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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  • tviceman - Saturday, October 12, 2013 - link

    So it functions better than a typical controller, but not quite as good as a mouse for precision movement. Sounds like it's a good alternative when sitting on the couch.
  • inighthawki - Saturday, October 12, 2013 - link

    That's the impression I got too. Better than a standard analog stick (at least for many games) but still nto as good as a mouse and keyboard. I would definitely love the opportunity to try one out.
  • althaz - Sunday, October 13, 2013 - link

    From every hands-on impression I've read so far, it's good...but worse than (for example) an XBox 360 controller for games it's possible to play with a controller. Where it shines is in games that you can't play with a traditional controller - so long as they don't require high-speed accuracy.

    So it's worse than the appropriate controller for every situation, but has the advantage of being ok everywhere.
  • willis936 - Sunday, October 13, 2013 - link

    Jack of all trades, master of none,
    Certainly better than a master of one
  • Tetracycloide - Monday, October 14, 2013 - link

    Probably just lack of experience with the controller or mistakenly using joystick mode because that's what they are used to. There's no way a 1:1 track pad under the thumb won't in time surpasse a joystick for precise inputs.
  • cmanderson - Saturday, October 12, 2013 - link

    I couldn't watch the video for more than a minute. Motion sickness to the extreme.
  • jebo - Saturday, October 12, 2013 - link

    I pushed through the video, but I'm sorry I did. Something about focusing on the static controller frame while the game was moving in the background.
  • Kepe - Saturday, October 12, 2013 - link

    "Civilization V uses a similar setup, with the left track pad scrolling the map, the right pad is for the mouse cursor, and the triggers have been mapped to zoom in/out."
    The guy actually says he bound the bottom buttons to zoom in/out, not the triggers. He seems to be using a trigger on the right for mouse clicks.
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, October 12, 2013 - link

    I think he says "bottom buttons", which I assumed meant the triggers. If you watch his hands, I didn't see anything happening with the top buttons, and I can't see exactly what he's doing to zoom.
  • SleepyFE - Saturday, October 12, 2013 - link

    I think there is a touch surface where your fingertips rest, so you kind of have eight buttons on the bottom.

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