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What are Steam controllers and will they replace keyboard and mouse?

Updated on November 18, 2015
Steam controller - final version
Steam controller - final version | Source

What is SteamBox, SteamOS and steam controller?

SteamBox is a new type of gaming console, which will include best qualities of both PC and other consoles, allowing users to modify and upgrade. It will be released in November 2015 and feature a whole range of services and modifications. The whole idea of steam boxes, or steam machines as they call them, is to bring PC gaming to your HDTV.

SteamOS is the operating system that will run on these new consoles. It is Linux based and designed for big screen. New operating system is built around the console and will allow having games, friends and all content running in the device. The OS is also free and open for developers.

Steam conroller is a new, advances type of gaming controller for better feel and control over the game. More about the controller features and design history will be discussed in this article.

Original design

One of the earlier designs of the controller, featuring touchscreen in the middle
One of the earlier designs of the controller, featuring touchscreen in the middle | Source

Steam controller has been designed keeping in mind best practices of existing controllers but also implementing new technology for better controls. Original design of the controller had two circular, clickable trackpads as well as a touchscreen in the middle. According to Valve, the company responsible for both new console and controller, it is meant to replace traditional mouse and keyboard controls with new, more advanced technology. Controller will be supported with all steam games. Basically the old games will be tricked to think they are being played by traditional controllers.

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Testing didn't go so well for shooting games, as a lot of gamers felt the controller lacked precision and speed
Testing didn't go so well for shooting games, as a lot of gamers felt the controller lacked precision and speed | Source

Features

Featuring 16 buttons, steam controller has been designed in a way that most of the buttons are easily accessible as they are located symmetrically on both sides. This will make both left and right handed gamers happy. The cool thing about this controller are its innovative technology and open-source orientation. Gamers will have a chance to participate in design and programming. As the company announced – it will be made “hackable”, which means developers will get full access of the API.

Another early design featuring trackball
Another early design featuring trackball | Source

Manufacturing

Originally controllers were supposed to be produced exclusively by Valve. Consoles, also called Steam machines, come from third party manufacturers. The reason for doing so is simple – Valve is aiming to support all games through their designed consoles. And make money of course. The company feels confident they will succeed and win the market, although getting into manufacturing could be risky business and hard to compete. They believe changing from initially planned trackball design to touchpad will actually save costs. Later, however, this decision had been revised and controllers may come from third party manufacturers after all.

Trackpads proved to be a good solution for some games
Trackpads proved to be a good solution for some games | Source

Design issues

Although the initial idea of combining keyboard and mouse into one, comfortable to use, light and ergonomic controller seems brilliant, there are some important points to consider. When it comes to precision, touchpad is certainly a better option than, say, trackball or analog sticks. Initial tests have shown that shooter game fans could be disappointed of the capabilities the controller has to offer. For example, 180 degree turns would require continuous swipes over touchpad. It’s up to Valve to fix the issue, and they claim it is possible to adjust the sensitivity. Future releases will show how well it has been achieved. For now it remains questionable if the controller is capable of replacing traditional mouse and keyboard option.

Another great design, however, not final
Another great design, however, not final | Source

Positive feedback

On a plus side, early tests have shown good input options with minimal lag. Combining these with programmable buttons, we get a practically universal controller for all kinds of games.


Cons:

  • pads could be annoying
  • possible delays
  • is a lot like other console controllers

Pros and cons in a nutshell

Pros:

  • Easy to customize
  • immediate feedback
  • well designed controls and buttons

Final design of the controller

Source

New design, presented in 2015, features two pads and stick. Designers decided to go for more traditional approach and integrate stick for easier control. Also the tests returned better results – new controller killed it with much better precision and response times. Even shooter games are easier to play now. For adventure game lovers, touchpad took all the “clicking” quite well, giving the controller immerse advantage over, let’s say, xbox controller. Certainly one of the greatest features are programmable controls, which will be easy to save and share with community of other players.

Verdict

For now, the release has been planned on November 2015. That is, however, a bit optimistic, considering how many times it has been delayed already. Delay itself has paid off so far, as each time there are numerous improvements for the final product. Either way, predictions are that it will hardly replace existing controllers or keyboard/mouse option. Even if final release will be done on time and improve all the glitches, it still requires getting used to. Either way, millions of fans worldwide are already expecting November release to try it out first hand.

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