Some of you may be tired of the SteamOS/Steam Machine/Steam Controller news posts, but Valve’s foray into the living room is set to potentially change the way many people buy and play games. While we’ve covered the Steam Machine aspect several times lately, today we want to focus on what is perhaps the more important hardware: the Steam Controller. Valve posted a YouTube video yesterday showing how the Steam Controller works with four traditional PC games: Portal, Civilization V, Counter Strike: Global Offensive, and Papers Please. First, here’s the video:

As far as the games go, the controller is obviously going to take some adjustment for most PC gamers, depending on the game. I know personally I do much better with a mouse and keyboard in many games, particularly first person shooters and strategy games. Watching the video and seeing how the controls work, I suspect people like me will take longer to adjust whereas the younger generation that plays on the Xbox 360 and PS3 will probably find the switch easy.

Valve mentions a several input options for the track pads, and most of the demonstration here focuses on 1:1 mouse mapping (basically like using a touchpad) in “legacy mode”. Legacy mode is for games that haven’t been modified to support the controller, so the Steam Controller acts like a mouse and keyboard and outputs keyboard events. Along with 1:1 mapping, the track pads can do a relative/velocity based movement (for joystick-like operation) or D-pad functionality (the points of the compass map to buttons).

Starting with Portal, the left track pad is used as a D-pad while the right track pad functions as the mouse (touchpad); the triggers are for the two portals, and there are a couple other button mappings it looks like. Civilization V uses a similar setup, with the left track pad scrolling the map, the right pad is for the mouse cursor, and two buttons on the bottom (or the triggers?) have been mapped to zoom in/out. CS:GO continues with this setup, only this time Valve demonstrates the precision of the control mechanism. The last game is Papers, Please, a predominantly mouse-driven game. This time, the controller has both track pads mapped to mouse input, allowing you to double up for faster cursor movement.

There are two takeaways from this first video. First is that the Steam Controller is obviously able to function with the games demonstrated; I don’t think anyone doubted this could be done, but it’s still important. The second aspect is how well the controller actually performs for the games in question. I don’t think professional or even competitive gamers will be impressed with the potential in FPS titles, but I could be wrong; it will be interesting to see how many users actually switch things up with the Steam Controller and whether or not they can be competitive with keyboard/mouse users in some of the multiplayer games. For more casual play, and particularly for games that don’t require rapid response to onscreen events, the controller should work fine. There are also titles that are already designed around such controllers (racing games and beat ‘em ups come to mind, along with any console ports), and those shouldn’t pose any problems.

Without any personal hands-on time, we can’t really tell too much from a canned video, but things are at least looking good. The use of track pads instead of thumb sticks and D-pads like we see on traditional consoles will certainly require some adjustment as well, but at least watching the video I can see how using a track pad for mouse emulation is going to be better than using a thumb stick. Then again, some users love their TrackPoint hardware on ThinkPads, so there’s going to be plenty of personal preference involved. 

Source: Valve/YouTube

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  • SleepyFE - Saturday, October 12, 2013 - link

    Found these two pics that. Take a look:

    Sorry about not shortening the addres. Didn't want to scare you away with a "click here to get a virus" link.
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, October 12, 2013 - link

    Still not sure which ones are being used in Civ5 for zooming -- either the front switches, or the underneath switches near the ring-finger/pinky area?
  • Friendly0Fire - Saturday, October 12, 2013 - link

    I'm pretty sure he meant the buttons underneath the controller, which I believe can be pressed with the index finger.
  • Th-z - Sunday, October 13, 2013 - link

    Yes, @2:06 he said the bottom buttons are bound to zoom.
  • Th-z - Sunday, October 13, 2013 - link

    Edited: Yes, underneath the controller. Traditionally on 360 controller the triggers are referred to as left and right trigger (LT & RT), and L1&2 and R1&2 for PS controller, not bottom buttons.
  • FeelLicks - Saturday, October 12, 2013 - link

    Controller looked terrible for Civ 5. All he did was scroll around, zoom in/out, and click on some stuff. I could play the game better with just a keyboard with NO mouse.

    I can't comment on the FPS games since I don't play FPS, but for a game like Civ 5 that makes very good use of keybindings (a lot of PC games basically), doesn't seem like the Valve controller is useful. The Valve controller is much closer to a console controller than to keyboard/mouse combo, which is what I expected.
  • althaz - Sunday, October 13, 2013 - link

    It's obviously going to be far worse than a mouse and keyboard combination in terms of control for every type of game, but a keyboard and mouse isn't very comfortable to use on the couch - which is the point of the whole thing :).
  • lyeoh - Monday, October 14, 2013 - link

    What you need is to replace your couch with a decent hospital bed and accompanying adjustable tray that will let you use your keyboard and mouse. A suitable mattress will prevent bed sores from forming - excellent for those ultra gamers who are trying to unlock their "Mom, Bathroom!" achievement... ;)
  • nafhan - Monday, October 14, 2013 - link

    Right. Basically, "better than a traditional game controller" is what they're shooting for.

    Personally, hotseat Civ V in the living room using this controller sounds like fun to me. I'd probably avoid the really large maps with a ton of units, though (those tend to be less fun in multiplayer anyway due to turn length).
  • thewhat - Sunday, October 13, 2013 - link

    It's unusable for competitive FPS, but that was expected.

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