Getting burned by the Steam Controller

Subject: General Tech | April 11, 2014 - 03:37 PM |
Tagged: valve, Steam Controller, gdc 14

At the Game Developers Conference last month The Tech Report had some one on one time with the Steam Controller and walked away with a less than positive impression.  It would seem that the learning curve for this device is rather steep, especially when they tried Portal 2.  Fine aiming, circle strafing and other tasks which come naturally to those used to a keyboard and mouse were quite difficult to accomplish on the new controller.  When asked, the Valve rep admitted it took them about 8 hours to familiarize themselves with the Steam Controller.  Is that too steep a learning curve or is it simply part of the fun of playing with a new type of console and controller?

controller.jpg

"Valve's Steam controller looks great on paper. It promises not just greater accuracy than conventional console gamepads, but also support for point-and-click titles that traditionally required a mouse and keyboard. There's a downside, though. As TR's Cyril Kowaliski learned first-hand, the Steam controller has a pretty steep learning curve—steep enough, perhaps, to put off some potential converts."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

GDC 14: Valve's Steam Controller Is Similar to Dev Days

Subject: General Tech, Cases and Cooling, Shows and Expos | March 15, 2014 - 01:44 AM |
Tagged: GDC, gdc 14, valve, Steam Controller

Two months ago, Valve presented a new prototype of their Steam Controller with a significantly changed button layout. While the overall shape and two thumbpads remained constant, the touchscreen disappeared and the face buttons more closely resembled something from an Xbox or PlayStation. Another prototype image has been released, ahead of GDC, without many changes.

valve-DOG_controller_MED.jpg

Valve is still in the iteration process for its controller, however. Ten controllers will be available at GDC, each handmade. This version has been tested internally for some undisclosed amount of time, but this will be the first time that others will give their feedback since the design that was shown at CES. The big unknown is: to what level are they going to respond to feedback? Are we at the stage where it is about button sizing? Or, will it change radically - like to a two-slice toaster case with buttons inside the slots.

GDC is taking place March 17th through the 21st. The expo floor opens on the 19th.

Steam Controller Is Changing?

Subject: General Tech, Cases and Cooling, Shows and Expos | January 16, 2014 - 03:19 AM |
Tagged: valve, Steam Dev Days, Steam Controller, CES 2014, CES

Valve has always been a company based on experimentation and it looks like the Steam Controller is not the lighthouse which guides SteamOS through the fog. Just a week after presenting the prototype at CES, a 3D mockup of a new one makes not-insignificant changes. Gone is the touchscreen and the first revealed button placement. Frankly, just about the only things untouched on the front face are the twin touchpads and the palm grips.

SteamControllerV2.jpg

Image Credit: Leszek Godlewski (Twitter)

To fully understand the breadth of the changes, the announcement image is included below. There is basically no discussion about the back so that aspect might be untouched.

steam-controller.jpg

The changes were apparently made to assist compatibility with games ported from more traditional input schemes. Looking at the original prototype, there was no obvious mapping from a Sony or Microsoft-based controller to those buttons spread out for both the left and right thumbs to access. The new setup is the typical four face buttons on the right and four more buttons on the left as a surrogate directional pad. If they continue to iterate down this path I hope that the directional pad is more effective than most from the last two generations. It looks like the four directions are separated from one another which does not inspire confidence.

There are two stories which entangle on this one. The first is that Valve is willing to perform rapid iteration until they achieve what they consider a maximum. That is the method to quickest success especially since it allows cross-pollination between designs.

The second is that it also makes the public a little bit nervous.

Source: VR-Zone

CES 2014: Kyle Orland (Ars Technica) Tries Steam Controller

Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | January 9, 2014 - 02:21 AM |
Tagged: CES 2014, CES, valve, Steam Controller

Valve has garnered a lot of hype leading up to this CES. This event was the launch of Steam Machines from their OEM partners. The line-up for their keynote speech was intense, Ryan tweeting in the crowd a whole half of an hour before the speech. Finally, at 7:59 pm EST, Gabe begun to speak... and taking questions by 8:02. Included below is a dramatization of the event.

Yes, I know, "Simpsons did it..."

... South Park probably did it too.

As previously reported, thirteen OEM designs were presented and available to discuss their product. Steam controllers came up during the question period and brought out a pretty big detail: while Valve will be making the Steam Controller, other manufacturers will be allowed to make their own. Currently release date and expected price are still unknown.

Some journalists actually got their hands on the official Steam Controller and they, naturally, shared their thoughts. Kyle Orland of Ars Technica was one of them and his opinion was quite literally split down the middle. On the one hand, pun fully intended, aiming felt about as comfortable and effective as a mouse. On the other hand, movement in legacy mode was aggravating without any tactile feedback signaling where any of the eight directions (up, down, left, right, and the diagonals) start and end.

steam-controller_bindings.jpg

Again, this opinion only stands for shooter-style games in "Legacy Mode". Developers can use the controller more effectively when they design their title for the actual API. Legacy mode maps controller input to mouse and keyboard events and signals.

He also had other comments (positive and negative) about the button layout and other aspects of the controller. It might be worth checking out if you keep in mind: it is early times and he only had a few minutes to base his opinion.

Coverage of CES 2014 is brought to you by AMD!

PC Perspective's CES 2014 coverage is sponsored by AMD.

Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!

Source: Ars Technica

Digital Storm Releases the Bolt II: Steam Machine!

Subject: Systems | January 7, 2014 - 05:08 AM |
Tagged: CES, steam os, Steam Machine, Steam Controller, small form factor, dual boot, Digital Storm, CES 2014, Bolt 2

Today Digital Storm has announced the Bolt 2 small form factor computer.  This little number is marketed as a “Steam machine”, and for very good reasons.  This particular number packs in quite a punch in a very small space.

b201.jpg

The custom designed case has a very effective and logical layout.  It really is quite small, but it is very strong and robust.  It can handle a micro-ITX board, multiple drives, and a dual slot graphics card.  The system I saw was decked out with a GTX 780 Ti along with the Intel i7 4770K.  It includes Digital Storm’s proprietary lighting and cooling module which of course controls the lighting… and cooling fan speed for the system.

Cooling is primarily based on the Corsair H100i dual fan unit.  This portion takes air from one side/top of the case (depending on orientation) and then vents it through the rest of the chassis.  The graphics card takes air from the other side of the case and routes it out the back.  This cooling solution allows a fair amount of overclocking to be attempted by the end user, but it does have limitations as compared to a larger system with more airflow.

b202.jpg

The design utilizes a 700 watt power supply, which is pretty impressive considering the space constraints that Digital Storm has to deal with.  A lot of work with partners has allowed them to include this very small unit with a pair of 30 mm fans at either end.  One would expect such fans to produce a LOT of noise.  This is happily not the case.  The design is good enough, and efficient enough, that at higher loads (including overclocking) it stays very quiet.

The system is very accessible, far more than most would expect.  Anyone that has worked on an older small form factor case will testify as to how annoying and contorted setting up hardware (or swapping it out) can be.  Digital Storm again took their time with the design to make sure that installation and the changing of components is as simple as possible.  A person armed with a screwdriver can get to any major component in a few seconds.  Swapping out the video card would take the amount of time of removing four screws, unplugging the power, and making sure not to rip out the PCI-E 16X ribbon connecting the card to the board.

b203.jpg

Prices for the unit start at $1500 and go above $2500, depending on component choices.  When Valve finalizes the Steam OS and has it ready for prime time, Digital Storm will be including the Steam controller with the build.

Coverage of CES 2014 is brought to you by AMD!

PC Perspective's CES 2014 coverage is sponsored by AMD.

Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!

Valve Releases Steamworks API for Steam Controller

Subject: General Tech, Cases and Cooling | December 19, 2013 - 03:42 AM |
Tagged: valve, Steam Controller

The Steam Controller is a gamepad where touch replaces analog joysticks. Developed internally at Valve, its design focused on being a comfortable gaming accessory which did not compromise on the accuracy allowed by an absolute position-based input device (ie: a mouse). Velocity-based inputs, such as thumbsticks, have the hand-eye and/or timing problem where we need feedback to know when to cease giving input to actually stop. It is a lot easier to make a good estimate of how far to move your hand (or finger, or eye) and perform that action without further feedback necessary.

It is just how we behave.

steam-controller_bindings.jpg

Valve is very confident in their design and believes that it is accurate enough to emulate a mouse. In fact, most games (if and until the Steam Controller gains traction) will be operating in "Legacy Mode" which emulates a mouse and keyboard. They are requesting that the community develop many shared profiles, on a game-by-game basis, to give a large catalog of known configurations by the time the device ships publicly.

But what about the not "Legacy Mode"? The main announcement is that Valve has shipped the controller's Steamworks API to allow developers direct access to its hardware. In other words, rather than emulate a mouse and keyboard, the developer can use the hardware in the way they see fit. Of course this will be most useful for the touchscreen (if a blank 4-quadrant button is insufficient) and the haptic feedback but can also mean new methods of emulating the velocity-based input of a gamepad.

Remember, I said velocity input is less accurate for things like rapid rotation between randomly oriented targets. Flight games often prefer long continuous input which are great for joysticks and thumbsticks. Simply put, traditional gamepads are "better" at certain things (driving games, flight games, third-person games where accuracy is not important but quickly pressing one of four-or-so commands is, etc.). Many developers will want this controller to solve those problems, too.

Keep an eye out at Steam Universe for more updates like these; they occur rapidly as of late.

Podcast #273 - Corsair 750D, a XSPC Watercooling Kit, the Steam Controller and more!

Subject: General Tech | October 17, 2013 - 06:35 PM |
Tagged: podcast, video, corsair, halloween, costume, contest, XSPC, watercooling, radiator, steam, SteamOS, Steam Controller

PC Perspective Podcast #273 - 10/17/2013

Join us this week as we discuss the Corsair 750D, a XSPC Watercooling Kit, the Steam Controller and more!

You can subscribe to us through iTunes and you can still access it directly through the RSS page HERE.

The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!

  • iTunes - Subscribe to the podcast directly through the iTunes Store
  • RSS - Subscribe through your regular RSS reader
  • MP3 - Direct download link to the MP3 file

Hosts: Ryan Shrout, Jeremy Hellstrom, Josh Walrath, and Allyn Malventano

 
Program length: 1:10:56
  1. PC Perspective Halloween Hardware Giveaway - Brought to you by Corsair and Gigabyte

  2. Week in Review:
  3. This episode is brought to you by Carbonite.com! Use offer code PC for two free months!
      1. Skylake (2015) reportedly not affected
  4. Hardware/Software Picks of the Week:
  5. podcast@pcper.com
  6. Closing/outro

 

Valve's Steam Controller Demonstration... 001... .avi?

Subject: General Tech, Systems | October 11, 2013 - 06:36 PM |
Tagged: valve, Steam Machine, Steam Controller

Jeff Bellinghausen, former Chief Technology Officer at Sixense, currently works for Valve with their hardware initiative. He will be provide the voice over for today's controller walkthrough video. Four very different games are shown with very input configurations.

As a little background, Sixense partnered with Valve and Razer to develop the Hydra motion controller. I had a strong feeling that this technology would form the basis of the Steam hardware experience when first rumors of "The Steam Box" circulated. Clearly, either I was wrong or Valve dumped the prototype for their current (slightly more standard) gamepad.

Yet at least one of the engineering minds behind it kept with Steam OS.

The first and third games shown are Portal 2 and CounterStrike: Global Offensive, respectively. Portal 2 is operating in keyboard and mouse "legacy mode" where sliding your right thumb emulates the movement of a mouse and the left thumb activates a virtual D-Pad. This input method seems to have some sort of throw velocity when you quickly swipe your thumb across the pad and release although I obviously have not directly experienced it.

On the other hand, CounterStrike does not require auto aim.

Civilization V has the left thumb pad bound to map scroll and the right thumb pad controlling mouse movement. While precise, I could see speed being a problem for a game such as Starcraft 2. It seems to be slightly slower than a mouse. I would like to see someone learn the controller and attempt to ladder for a relevant amount of time.

Speaking of speed to complement precision: Papers, Please blends both thumbs into a single mouse movement. This highlights what, at least I guess, is the entire point of the new controller: allow new schemes to be tested.

Certainly, there are a bunch of possibilities even before the design leaves Valve's hands.

Source: Valve

Podcast #271 - Hawell NUC, MSI X87 XPOWER Motherboard, the Steam Controller and more!

Subject: General Tech | October 3, 2013 - 02:32 PM |
Tagged: Z87 XPower, z87, video, steam os, Steam Controller, Steam Box, steam, podcast, nuc, msi, haswell

PC Perspective Podcast #271 - 10/03/2013

Join us this week as we discuss the Hawell NUC, MSI X87 XPOWER Motherboard, the Steam Controller and more!

You can subscribe to us through iTunes and you can still access it directly through the RSS page HERE.

The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!

  • iTunes - Subscribe to the podcast directly through the iTunes Store
  • RSS - Subscribe through your regular RSS reader
  • MP3 - Direct download link to the MP3 file

Hosts: Ryan Shrout, Jeremy Hellstrom, Josh Walrath, Allyn Malventano, and Scott Michaud

 
Program length: 1:24:00
  1. Batman: Arkham Origins keys anyone??
  2. Week in Review:
  3. News items of interest:
  4. Hardware/Software Picks of the Week:
    1. Allyn: Dual Power eSATA USB 2.0 Power combo to 22Pin SATA cable (on eBay)
    2. Scott: Teksavvy Internet (Not USB Hubs)
  5. 1-888-38-PCPER or podcast@pcper.com
  6. Closing/outro

 

Fill out the Form Below to Enter for the Batman: Arkham Origins key!!!

Valve Hardware Pt. 3: Steam Controller

Subject: General Tech, Cases and Cooling, Systems | September 27, 2013 - 02:42 PM |
Tagged: SteamOS, Steam Controller, reverse-consolitis

Steam Controller is the third, and final, announcement in the Steam Hardware event. Sure, the peripheral looks weird. It looks very weird. The first thing(s?) you will notice, and likely the driving influence for the iconography, is... or are... the touch pads which replace the expected thumbsticks. The second thing you will notice is the "high resolution" (no specific resolution or dimension was provided) touchscreen.

steam-controller.jpg

The most defining aspect of the controllers, as previously stated, is its pair of trackpads. This input method might actually stand the chance of precise controls while maintaining comfort for a couch. To start, I will quote Valve:

In addition, games like first-person shooters that are designed around precise aiming within a large visual field now benefit from the trackpads’ high resolution and absolute position control.

The emphasis was placed by me.

Last year, almost to the date, I published an editorial, "Is the Gamepad Really Designed for Gaming?" In it, I analyzed console controllers from an engineering standpoint. I blamed velocity-based joystick control for the need to enable auto-aim on console titles. Quoting myself, which feels a little weird to be entirely honest:

Analog sticks are a velocity-oriented control scheme where the mouse is a relative position-oriented control scheme. When you move a joystick around you do not move the pointer to a target rather you make it travel at some speed in the direction of the target. With a mouse you just need to move it the required distance and stop. It is easier to develop a sensitivity to how far you need to pull a mouse to travel to the target than a sensitivity to how long to hold a joystick in a given direction to reach a target. Joysticks are heavily reliant on our mental clocks and eye coordination.

Each trackpad can also be clicked, like the thumbsticks of current controllers just probably more comfortably, to provide extra functionality. From a User Experience (UX) standpoint, I can envision a first-person shooter which emulates a (velocity-based) joystick when the right trackpad is pressed (assuming it is very light to press and comfortably to rub your thumb against while pressing) but switches to position-based when touched but not pressed.

The implication is quick rotation when firing from the hip, but positionally-based targeting when precision is required. Maybe other methods will come up too? I find the technology particularly exciting because Valve, clearly, designed it with the understanding of position-based versus velocity-based control. This challenge you rarely hear discussed.

steam-controller_bindings.jpg

The touchscreen is also a large clickable surface. The controller recognizes touch input and overlays the contents of the screen atop the user's screen but it will not commit the action until the touchpad is pressed. This is designed so the gamer will not need to look at their controller to see what action they are performing.

Personally, I hope this is developer-accessible. Some games, as the WiiU suggests, can benefit from hiding information.

Haptic feedback also ties into the trackpads. Their intent is to provide sensations to the thumbs and compensate for loss of mechanical sensation with thumbsticks. Since they are in there, Valve decided to offer a large, programmable, data channel to very precisely control the effect.

They specifically mention the ability to accept audio waveforms to function as speakers "as a parlour trick".

The devices will be beta tested, via the Steam Machine quest, but without wireless or touchscreen support. Instead of a touchscreen, the controller will contain a four-quadrant grid of buttons mapped to commands.

Thus wraps up the three-pronged announcement. Valve directs interested users to their Steam Universe group for further discussion.

Source: Steam