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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

September 27, 2013 at 10:14 AM

Valve unveils hackable Steam Controller

An advanced game controller is the third shoe to drop in Bellevue game giant Valve’s week-long announcement of its plans to develop living-room entertainment systems to challenge the Xbox, PlayStation and Wii.

SteamController

The controller features two circular trackpads that are touch-sensitive, clickable and equipped with force feedback mechanisms. They flank a high-resolution touchscreen that can also be used as a clickable button. Altogether it has 16 buttons.

Valve’s controller joins a wave of new game input systems that have arrived over the last few years, including Nintendo’s GamePad with a large touchscreen, touch controls on the back of Sony devices and the higher fidelity controller that Microsoft developed for the Xbox One.

Valve’s controller will help distinguish a line of game and Steam Machine entertainment PCs running its new SteamOS operating system, which were announced earlier this week and extend the company’s Steam gaming service. Multiple companies will offer the machines starting next year but Valve isn’t providing many details.

The company didn’t provide a price or specific release date. It did say the controller is “hackable” so players and game developers can tinker with the device. Prototypes will be released later this year to the 300 or so testers of its Steam Machines.

Here’s how Valve describes the device:

The most prominent elements of the Steam controller are its two circular trackpads. Driven by the player’s thumbs, each one has a high-resolution trackpad as its base. It is also clickable, allowing the entire surface to act as a button. The trackpads allow far higher fidelity input than has previously been possible with traditional handheld controllers. Steam gamers, who are used to the input associated with PCs, will appreciate that the Steam Controller’s resolution approaches that of a desktop mouse.

Valve also touted the haptic capabilities of the trackpads, saying they go far beyond traditional “rumble” feedback in controllers. Microsoft’s also pushing haptic technology in the Xbox One controller, which provides a realistic feel when an in-game car starts and revs, for instance.

Here’s Valve’s description:

The Steam Controller is built around a new generation of super-precise haptic feedback, employing dual linear resonant actuators. These small, strong, weighted electro-magnets are attached to each of the dual trackpads. They are capable of delivering a wide range of force and vibration, allowing precise control over frequency, amplitude, and direction of movement.

Here’s the layout of controls for Valve’s “Portal 2″:

controller_bindings

 

 

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