FPS games). It might not measure up to a mouse, but it could still provide a "good-enough" experience unlike a thumbstick.

The nice thing is that a high-DPI trackpad can act as both a relative-input joystick (movement based on how far from center you are) and an absolute-input pointing device (movement based on absolute position in the device's input field).

Joysticks can do this, too, but their DPI is frequently nowhere even close to acceptable for this kind of work - they tend to be somewhere in the 200-400 DPI range, when your average mouse tends to be capable of input at several thousand DPI; if the touchpad resolution is good enough, then I think they're going to have a winner on their hands.

Problem with an absolute-input pointing device in this case is your thumb. In the world of ultra-high DPI touch input, your thumb is a veritable cudgel.

A gazillion text messages have been sent by thumbs hunting for keys. This won't be a perfect interface, but it will beat the ever-loving-crap of trying to use a joystick for a pointing-device's job.

and yet most competitive fps players play at 400 dpi

400 DPI on a 6"x6" input surface; that's very different from 400 DPI on a .5"x.5" input surface.

>> I think the challenge is Valve is trying to create one-size-fits-all inputs with those trackpads.

The problem is that you can't.

There are just too many different type of gamers having different requirements. Given Valve's lineage, their core audience are the FPS/PC type gaming crowd who are used to keyboards and mice. And this controller makes sense for that audience.

While I'm interested in the Steam Machines, I would never buy this controller for myself, because I'm into fighting games and old-school console type games. And even though the Steam Controller isn't for me, the great thing about Steam Machines is that they're still computers at heart, which means that I can probably use just about any other controller out there if it has USB connectivity and identifies it as a standard HID.

This will only work for casual SP FPS - at best. It certainly won't work for hard-core stuff like CS.

Keep in mind you can always just plug in a 360 controller, so if you have one of each, you can switch between the Steam and 360 controller depending on the game and your preference.

I'm glad they went a different route, it opens up more options for gamers and developers.

That's the big thing for me here. They're obviously trying to bridge the gap between PC gaming and console gaming, but they aren't doing it at the expense of existing control schemes - I have no doubt that you can use a bluetooth keyboard + mouse, or a Steam controller, or an Xbox 360 controller to play your games. The Steam controller doesn't have to solve every problem, because it isn't an exclusive input mode for the platform. If it works on 95% of the games, that's a huge win and good enough for most people.

The goal is to provide the some precision that a mouse can, not replicate sticks... If that were the case, they would have just put sticks on the thing.

You can trivially replicate joystick behavior with a touchpad - note how the controller has a raise "home" circle in the middle. This is almost certainly so that it can be used as a joystick, where the input is based on how far from center the thumb is, rather than the thumb's absolute position on the touchpad.

Albeit without any of the tactile value of the tension of an analog stick. [1] Nor an absolute, physically constrained, "max" position: where the stem of an analogue stick is pressed against the edge of its container. [2]

A trackpad seems like it will very easily allow your thumb to drift from a position of sending maximally-distant-from-center input to not registering any input. That's going to be a huge usability problem.

And making assumptions about what a user might have meant should a thumb just happen to slide off the edge of a trackpad is going to be problematic. [3]

[1] What would you call a 360 or dual shock controller with analog sticks that have no tension-to-center anymore? Broken.

[2] Think of how often you feel/hear that little analog stick "clack". Think of how often you're pressing against that physical boundary to ensure maximal-distance input. Each of those moments is an opportunity for a trackpad to present a problem. And those moments are awfully common. It's likely they're more common than not.

[3] did their thumb slide off, or did they raise it? did i slide off on accident or on purpose? etc

EDIT: cleaned up phrasing

I'm guessing that that's what the outer circle is for, right? Your thumb feels the ridge, and that section of the pad is interpreted as maximal-distance input.

I'm not convinced how well that ridge is going to work over the course of, say, an FPS or platformer game session. For a strategy game or lower-pressure situation it's quite likely just fine. But for action games... maybe?

But the lack of tension is going to be a bummer for action games regardless.

It's not as trivial as you might think.

We tried that relative-to-an-absolute scheme on our iPhone FPS and it was very confusing. The best scheme was a relative-to-a-relative center where the origin would "follow" the thumb, but then we had a full screen to do that.

The problem with a relative-to-an-absolute scheme (even one with the little raised circle) is you have no idea where the thumb is until you touch the control but then it's too late.

Not saying it can't be done, it's just a little bit tricky.

Presumably you won't ever raise your thumb from the circle, therefore never losing your place.

You'll need to hit the other buttons eventually

Well, this does have 6 triggers you can press without releasing either trackpad.

It looks like the trackpad has raised guide-circles to keep you centered.

Laptops all moved from nipples to trackpads a long time ago, surely if analog sticks could provide higher resolution then that wouldn't have happened, or there would have been a move back?

Not all. Lenovo still provides eraser nub-style pointers on many models. I personally find them to be more accurate at high speeds than a touchpad.

I actually have no idea how people can use touchpads. You need a huge one to be able to go corner-to-corner in one swipe and still have reasonable accuracy.

I hate touchpads. I use an external mouse with my Macbook. I have a Dell D830 with the nub pointer and it was so much easier to use, especially considering that you don't have to remove your hands from the keyboard and your finger doesn't need to cross 3 inches of space to move across the screen.

I've always been confused by this argument. I can reach my trackpad with my right thumb without moving any of my other fingers off of the home row. Is this an unusual amount of flexibility?

Maybe. I have long fingers and decent dexterity but find thumbing a trackpad way less accurate than using a trackpoint. This may be a matter of practice, but there's still more hand movement required even to get my thumb over the trackpad.

Not sure where that argument comes from -- it's certainly not one I've ever made. I personally really prefer the nub over touch pad, but it has nothing to do with not having to move my fingers away from the keyboard.

I mean, given the option of a physical mouse, I will always prefer that over both nub and track pad -- and the physical mouse requires the most movement away from the keyboard (of course, to avoid all three mouse input methods I use keyboard shortcuts when possible).

Anyway, my reasons for preferring the nub are:

* Less movement required on the actual input device. Just a slight tilt of the finger can move the mouse cursor from anywhere to anywhere else.

* Higher accuracy. This one may be subjective, only personal applicable, and/or biased, but I think the nub just makes it so much easier to navigate compared to the touch pad.

I don't get that argument either. My main case for the eraser-nub-mouse is that I don't have to physically move my finger over and over again. It goes like this, put finger in one corner, drag finger, reach end of touch surface, lift finger, put finger again on the opposite side, drag again... until you reach destination.

I don't think most people use trackpads with their thumbs.

This is one of those use cases that I'd be interested in seeing some research on. Personally, it depends a great deal on what I am doing, but I often use my thumbs to do minor navigations when within a document. Particularly because I have some RSI issues and using my thumb seems to less of an aggravation. Milage, I'm sure, varies, but I suspect that there is a subset of folks that at least use their thumbs a bit.

I find it very difficult to get the sort of control that I want with my thumbs.

But if you're using two finger scrolling this doesn't work so well. Also, while I can use my thumbs they aren't long enough for me to easily be able to access all corners of the trackpad with one thumb.

I've played 1000+ hours of Minecraft on my Thinkpad. That would be torture with a touchpad but it's a joy with the nub (which is basically a very small joystick). Why they went with touchpads over traditional dual-joystick input with community managed zero configuration mouse-keyboard emulation I really don't understand.

And I've played a fair amount of Minecraft on my MacBook. I find the trackpad to be quite nice. I've gotten to where I can play most FPS games and feel like I'm very close to where I would be if I were using a mouse.

Yeah but to be fair the lenovo track pad is bad compared to a macbook trackpad and they are made by the same manufacturer. So on the thinkpad it makes sense that people use the nub when the trackpad experience is pretty bad.

I was a nub user. Then I got a Macbook Pro. So far this is the only touchpad I can use. The IBM and Lenovo Thinkpads are the only nubs I can use also. Everything else feels terrible and unusable.

> Not all. Lenovo still provides eraser nub-style pointers on many models. I personally find them to be more accurate at high speeds than a touchpad.

I use the nub on my thinkpad, but only because Lenovo's touchpads are truly woeful.

As does HP and Dell

I'd have agreed with you once, but I broke the trackpad on a ThinkPad a couple of years ago and out of apathy i switched to the nipple mouse and I haven't looked back. It takes more practice but it has excellent precision and infinite movement. The trackpad remains broken and unplugged.

I've had several ThinkPads, and I've always disabled the trackpad in the BIOS as soon as I got a new one - it's totally unnecessary when you have the TrackPoint. It's so much faster and more precise. Like amalcon said, I have no idea how anyone can use a trackpad. Whenever I watch a friend use one, or use one myself, it's like the mouse is moving in slow motion compared to me using the TrackPoint. It does take some practice, but it's well worth the investment, just like how learning to touch type pays off in the long run.

Trackpoint is great, but I've been trying to move away from its use. I've found after frequent use, my finger tip gets irritated- I suspect mechanics similar to the development of a blister are at play- and they haven't been good for my hand overall. I've forced myself to use trackpads and mice now, because they are much lower impact on my hand. I can keep my hand completely relaxed when using a trackpad.

Have you tried changing the cap? I exclusively use the concave "soft rim" cap (http://support.lenovo.com/ContentResources/Migrated%20Assets...).

It helped, but did not solve.

How do you scroll? Do use scroll bars?

On thinkpads you can press the middle mouse button (below the spacebar) then press the trackpoint up or down.

I have always usually done this, but also remapped the trackpad to be entirely a "scrollpad"

> On thinkpads you can press the middle mouse button (below the spacebar) then press the trackpoint up or down.

Yep, and you can also click and release the middle mouse button, then separately mouse up or down. Interestingly, I have only been able to get either this OR the press then scroll behavior you described working on Windows (by toggling a setting), but in Linux you can have both enabled at the same time.

Bizarrely, Linux seems to support much of the trackpoint/trackpad stuff on thinkpads better than Windows does. I use to not be able to configure the trackpad how I wanted on Windows, but the Synaptics driver for Linux gave me plenty of possibilities.

Hold the middle button and use the nipple. It scrolls like a mousewheel.

I use the arrow keys.

Pretty good solution actually as well. Older ThinkPad keyboards have back and forward keys next to the arrows as well.

I have a T61 thinkpad, and love it. I use Linux on it solely. I have compiz bound to those forward and back arrows as cube_rotate_left and right. And I also run 8 desktops. Makes my world so much simpler in terms of organization of programs and flow.

Fellow T61er on Linux chiming in. A thousand MBAs couldn't tear me away.

Nice idea. So going to do that on my spare T61 later :)

Furthermore, it is a hell of a lot easier to play quake with a trackpoint than a trackpad.

I have to guess that these trackpads will act like joysticks for fpsen. Keep your finger on the left side to move left, etc. Maybe I'm wrong though.

I was assuming the opposite. Keyboard and Mouse is usually regarded as superior to joysticks for FPS so I assumed they were trying to bridge the gap and come up with something more mouse-like?

Yes, in fact it would solve the aiming issue, while using the left trackpad in "joystick mode" would better replicate a keyboard.

If it were me doing it, I would use the trackpad and the trackpad buttons. (I'm not sure, but I believe each trackpad is "pressable" and has multiple buttons, replicating a d-pad)

I would tap and drag for little and precise movements, swipe for fast movements, and press the button for default movement. With some training, it can become pretty natural.

You'll hopefully be able to choose based on preference, since choice seems to be the theme here.

Use an Apple trackpad and you'll never want to use the ThinkPad/Lenovo eraser nubs ever again.

I have, and I strongly prefer the TrackPoint--by a whole order of magnitude. I never have to keep my fingers off home row.

I do use a tiling window manager and bindings like Vrome/Vimperator, so my use case is probably atypical. My mouse usage is limited to when I deem it absolutely necessary; I hate physical/mental context switching, and bringing my hand from keyboard to TrackPad/mouse/whatever is a huge context switch.

But that's really a matter of where the trackpoint is, not the input on the device itself. It's a bit different while you're playing games.

I have always felt that the TrackPoint (on a HP Elitebook here) is difficult to access from the right or left index because of its place between G and H.

I would use it so much more if it was between H and J.

How do you stretch your finger towards the middle of the keyboard with no issue? Stretching just to type a letter is fine for me (think Y, H or B), but staying on the TrackPoint is hard.

I used an Apple one (one of the large ones) on a 2010 MBP. It was error prone and made my fingers numb after a while. Not only that, the full pad depression to click is awkward and configuring sensitivity for tap to click was never just right.

Possibly a shocking statement here but I went from a top end 2010 MBP to a 2009 T400 running windows 7 and am much happier as a whole, even though I have my head in UNIX machines a lot.

Strongly disagree. If you're just browsing or clicking on things, sure, the Apple trackpad is great. For playing games, the trackpoint is better. For coding or doing any sort of mixture of typing/pointing, the trackpoint is better.

Not my experience at all. Apple trackpads tire my fingertips, they become sore after extended usage.

My high end (new)ThinkPad has both an trackpad and a trackpoint, and i must say the trackpoint is more precise when tiny movements are required.

It's not the resolution, it's the feedback. Like I said, I'm skeptical, not dismissive.

Obligatory XKCD: http://xkcd.com/243/

Most popular does not mean best.

The one thing that frustrates me with the 360 joysticks is positioning my thumb not at an extreme but not at neutral either. This option seems like it will eliminate that entirely.

For that alone I'm very interested, obviously also the fact that they're trying to make things quite open.

The bigger story for me is that Valve has managed to once again troll its fans with a "3" announcement. This is starting to have flavours of Stockholm Syndrome.

In their defense, while having 3 things to announce, they did "number" them "O", "[O ]" and "O+O", none of which look like a 3...

Nothing to defend; I think it's hilarious. Although I do think it would make sense to announce HL3 for the Steam Machine on launch day.

If they wanted a launch title that would drag in the biggest market, I reckon Left 4 Dead 3 or Portal 3 would pull in more people (both had large mass media marketing campaigns and are more recent). Or hey, all three ;)


Personally I think Half-Life 3 will be worth the weight.

I thought software did not weight anything - oh wait..

The "worth the weight" thing is a joke. Theres an urban legend that says that the HL3 release gets postponed by 1 month every time someone makes a joke about Gabe Newell being fat.

At this rate HL3 will be a fan made game. Valve is just going to buy the guys and girls who made it and slap their name on the box.

... HN ate my post, I think.

I am super-excited for this. Finally a way to bring FPS (without aim-assist) and RTS games into the living room. I don't even care about the OS and the box itself, I crave this device. Even if it doesn't measure up to a mouse, it will still be a massive improvement over the traditional thumbstick for pointing-device-oriented games.

My only disappointment is that I wish they'd added a scrollwheel to the right shoulder. Then we'd have a full mouse control-set in your right hand. The scrollwheel is nice for zooming and panning in RTS games.

They could make the trackpads modal (without changing the hw). So you could hold down left bumper and track left to right (or up/down) to have fine grained control of zoom.

Only drawback of this is you couldn't control zoom and view at the same time (which I guess FPS pro's do, but mere mortals like me don't).

Yup. Especially since I just discovered on closer reading that they've got a hidden 3rd shoulder-button-set on the back. They could easily make "R3+Drag" as scroll.

That's some right-handed elitism right there.

... touchee.

I hadn't thought of that at all. Including two scrollwheels would be doubly expensive and thus kinda wasteful, and including only one means giving a south-pawed middle finger to the sinister folk.

Including two wheels lets you scroll TWO DIFFERENT THINGS. That would be awesome.

Many games use mouse wheel for weapon switch, and something else for choosing secondary-items (e.g. grenades in Far Cry). You could use it to queue up preselected groups of chat commands usable with the touch pad ("enemy in flag room", "enemies inc to mine", etc), use it for a throttle control (!!), or all sorts of things.

Having two scroll wheels instead of one is not as bad as you might think -- and even just using one still lets you remap them as you see fit anyway.

I'm not convinced of that. You can argue that letting the dominant hand focus on things other than scrolling would be a better scheme. It probably doesn't significantly matter, and I think it's silly that people insist on mirroring things that don't need to be mirrored, like mouse buttons.

If you'll note, they've mapped L/R shoulder to the scrollwheel in their example Portal 2 mapping

Which is kind of disappointing. I mean, you can obviously bind some keyboard keys to work as a scrollwheel if you have only a 2-button mouse, but it's not the same is it?

I've been waiting years for someone to build a controller like this.

Somehow, I never actually imagined two trackpads – my concept had always been a D-pad on the left and a trackpad on the right, mimicking the traditional mouse-and-keyboard setup of the PC first-person shooter, but this makes far more sense and allows for much more flexible repurposing of controls to different games (as well as letting left-handed gamers flip their controls).

This is, at last, the controller for FPS games, and more importantly, for the next generation of non-shooter first-person games. It's amazing to see the horrified backlash in the comments sections on gaming sites right now: People just don't get that this isn't for the button-heavy games they already play; it enables new interactions with new kinds of environment-based experiences.

I wasn't particularly interested in any of Valve's announcements earlier this week, but they certainly have my attention now.

    > The Steam Community can use the configuration tool to create and share bindings
    > for their favorite games. Players can choose from a list of the most popular
    > configurations.
Finally, some real innovation for the "default controls" experience in games after 10+ years. Very nice. Instead of hard-coded controls that the devs put in, you'll start with a community-upvoted scheme that can evolve and get better over time.

I've played some FPS games with a trackpad for lack of having a mouse available, and on a larger, higher precision one (e.g., Macbook size) it was not a bad experience at all. You can move a finger a lot faster than a whole arm. Reflex high-res motion at the pro Counter-Strike level isn't likely, but for the casual gamer, trackpad FPS control absolutely seemed plausible. So I believe this kind of input will work for many games that need pointing, and I also believe it will solidly outpace analog sticks for FPS games.

The Halo two-analog-stick model that has taken over the genre was always awkward and imprecise compared to keyboard/mouse (probably most of the skill in Halo was simply getting used to the stick dead zones and the acceleration/deceleration of the look field). I will be happy to see it fade away.

> You can move a finger a lot faster than a whole arm.

If you're moving your arm to move your mouse, there is probably something wrong with your mouse.

If you're moving your arm to move your mouse

IIRC I've always been old that I should move my whole arm with the mouse. The idea being that it's a small movement for your elbow/shoulder but a much larger movement for you wrist so you can avoid wrist injuries by moving your whole arm.

Ideally you move your fingers, not your arm or wrist. Realistically though, nobody is playing games by moving their arm, even if that is perhaps what you are suppose to do.

I mean, those same ergonomics guides also tell you to keep your back straight and your feet flat on the floor in front of you. How many people do that?

well, I don't move the wrist as well - the idea is that you rest your wrist in a comfortable position, and move it with your fingers, the full range of motion needed is less than an inch.

If your arm is up in the air so that it can move the mouse, then it will get tired after a few hours, won't it?

depending on what motion you are doing with the mouse, from careful aiming through to whipping right round in circles with the mouse coming off the surface, you end up using everything from your fingers to your shoulder. Up and down (away and toward) motions are generally shoulder motions, for instance, unless they are very slight, as otherwise you arch your hand too far off the mouse.

I haven't used a thumb-controlled trackpad, but do use a trackball which I'm imagining might be the most-similar experience to this input controller, since it's a thumb gesture but still much closer to the precision of touching a surface than wiggling a stick. I'll be really excited if this makes the FPS experience in my living room actually work for me.

Try as I might, I can't get used to moving around with my keyboard.

While I might be slightly more accurate at aiming with my mouse, actually moving around with a controller is considerably better for me. To each their own.

I understand the moving thing, though I got used to it really well - but the accuracy of my mouse is so much better that it makes the difference between getting killed and dominating.

Ok, that's it, if this controller works then I'm in. I played Portal with my wife, and she loved it, but she's too afraid of the whole mouse+keyboard control system so in the end she let me play while she just watched. I think she can more easily learn a controller like this.

Also, I frickin' hate analog sticks for controlling shooters. After having been a semi-serious CS player, I just can't bring my self to enjoying my severely crippled aiming on consoles, it just takes 50% of the fun out.

Have you checked out Portal 2? It has co-op and decent controller support, I played through the co-op campaign for a second time with a 360 controller last week (used keyboard + mouse the first time).

Are those buttons on the back of the controller? I'd be ecstatic if that's the case. I've always suspected that having buttons on the back would allow for a more natural grip than shunting buttons onto the shoulders. It may have made sense for the SNES' flat bone controller, but not in the age of controllers with thick, ergonomic palm grips.

I'd say so. If you look at the sample Portal 2 Bindings [1] the labels on the bottom seem to pointing underneath the controller and in the disassembly image [2] there seems to be another button-looking piece in front of the bottom portion.

[1]: http://cdn2.store.steampowered.com/public/images/promo/livin... [2]: http://cdn2.store.steampowered.com/public/images/promo/livin...

Good old Z Button on the N64 was always the best to shoot stuff. Goldgun walk around the conrner Z, dead.

I generally like more buttons instead of all these other things consoles use, you can easly have four buttons on the back, maybe more. The PS always used to have two shulder buttons, witch I did not like because you either had to us your index finger for both. I imagen something where they are just in the back where my fingers naturally would be.

> There are a total of sixteen buttons on the Steam Controller. Half of them are accessible to the player without requiring thumbs to be lifted from the trackpads, including two on the back.

Yes, looks like both of those are triggers (or buttons) on the back.

I see a little trigger on the back on the right. I'm sure there's one on the left, too.

I think that it is obvious that this dual track pad solution could be a good move for any game style which currently uses dual analog sticks (FPS and 3rd person, etc).

As others have already mentioned, it is less obvious whether this will be a good solution for platformers and fighting games. But with a bit of quick pondering I suspect it could open up a huge range of options for any developer who wants to try and step outside the normal "the player will use combinations of button presses to trigger actions".

For example, a platformer which rather than using a "tap button to trigger a small jump" and "long press button for a larger jump" we could not only see a "small up scroll = small jump" and "long up scroll = large jump" input method, but also a "slow up scroll = slower jump" and "fast up scroll = faster, more explosive jump".

Fighting games could also open up a lot of depth based on the length and speed of right hand strokes, not to mention the variety of angles and rotations which could be made.

The more I ponder it, the more I'm hopeful.

This is actually a very interesting observation. Especially as they are making the controller quite open. I don't see the AAA titles working with this soon, as they want to keep their games consistent across platforms, but steam has really been growing for indie devs, and those are exactly the devs that will come up with interesting,unthought of ideas for this type of input

Remember that the track-pads are clickable like a face button, and it sports 2 shoulders and a 3rd pseudo-shoulder in the back-button on each side. That means that for a fighting-game you've got a full suite of buttons available to you. That's 9 buttons available assuming you keep your left thumb glued to the trackpad. Buttons are not in short supply.

The real question is how well the track-pad works as a D-pad. For Mario-style games that primarily use left and right but don't do much up and down? Should work fine.

For a Capcom-style fighting game with its elaborate rolls and whatnot, or the hyper-precise of a shmup? That's the real question.

>> For a Capcom-style fighting game with its elaborate rolls and whatnot, or the hyper-precise of a shmup? That's the real question.

Fortunately there are gazillions of USB controllers out there that will probably work out of the box with the Steam Machine. Many of the BT controllers will probably work too.

I find the Steam Controller interesting because it's the first console-type controller I've seen that might actually do a good job satisfying people coming from the PC gaming world.

The newer EA boxing games, and the THQ UFC games use dual stick controls as the primary moving/fighting controls. Players seem to like it better than button mashing. I thought it was cool when I learned quick flip left was jab, hold the stick left for more powerful punch, and circle the stick left for a cross or uppercut.

Gestures-based fighting game.

Clang will like this.

Interesting. Game controllers are a fascinating user experience design challenge. While Playstation and Xbox controllers are fairly well-polished functional workhorses, I appreciate companies (like Nintendo and, now, Valve) pushing the envelope.

More than even the games (which, I suspect, will also mostly be available on other consoles or PCs), this intrigues me enough to want to get a Steam Machine. (Still, though -- that's a bit of a cumbersome name.)

Even if it doesn't work, we can expect something to spawn from that in the future. Joypads tend to evolve across companies and products. Remember D-Pad and start-select from NES and L+R and 4 group buttons from SNES, then N64 with analogue stick and rumble while PS1 had handles and Saturn added analogue L-R, Dreamcast take it from there, Xbox took what Dreamcast had and perfected it over two iterations, while Sony... ah you get it.

I'm guessing "Steambox" will become the nickname

They may be pushing for people to casually refer to it as "steam", allowing for tighter integration with the money maker.

Hell, I want to get one to use with my PC.

Just call it a "Machine".

"Steambox" works well enough.

Lets call it "The One", just to spite MS's marketers.

try to google the price for "Machine"

Valve has a high page-rank for "Steam", what makes you think that they can't also co-opt "Machine"?

Call me impressed. I never thought that the biggest innovator and risk taker in the console market would be valve. All the other manufacturers have basically made their platforms "safe" and they're pretty much like the last generation, but this is pretty ballsy from valve.

They're in a better position to try it. If Sony released an unpopular controller with their new console it could cost them billions in console sales.

If this doesn't work, valve can forget about it and move on HL3.

Maybe Valve have finished HL3, and are releasing a bunch of things to try out (F2P economy, marketplaces, trading cards, community upgrades, steambox), then if any have heavy backlash, they can just say "Shh guys, here's HL3".

Nintendo took a big risk for the Wii and reaped the rewards. From a consumer standpoint I want to see progress and change, that's what interests me. A lot of gaming these days seems to be taking the less risky route of making endless sequels and never mixing anything up as not to upset their core audience who apparently hates change.

And they took another big risk with the WiiU, which may end up being their undoing as a console manufacturer.

I wouldn't say any console manufacturers took the "safe" route this time around. Microsoft was going to dramatically accelerate the adoption of digital games in the console market, and Sony bashing Microsoft for this and having a huge push for Independents/Self-Publishing, these don't sound like safe moves by any means. And that's not talking about Microsoft bundling Kinect, the Wii U controller, and Sony's abandoning of PlayStation Move.

If anything this is the most "un-safe" the console market has been in awhile.

Speaking on innovation, the Xbox 360 came out with a brand new controller, but the Xbox One has practically the same controller? It's like they didn't take any time to re-evaluate the controller with the new console.

For that matter, the PS4 controller is the same except with a small touchpad in the middle.

In their defense the 360's controller is considered an amazing controller already, so I understand them only making incremental improvements.

That's really the larger point here. The 360 controller is the standard now, trying to improve upon it when the market is already flooded with that style controller would be a losing battle for Valve. They decided to take a risk and innovate, but it was pretty much their only viable option if they wanted to enter the controller market.

"the Xbox 360 came out with a brand new controller, but the Xbox One has practically the same controller"

Calling the 360 controller "brand new" is a big stretch. It wasn't that much more different from the old Xbox Controller S than the Xbox One controller is from the 360's. In terms of technology the One controller with trigger-specific haptic is actually a bigger change than the Controller S->360 which was pretty much just button layout changes.

In any case, if something works well, why change it just for change's sake? I love Valve and I'm excited to try this controller, but put me on the list of people that are very skeptical this will actually be an improvement for the types of games that play well with two analog sticks.

Yeah. I agree. I always liked the Xbox controllers and the Xbox One Controller seams like a nice evolution.

They have done nothing revolutionary of course but nice stady evolution.

There first controller was complet BS of course but after that it was pretty good, better then sony in my mind.

They didn't need to innovate with the controller, their controller is the standard. They improved in all aspects that they needed to, i.e. the d-pad, and then fixed some ergonomics.

The PS3 controller, however, was kind of awful in comparison. Really light, horrible triggers. And they fixed that.

Saying the new controllers are the same except the features they have for the sake of marketing (Touchpad, and rumble triggers) is disingenuous.

They were busy trying to shift to a closed digital distribution platform, which gamers hanged them for. Granted their intentions were for their own profit margins and not at all for the consumer in mind, but things like that probably make them less likely to take risks in the future.

They tried to shift to "Steam"-style distribution platform.

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