Hear that rustling sound? That's a wave of gamers scratching their heads following the arrival of a new controller in video game town.
On Friday, Valve—the studio behind hit PC games like Half Life, Portal, and Team Fortress 2—unveiled the Steam Controller, the third and latest physical product in a week of hardware announcements related to their Steam Box. This new controller is all about letting you play PC games you'd normally play via Steam on your couch—even older ones because Valve has “fooled those older games into thinking they’re being played with a keyboard and mouse.”
Valve’s black gamepad is a bit complicated, however, and that’s putting it mildly. The Steam Controller features two trackpads that frame a middle touchscreen that also acts as a display (for an in-game map, for example) all surrounded by buttons. There are 16 buttons in total on the controller, not counting the trackpads. The big trackpads are also clickable, like a computer mouse, and the entire gamepad can also function like a pair of speakers if you want.
Gamers can configure the buttons on the gamepad however they want, and the controller "was designed from the ground up to be hackable," writes Valve in their announcement. Wired wondered if this was the controller equivalent to the Homer car, meaning, “everything people say they want but might not actually want in practice.”
The new controller is also a technological upgrade when it comes to vibrations. So, it won’t just vibrate in your hand when you are hit with an in-game bullet, but also when you reload, run or do anything else to shake your character. Valve did this to “add more physicality” to the gaming experience as the generic rumble on other controllers was deemed simply not “enough.”
Reddit’s gaming community is reacting to the new controller with some trepidation and confusion. Change is scary, but as one redditor pointed out, “innovation isn’t always immediately accepted.” One skeptical commenter on gaming magazine Polygon wrote “trackpads in place of analog sticks is similar to a steaming pile of dog excrement in place of a perfectly cooked ribeye steak.” Folks over at the Escapist are hoping for exorcism-like screeching to emanate from the speakers, or calling it the "ugliest thing ever." Ouch.
Besides the perks already listed—of playing games previously unplayable on a console and the freedom in setting your own controls—the trackpads seem easy on the fingers, lessening the chance of a huge gaming blister from marathon sessions.
This new Steam controller may have some unintended consequences beyond innovation; it may very well put an end to that feud between the “glorious PC Gaming Master Race” and “the Dirty Console Peasants.”