SAN FRANCISCO—Enough press releases, enough GDC plagues. On Wednesday, Valve Software finally unveiled a full lineup of Steam Machines, along with the “final” Steam Controller, the Steam Link streaming box, and even the SteamVR hardware. We’ll talk in-depth about our half-hour demo of SteamVR soon, consisting of six different, interactive demos, but for now, we’ll recap our impressions of the rest of Valve’s hardware spread.
Valve Software has confirmed that we’ve tested the “final” version of the Steam Controller, which received a November 2015 release window in an announcement yesterday. That final design includes two touchpads (with a d-pad shape etched on the left one), a back panel that can be clicked down with middle fingers on either side, a single joystick – finally – and an Xbox-esque spread of face buttons and shoulder buttons . The gallery above has captions with some thoughts on the controller’s features, including the new GameCube-style triggers.
We’ve demoed three games, all of which launched with WASD-and-mouse control schemes on PC: The Talos Principle, Counter-Strike: Global Offensiveand the new, under development version of Unreal tournament. In all three, Kyle and I still struggled to feel competent using the right touchpad as a mouse replacement. We played against bots on the easiest difficulty in the last two games and could barely line up solid gunshots most of the time. It’s one thing to say we’ll “get used to it” after more time with the controller – the increased speed and “momentum roll” of swiping the touchpad seem like features that will really pay off for people getting used to the Steam Controller – but the bots we faced were practically stationary most of the time, and we weren’t That bad at first person shooters.
Oddly, we were more annoyed by the controller’s last ABXY buttons. I thought they were too small – that’s my thumb there – while Kyle complained about their placement where you’d expect a joystick on both Sony and Microsoft’s pads. At least the overall action of the buttons felt smooth and easy enough.
Steam Link, steam engines
Valve gave us a quick demo of the Steam Link to prove that the device could broadcast Steam content efficiently. We weren’t convinced it was a 100 percent perfect stream from PC to TV, as we noticed very, very small bits of artifacts in a rainy scene in Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, but otherwise it was a stable, lag-free demo – albeit a short one, and more importantly, run as a wired test rather than wireless. Of course, GDC is a bad place to test wireless technology, but wireless streaming is an important feature we want to test before going for one of these $50 boxes in November. If you’re wondering, Valve has nothing to announce yet regarding dedicated streaming apps for Steam Link.
In the case of Steam Machines, well, those are coming, and they’re definitely more expensive than current-gen consoles. The 14 models that debuted at GDC start at no less than $460 – the cheapest being an Athlon X4-powered rig from iBuyPower with a 1GB Radeon R7 video card inside – so Valve certainly isn’t positioning any of its suppliers’ machines to be affordable to be , mass market living room appliances.
SteamVR: Invading Eyeballs since 2012
The rest of Valve’s demo room consisted largely of a long, museum-like display cataloging SteamVR’s ongoing development since 2012, along with a series of six demo rooms for invitees to test the current build of SteamVR – in the form of the HTC Vive headphones. – for the first time. Kyle will be posting his impressions shortly, but in the meantime enjoy a slightly out of context gallery on the VR system’s genesis.
Frame image by Sam Machkovech