Valve concept gamepad for PC gaming

The CES 2014 event was something interesting to look forward to. CES always maintains that sense of mystery; tons of people gather around to see what the tech world has to offer in near future. Besides, it is 2014, the very start of a new year; tons of opportunities, ideas and innovative products were lined up at the expo for people to see.

Valve’s new steam machines are a debatable subject:

By now, most of us already know what Valve unveiled at the CES 2014. I am not particularly interested in their Steam machines; I kind like to associate myself with people who believe that these machines are overpriced and are not offering what people really “want”. For instance, there are over 10 different machines, and all of them have specs, which belong to modern technology; it is nothing future proof.

The GTX 780 and the GTX 780 Ti cards are a monstrosity, but in the end when Valve goes on to showcase Steam machines with such GPUs, people will not buy them by the time they are actually released in the market. Same goes for corporations and gaming companies that are looking forward to buying these Steam machines to host games.

Do you know why? It is because of the simple fact that these specs will be outdated at the time of their release. By then, NVidia will have already released superior GPUs, and the rest of the hardware will have newer versions available. In this context, who would want to spend over $6,000 on a visually attractive Falcon Steam Machine, or anything else for that matter?

The Valve gamepad is a different and equally impressive story:

On the same note, I can’t help but admire the Valve gamepad, which was part of their new product lineup at CES 2014. Now this is something that’s truly innovative and eloquent in its own brevity.  The Steam controller gamepad takes the original analog controller concept and replaces everything with upcoming technology.

Still shot of the Valve prototype gamepad from CES 2014

The areas where the analog sticks would be, is replaced by two circular touch pad zones. Likewise, mice movements, keyboard relevant controls and everything else is neatly packaged in this controller. The primary touchpad areas vibrate upon contact – hence sending out a confirmation to your body about in game character movements.

There are 6 other trigger buttons, 4 central buttons and another touchpad in the top middle section of the controller.  In a nutshell, the new prototype controller is signaling the entire gaming industry and consumers to adapt something new.

Some units were sent to Valve 300 Steam Machine beta phase testers. If anything, their response was encouraging, based on the appended facts:

  • Left thumb pad area feels very natural.
  • The absence of analog sticks is not felt because of the naturally occurring control movements on the touchpad zone.
  • Clicking function and navigational controls are flawless (at least no major bugs were spotted)
  • Face buttons are replaced by touchpad in the middle of the top controller panel.
  • A slight “movement” and vibration is detected whenever the person is moving his/her fingers on the touchpad areas.

On the same note, if this controller is Valve’s strength, it could be its weakness too. We all know that the company is very famous for delaying its projects. They are still in development phase if it comes to the once highly anticipated Half Life installment; I wonder why they haven’t released it yet.

Similarly, even though Valve is claiming that the new game controller will replace conventional keyboard, mice and 3rd party joysticks, we still need to see this product actually released in the market. I noticed that the lack of face buttons goes to the controller’s disadvantage because Valve is offering specific/ limited control options in exchange for it.

If it is not in front of you, there’s no point in interacting:

Don’t get me wrong when I say that the controls are precise, but they only work accurately if the subject is right in front of you. Some of the games that the beta testers tested had shady feedback on Valve Controller’s interaction aspect. Movement controls were good, but when it came to interacting with in game objects, the lack of cursor and some other things made player feel that the controller’s CPU is having a hard time trying to figure out input commands.

Game titles which focus on core interaction and movement were not responsive to Valve’s controller. When you are trying to individually select objects placed far in the viewing zone, this controller will really make you reach for them. The element of struggle takes over the overall inventiveness of this upcoming invention.

FPS shooters will benefit from Valve’s upcoming touchpad controller:

FPS shooters with minimal level of interaction, such as Bioshock Infinite and Metro LL bonded amazingly well with this controller. Testers at CES 2014 said that the movement controls, weapons cycling, trigger button shooting came naturally because all these elements are based on precision, rather than interaction, alone.

However, in the long run, for Valve to impress couch potato gamers, the Steam Controller needs to go through intense revision phase. It has potential, but a bit of tweaking will polish the entire product. Until we see a revised version or some other edition of this controller, I think we should hold on to our opinions. What do you think?