Amidst all the lights and perceived glamour, Las Vegas is less pleasant than it lets on. It often smells weird, there are douchebags at every turn (usually the source of the smell) and the noises emanating from various machines are cheesy and oft unbearable. I’ve been on my feet all day for press conferences and I’m happy to be off them sitting here at this Valve event. I take the light Steam Controller into my hands, and begin to spin the wheels. And time stops. I just felt the Earth move, and Vegas is the awesome epicentre. Everything is suddenly right with the world, despite my surrounds, thanks to this little gadget.
In case you’re a gamer living under a rock, the Steam Controller is the latest contraption from Valve (the makers of Steam [seriously where have you been that you needed reminding]), in order to help bring PC/console hybrid gaming to the living room.
It works with the Steam Machine and Steam’s Big Picture Mode so you can play PC games like you would on a console.
Valve has just announced 13 hardware partners to build its Steam Machines (info on those soon), and each one will ship with a Steam Controller.
Other manufacturers are able to make their own versions of the Steam Controller, but tonight we played with Valve’s iteration.
It’s a weird looking little thing that shouldn’t slide into your hand as well as it does.
Four buttons arranged in a square comprise a the centre array with a further four on each corner of the square. Those additional four buttons are for actions, and follow a lettered order. Two large flappy buttons that feel like the gearshift on a top-end sports car line the bottom, while four densely-packed triggers sit at the relative top of the controller.
It has two circular trackpads on either side where the thumbsticks ought to be on a traditional console controller, and underneath them are two of the funkiest motors you will feel this side of the console wars.
You stick your thumbs on it and expect to wind about in a circle like you’re selecting tracks on an old iPod Classic, but as soon as you touch it something amazing happens: it touches you back.
Each roll of the wheel-like thumb-pads produces a haptic response underneath from a series of motors. It’s not as intense as the Xbox One’s new rumble thumbsticks; instead it’s closer to that of a mouse wheel, gently scrolling under your finger.
The feedback isn’t just dumb rumble like you find in last-generation console controllers. Instead it feels targeted: like there’s a little motor under every millimetre of the soft skin of the controller gently reaching out and touching you back as you touch it. It’s tender in a way that will make you fall in love with it, and when you walk passed it of an evening you’ll definitely want to spend time with it, playing all those games on your fancy new Steam Machine.
Six televisions beamed sweet video-gaming light around the dimly-lit Vegas club for the Valve event, each with a Steam Controller and a prototype Steam Machine console. The machines were predictably buggy, but oddly, so were the controllers. The difficulty was brought down to a split between confusing key bindings set up by other people (which is actually a positive when you buy one to make it your own: customisability rocks), and the fact that the machines were a bit crash-happy at times. That’s just the nature of the test event, however, and over coming months, the controller is sure to improve its user-friendliness.
What’s really exciting about the curious little bundle of joy is the hardware it will ship with. Valve requires its 13 Steam Machine vendors to ship a Steam Controller (either of their own making or of default construction) with the console. The Steam Controller is the thread that sews the Steam Machine family together: a family with porridge bowls that are hot, cold and all different sizes for the types of gaming bears set to lay out their cash and play them.
The Steam Controller is the perfect companion to this little Franken-console, and we can’t wait to play with our new love again.