As a videogamer I started playing with the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and as generations kept coming derivative standards were set. Despite innovation you could always rely on the same control scheme, even with Wii.
On PC mouse and keyboard were the best allies since the beginning, with their complexity and precision. Steam is, without any doubt, the market leader in terms of PC games distribution. When Valve started talking about making their own PC controller, trying to overcome Microsoft's Xbox360 dependence, I was really skeptical.
After seeing their first design and tests I didn't immediately understood what they were tring to do. The controller seemed uncomfortable, not as precise as keyboard and mouse and less diverse. Then I came across this video from the Steam Dev Days from 2014.
What they were aiming towards was a perfect union of keyboard and mouse into a controller. A concept so simple to say, but so hard to realize. After the first prototype had been tested and more ideas came to mind, Valve refined the Steam Controller we can buy now.
A shiny design with the trackpad idea at its core, but still reminescent of a classic controller. Before diving into analysing how the controller works, it must be said that although mouse functionalities are clearly visible as reinterpreted, keyboards ones seem missing.
In the first prototype the centered touchscreen was a unique way to show keyboard integration, but with the Steam Controller, keyboard fuctionalities are well hidden, for a reason.
The Steam Controller has one of the highest difficulty curve, because is really versatile. A main configuration is granted when playing, but configuring your own scheme, or adopting one from the community, is a challenge and a possibility at the same time. A game within a game, where you can test, imagine, refine and in the end find the right button scheme for every game.
This breakable barrier comes from the keyboard integration I have mentioned before. Every genre on PC has its configuration, so having this type of controller lets you choose where to put this or that input. Thanks to the reminiscence of classic controllers with the analog stick and ABXY the controller has a lot of inputs to choose from.
Result of this is a great customization for every type of game, but then is difficult to type something with the virtual keyboard, despite the precision of the trackpad.
Behind the controller there are three triggers per side, the first one is a button, the second one is an analog trigger with a button on the end, and the third one is a button, that can be detached to reveal where to insert batteries.
Batteries go inside the handles, and the controller does not significantly differ in weight, but it gains balance somehow. Back on the front side there is the Steam button, which can be used to turn the controller on/off and two little extra buttons.
The general feel of the controller might be scary and strange at the beginning, but when tested is precise, reliable, versatile and suitable for everything with the right configuration. Thanks to an incredible optimization batteries last for tons of hours of gameplay.
The use of the feedback on the trackpad technology is brilliant, because it really delivers the right sensation on where are your fingers.
ABXY are a little bit too little and not best reachable in some situations, but configuring the controller using the back buttons solve the problem. When grabbed, hands go right where they have to and that is the main achievement for the Steam Controller: breaking the classic controller design.
The Steam controller is a marvelous controller, if you have the right patience to dive a little bit into configuration, which, if you play on PC, is something you should be doing anyway. Even its desktop use is comfortable. I have used it for hours without tiring my hands. The trackpad works excellently and the interface is really simple.
What lacks is a difficulty to go beyond the classic controller, but it is mostly a player's limit for what he/she has been accustomed to in the past 20 years. Also the ABXY buttons could be bigger and lastly the directional pad is not as precise as what years of Nintendo - and recently XboxOne - perfection gave us.
Given those deficiencies, the Steam Controller is a great alternative and possibly the future of our input methods for videogames. I have intensively used the Steam Controller for a week, for videogames and desktop usage. I personally bought the Steam Controller on the Steam client, with a 30% discount.