I don’t know whether to be disappointed with Valve or disappointed with us, the collective group of game enthusiasts who are unwilling to change old habits. There was a time when the Steam Controller was going to be really bizarre (see art above): Zero analog sticks, four buttons arranged around a massive touchscreen that would help simulate the rest of the keyboard, and two enormous touchpads for camera control and movement.
And we reacted with confusion. “Bizarre,” we said, “but I guess I’ll give it a shot.” Then some of us gave it a shot and were all, “Well, I guess it’s okay. I just don’t think I’d ever use one instead of an Xbox 360 controller.”
Valve apparently heard us, first adding two diamonds of buttons onto the controller, similar to a D-Pad and the ABXY block we’re all familiar with. Then they added a damn analog stick instead of the D-pad. Now, if a recent image discovered by ValveTime is any indication the D-pad idea is back in the form of four cardinal lines on the left touchpad.
All of which begs the question, “Why the hell does this thing even exist?” If Valve’s just going to make its own Xbox/PlayStation style controller (and it’s appearing more that way with every subsequent iteration), then why even bother?
It has to be even more frustrating to PC makers, which were forced to delay the launch of their Steam Machines because Valve’s one piece (the controller) wasn’t ready yet. Some have managed to ameliorate those sunk costs somewhat by selling the box as a living room-ready Windows machines—Alienware’s nifty Alpha console, for instance. But most of those boxes shown at CES last January still haven’t seen the light of day, and with the rapid progression of gaming hardware most are already obsolete.
Which brings us all to the central question: Do we ever see Steam Machines? Do we see a consumer launch of SteamOS? Do we see the Steam Controller as a real retail product? I assume we’ll have those questions answered by the end of 2015. At least, I hope we will—after all, there’s always a chance the whole project falls into the same time void as Half-Life 3.
Hayden writes about games for PCWorld and doubles as the resident Zork enthusiast.