The Steam Controller

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Monk Ed
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The Steam Controller

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Postby Monk Ed » Sat Feb 13, 2016 10:04 pm

A few moons ago now, I purchased a Steam Controller. I hadn't been playing any games that I thought would be substantially improved by it, so when I took it from its packaging its clicky sounds and cheap feel were all it took to dissuade me from even plugging it in for a first time.

Months later, XCOM 2 came along. It was the first game I was going to play anyway that also promised integration with the controller, so I tried it out, and after some initial hurdles, it is now the primary device with which I play the game.

It's inspiring stuff; the way XCOM 2 uses the dual trackpads in the tactics part of the game is not quite like anything even a mouse and keyboard could fully replicate. The left trackpad is used to scroll your camera across the battlefield as if you had a second mouse dedicated just to moving the camera, and you can finely tweak its behavior to add such attributes as a trackball momentum effect. Unlike using WASD for the same purpose, I feel a lot more in control of my view this way; one extra layer between thought and action is removed. The right trackpad controls ye olde mouse cursor, and the two work well in combination, though it's still clear that the game was built for a mouse and keyboard first and this controller second.

I've also tried it out with Subnautica. Taking as granted that there's a learning curve with anything new, it performed better than expected. Subnautica has no gamepad support at all let alone support for this one, so I mapped all my inputs to KB/M controls and was surprised to find that I could actually play the game fairly well, despite the game's mouse-heavy interface. I used the back paddles for swimming up and down, and used the "touch menu" option to map regions of the left trackpad to hotkeys for tool selection.

I've also tried it out with Resident Evil 6. I wanted to see how well it worked with something more "shooty", and, leaving aside other issues that are inevitable when mapping a newfangled controller to the keyboard and mouse inputs of a game clearly designed around a traditional gamepad, I found that using the right trackpad to aim worked very well once I found the sensitivity and other settings that worked for me.

I'd have tried it out with a lot more things, but the controller's biggest problem right now is that very few games even support it. Yeah it's meant to be used with games that don't outright support it, but that obviously comes with downsides that get in the way of the experience. I felt this most strongly in my attempt to use the controller with RE6, but it was bad enough with Subnautica as well that I doubt I'll be using the Steam Controller much more with any of the games I've mentioned except XCOM 2. Integration matters.

What'd be really neat is to see lessons learned from this controller popping up on future traditional gamepads. I think it'd be really slick to see a mainstream console come out with a controller that uses a well-made trackpad as a replacement for the right analog stick, but even such little things as the controller's use of haptics to signal such feedback as when you've pressed a trigger in far enough for it to register would be welcome on otherwise traditional controllers.
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Re: The Steam Controller

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Postby Reichu » Sun Feb 14, 2016 12:40 pm

View Original PostMonk Ed wrote:What'd be really neat is to see lessons learned from this controller popping up on future traditional gamepads.

As I get older, there's a smaller and smaller window between "play game that requires pushing on analog sticks a lot" and "unspeakable joint pain", so count me in among those desperately craving innovation and thumb-friendlier alternatives...

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Re: The Steam Controller

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Postby IronEvangelion » Sun Feb 14, 2016 8:45 pm

I've been thinking about this for a long time, but would a trackball make a superior replacement for the right analog stick on a controller? Seems like a good trackball would allow for much more precise aiming and camera control. But then again I've never actually used a trackball mouse so I wouldn't know for sure.
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Re: The Steam Controller

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Postby Monk Ed » Sun Feb 14, 2016 8:57 pm

I'd sooner use the Steam Controller's trackball emulation than an actual trackball. I've used physical trackballs before and didn't like them at all.
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