Valve’s Steam Machine and its paired Steam Controller are still in early beta, so we should expect both small and drastic changes to various aspects of both devices. When the Steam Controller was revealed, it was announced that a small touchscreen would be placed in the center of the pad, making it somewhat like a miniature version of the Wii U tablet. Now, Valve has decided to nix the idea of the touchscreen altogether, and replace it with regular, physical buttons.
The current beta Steam Controller has a square placed in the center of the gamepad that is separated into four equal quadrants, each of which are individual physical buttons. It’s supposed to simulate a touchscreen, in that you can simultaneously tap the square in four different locations as separate input. Now, that placeholder button-screen is going to be replaced by standard controls — namely, a D-pad and A, B, X, and Y face buttons. If you bought into Valve’s hype that the Steam Controller would be a revolution that would somehow make controlling PC games with a gamepad tolerable, you might want to scale that back. It appears that the only “revolutionary” aspects of the Steam Controller now are the owl-eye touchpads that replace standard analog sticks, and from what we’ve seen of them so far, they’re not going to revolutionize much.
One thing to keep in mind, though, is that this new design is not definitively the final product. There’s always a chance Valve will decide to drop some unique tech back into the controller, but with the removal of the touchscreen, that seems to be an unlikely prospect for now.
This model of controller will use AA batteries, so you’ll still need to keep your Wii or Xbox rechargeables nearby. The Steam Controller also has gyroscopes — as that’s standard on video game input devices nowadays — but they’re not yet implemented in the firmware. Furthermore, the Steam Controller API allows support for up to 16 controllers at once, though it’s not only tough to imagine a game where 16 individual players crowded around one TV would work (sports games come to mind), but where someone has a TV and living room large enough to house 16 players. That’s not a downside — it’s nice that the API supports 16 players — but don’t expect new 16-player games popping up in Steam sales anytime soon.
Valve has just begun receiving and processing feedback from the beta controllers sent out, so this new iteration likely won’t be the final version. The company has also mentioned that they are keeping virtual reality in mind when designing the controller — although, again, right now the model is just a regular gamepad with touchpads instead of analog sticks.
For now, the new controller iteration is a little disappointing — and the layout of the controller looks a little uncomfortable — but hey, that’s why it’s a beta. Regardless, you shouldn’t throw out your keyboard and gaming mouse just yet.
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