Remember a few years back when Valve thought they had the solution to console gaming?
That’s right! The Steam Machine debacle! It was interesting to watch, as it was so hyped up until everyone realized it was terrible. Anyways, I’m not here to talk about the failure of the Steam Machine line of gaming consoles, I’m here to talk about the other piece of hardware that…might now be as bad as you might think.
This is the Steam Controller. It went through a few variations over the years as it was prototyped, and this is the result of careful contemplation of how you can make a controller that feels like you’re playing on a phone.
No, but really, the Steam Controller is a very interesting piece of hardware, almost a novelty, as it does something that not many, if any at all, have done before. I bought the thing when it first came out back in 2015. I remember getting my friends in the car and driving over to the nearest Gamestop where I plopped down $50 for the controller and wireless dongle. I took it home and immediately connected it to my computer to see what it could do.
Although I really wanted to like it, like everyone else who had bought one, I was a bit underwhelmed. The haptic touchpads weren’t as useful as I thought, mainly because with an analog stick I can at least let the view stay static while I strafe around on the other, with the Steam Controller has my thumb constantly touching the pad, causing the screen to twitch around while I’m trying to aim down my sight.
So I put the thing in a drawer and forgot about it. Two years later, here I am talking about it. When I went home over Thanksgiving, I saw it on my desk. I had long since misplaced the wireless dongle, but you could still plug it in via micro USB, so I packed it in and went back to my humble abode. It’d been a while since I’d used it, and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to play. Seeing as how my friend recommended I play Fallout New Vegas (I’d never bothered to play through it, I know, I’m terrible) I plugged in the controller and booted it up.
What I found surprised me. As I wandered through the dusty winds of the Mojave Wasteland, I realized that using the haptic pad to scroll my view around, it actually felt more precise than if I just had an analog stick. Since it’s input is converted to mouse movement, I was directly controlling the cursor. Like I said above, it felt like I was playing an fps on my phone.
But the thing is, it felt good. Normally, using touch controls for anything is horrible because that usually means you’re holding a phone or a tablet and your fingers are all over the screen, maybe missing the buttons on the screen because they’re not on this plane of existence. The thing is, using your thumb to scroll the view in any direction is still more accurate than using deadzones. It’s just that holding a screen is just awful and scrolling from the corner of your screen is just weird. Valve created a controller that simulates the scrolling of touch controls, but it does it with more precision creating a physical boundary for your thumb, as well as bringing in a physical left analog stick, face buttons, left and right bumpers, triggers, everything else.
I would probably go as far as to say that the Steam Controller is the most precise controller on the market. The only setback is, it takes practice to be really precise with the touchpad. The main problem is getting that right thumb to be really steady and smooth. Having an analog stick could almost be considered as having a crutch, providing an easy way to lock your view and strafe, but also preventing you from controlling your view with more precision.
But in the end, I’ll always go back to the gamepads we have today and have always had, the ones with analog sticks. It’s what I grew up with, it’s what I know. It just feels the most comfortable. But sometimes I’ll bring it out when I want to be a hipster, just to have the novelty of a controller Valve made.
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