Valve announced its Steam Controller as the final part of its 3 stage announcement last week. Reports came in over the weekend that a number of developers have been hands on with a prototype version of the controller for some time now.
The prototype version is very much like the version Valve unveiled last week, although it appears that the clickable touch screen in the center of the final version has 4 hard buttons in its place, as you can see in the image below. The reports are suggesting that this prototype will be the version of the controller that ships to the 300 lucky beta participants later this year, as we expected.
Like many of us most likely assumed, Valve is testing out the Steam Controller on various developers, and now those game makers are starting to speak publicly about what they think.
While some still prefer the Xbox 360 gamepad, the impressions seem to be generally positive. Sega Director of Digital Distribution James Schall said that "the touch pads are incredibly responsive and I would imagine that once used to it, it could deliver higher performance for the gamer." Even Team Meat co-founder Tommy Refenes, who prefers the 360 gamepad, suggests that this is likely due to the thousands of hours he has put on it, as opposed it simply being a better controller. Refenes played his own game, Super Meat Boy, and the very difficult and precision focused Spelunky saying, "the controller worked great."
But the most interesting topic surrounding Valve's new controller is the way it attempts to emulate a mouse and keyboard. While many will always believe that there is no way to replace the traditional PC set-up, some developers seem to believe in the Steam Controller's capabilities. Ichiro Lambe, Dejobaan Games president said, "We primarily develop our games for mouse and keyboard, and when we think about adding gamepad support, it's a matter of mitigating loss of control. For instance, WASD+mouselook excels over a traditional gamepad for precise camera control or when navigating complex user interfaces. The Steam Controller largely does away with a gamepad's weaknesses there."
Double Fine designer and writer Chris Remo, who also had a chance to go hands on with the Steam Controller, seconds Lambe's thoughts on the input device's mouse emulation. "We just plugged it in, and it worked," he told Gamasutra. "We didn't have special support for it or anything. It worked really, really well. I was really impressed with the mouse imitation. It doesn't feel like a trackpad."
While only time will tell if the Steam Controller can actually replace, or at least be a decent alternative, to the mouse and keyboard, it certainly seems to be headed in the right direction. Some of the negative comments have been surrounding the lack of analog sticks and the inherent (positive) limitations they provide to gamers along with what appears to be a general hesitation with how well the controller will be able to handle hardcore strategy/RTS experiences.
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