Practically announced at the end of their Steam machines FAQ on Wednesday, Valve has topped their console cake with a controller cherry on top. To many expecting Source 2 or a game announcement, disappointment has a new face:
The two speaker-shaped circles are trackpads: clickable, draggable, and everything we've come to know them for being. They can also function as speakers, since they're driven by a magnet system on the backside, allowing for multiple types of feedback including audio; a 'parlour trick,' as Valve calls it. Everything else is a button, except for a high-resolution touchscreen in the center (which is also a clickable button), and then you have a controller shell for holding everything.
The goal, of course, is to solve the question of how to make an entire library of PC games playable on a living room console without the need for keyboard+mouse for games that aren't supported by traditional control schemes. The hope is that with trackpads offering an analog, transfigurable control scheme, that everyone can finally play Civ 5 without a bluetooth kb/m, stiffly reaching out onto their coffee table for support.
In line with Valve's mod-friendly stance on the Steam platform, their software, and recent hardware announcements, the controller is intended to be open for business to anyone with a brilliant control scheme they'd like to incorporate as a legacy option to substitute kb/m controls, or a neat little hip hop song they taught the trackpad speakers to play. Heck, you're even welcome to crack the thing open and make it a better piece of hardware than Valve is shooting for.
Here's a FAQ:
Is this the same beta as the Steam machines one, or is it separate?
Same. So you only need to sign up once.
How does the beta work? When will it start? How will you choose participants?
Please see the FAQ on Steam Machines, because it covers lots of important questions.
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.
Can I use a controller if I don’t have a Steam machine?
Yes. It’ll work very well with any version of Steam.
I’m a developer – how can I include support for the Steam Controller in my game?
On the same day that our prototype controllers ship to customers later this year, the first version of our API will also be made available to game developers.
How will the beta controller differ from the one that’s for sale next year?
There are a couple important differences: the first 300 or so beta units won’t include a touch screen, and they won’t be wireless. Instead, they’ll have four buttons in place of the touch screen, and they’ll require a USB cable.
We’re done with our announcements, and we promise to switch gears now and talk specifics over here in our Steam Universe community group. Also we’ll talk soon about the design process and how we’ve arrived at our current prototype. (We’ll post detailed specs next week for our living room SteamOS prototype, too.)