I am a doctoral student in Cultural Anthropology, with a bachelor's in English & Creative Writing. I specialize in subcultures and cognition.
I love gaming, and I have followed the industry and its technology since I was a kid in the 80's. I have gamed primarily on PC since 2000, though I still follow console news and hardware as well. I was also a sales associate at Micro Center for a while, which was a great experience and got me into PC hardware.
I worked as a mapper and beta tester for the mod Action Half-Life. My maps, most of which have vanilla Half-Life Deathmatch versions, are available on my website.
Since the announcement of the Steam Controller last Friday, I don't think I've seen so many otherwise intelligent people say so many ignorant things. Just look at this moron. While I'm sympathetic to having a negative gut reaction when faced with something different, most concerns or complaints people have expressed are directly addressed on Valve's announcement page. The rest are mostly unfounded if you take a minute to think about how the controller works, or look at a picture of it with your brain on.
Valve also showed the controller to a number of developers, and their response was overall quite positive – impressive considering this is still a prototype. I highly recommend reading the detailed blog by Tommy Refenes of Team Meat about using the controller. It gives you a good sense of what it feels like to use it. There's also an article on Kotaku detailing other developers' reactions to the controller. I'll be quoting both below.
Anyway, I'm just going to go through the things I've seen people say and explain why they are, you know, wrong. And don't be afraid of change, people. That wouldn't be... wise...
"This is just another annoying gimmick like motion controls!"
Nooooope. This is not "innovation for innovation's sake" like the Kinect or Wii U GamePad. The Steam Controller was developed for a reason, to address a specific problem: "How can we make games that traditionally require a keyboard and mouse easily playable on the couch?" While the Steam Controller's functionality surpasses that primary goal, and may offer new ways to play and enjoy games, it has a reason to exist. They same can't be said of most other controller "innovations".
"But I'd have to take my thumbs off the trackpads to press the buttons!"
Really? You're right, that's different from the 360 controller, where you can easily press XYAB without your thumbs leaving the analog sticks.
I mean, you know, if you have a third thumb or something. You circus freak.
But no, let's not stop there. Let's address this whole supposed "button issue". Because people seem to have forgotten how to count.
On a 360 controller you can access 6 buttons without your thumbs leaving the analog controls, assuming you count the wonky analog stick-buttons.
Well HOLY FRICKIN' MATH, BATMAN, you can actually press more buttons on the Steam Controller!
Note that I labeled the right analog pad "8+" because it can be dynamically changed to emulate several buttons when needed.
To be fair, Valve really shouldn't have labeled those central buttons "XYAB" on the prototype, as they aren't meant to fulfill the same functions as the buttons by the same name on a 360 controller. I think that's throwing people off.
Ignoring those, though, the thing actually has a ton of buttons you can press without having your thumbs leave the trackpads. It addition to the two top buttons/triggers there are two underneath you can access, kind of like the Z button on the N64 controller. Moreover, the trackpads themselves are buttons, and I suspect it would be easier to press them without issue than analog-stick buttons. By altering the magnetic field they can even make the touchpads themselves function as multiple buttons. In other words, where your thumb is when you press down would signify a different virtual button. You could "feel" each button by changes in the magnetic field across the pad. And yes, developers who tried it say that works quite well. Well enough to play Super Meatboy and Spelunky.
"But this is just like using a touch-screen in a cell-phone game, there's no tactile or sensory feedback!"
Okay. Let's start with the basics. Look at the controller. No, seriously, stop what you're doing, and look it with your freaking eyeballs. Each pad is circular and concave. So they are already way more tactile than the annoying, slippery "virtual" pads on a cellphone screen. Each pad also has a series of raised concentric circles to better give you a sense of depth. Finally, the haptic feedback can create sensations based on your thumb's location, providing customizable feedback that can change depending on the game and situation. Refenes suggested that they add more "regular" tactile feedback to the pad (maybe a nub in the center or at up-down-left-right), and that's among the things Valve is already considering.
"But this isn't going to be as accurate as an analog stick!"
No, it's going to be more accurate, though somewhat shy of mouse accuracy. One indie developer described it, compared to a standard controller, as "much more precise for (say) anything WASD+mouselook." So, as Valve suggests on their announcement page, the controller should give you FPS accuracy and speed superior to a standard controller, albeit still shy of a gaming mouse.
"But this will be horrible for games I play with a D-Pad!"
It wasn't designed with those games in mind, but signs actually point to it being just fine. According to Refenes of Team Meat, "I was able to play Meat Boy the way Meat Boy can be played on an advanced level." He also found it fine with Spelunky. And Team Meat… well, if anyone knows platformers, it's them. The jury is still out on how it will work with fighting games, but I can actually see it being great for circular movements.
In any case, nobody is taking away your old controllers. A lot of us already have multiple controllers for different types of games, like special pads/sticks for fighting games. This one is more for using the SteamOS UI and keyboard-mouse style PC games.
"But why come up with a new controller when the current ones are just fine?"
They are just fine for many kinds of games. But, as I stated above, they aren't designed for complex keyboard-mouse titles. Moreover, for certain genres like FPS games the Steam Controller is potentially superior.
"But I don't want to use it because ________!"
Then don't freaking use it. Your 360 controller and keyboard-mouse setups will still work fine. Valve specifically states that the new controller is not meant to replace them. Maybe you should take some time away from gaming to improve your reading comprehension skills?
One last thing. It's just a freaking prototype. Based on player feedback and the hardware beta they could end up adding a D-pad, swapping one of the touchpads for an analog stick, or making any number of other changes before release. Hell, during the developer demonstration one of the Valve employees tweaked the firmware on the fly at someone's request. Can you imagine Sony or Microsoft involving the community in the development process like this? No. Freaking. Way.
And, everything else aside, it's going to be hard to judge this thing one way or the other until more of us get our hands on it. Putting your thumbs into dynamic magnetic fields sounds pretty crazy... and I can't wait to freaking try it out.
PS: I'm moving to reserve recapper for now. That way I have more time to harass you all with my regular blog posts. Aren't you lucky?