Steam Is Rising Watch Out, Consoles! (Part 2)

4/12/2014 11:50:20 AM

The Cheeto Dust Problem

The prototype Steam Machine may have been a fairly straightforward piece of thinking, but at the same time as they began developing it, Valve’s engineers began to untangle a far knottier problem: how to build the gamepad of the future.

“We were already doing some experiments on wearable computing and virtual reality,” explains Greg, “but for the living room we needed an input device that was able to play the whole Steam catalogue, without requiring somebody to bring a mouse and keyboard onto the sofa. We realised we had to make the games think they’re being played by those traditional devices, because there’s no way we can update all those titles now – they were never built for a game controller, and you can’t just crack a few thousand games open to magically support something new.”


A powerful new category of living-room hardware is on the horizon.

If Valve was going to trick every game in its 3000-plus catalogue into thinking they were being played by traditional means, it would need to create a brand new input device. And possibly quite a weird one.

“We built a lot of prototypes that had a trackball on the right-hand side. We had small trackballs, we tried cue ball-sized trackballs that punched all the way through to the back of the controller so that the ball’s being held around its middle, and you can hold the whole thing and have really precise input. That was great – trackballs are actually really, really good in terms of 2D pointing – but it also had some downsides. It’s asymmetrical, for one thing, so right-handed only; different people liked different configurations, so it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution; and a trackball has a lot of moving parts, which means you’re going to get a lot of Cheeto dust stuck in there.” It’s good to know that some companies take your snack crumbs into account.


We have designed a high-performance prototype that’s optimized for gaming,
 for the living room, and for Steam.

“So we started trying trackpads. They were way behind trackballs for a long time, but when we started changing the software we began to see its potential. For a while, we even went off past trackpads and tried having touch input across a whole flat surface. It was useful to try that, but it taught us that wasn’t where we wanted to go – often we ended up needing to have a divided experience, where you’re looking down at your hands and then up at the screen, and the tactile feeling of a controller was absent.


The tactile feeling of a controller was absent.

“It also taught us how important haptic feedback is for any touch device. That channel of information from the touch input device to the user’s hands is vital. It can carry all kinds of information on what’s happening in the game, but on a nuts-and-bolts level it tells you what part of the touch surface you’re using. We subdivide those surfaces into slices, or concentric rings, and those boundaries are impossible for the player to detect unless you have haptic feedback.”

It was at this point that the pieces of the puzzle came together. The problem was that Valve wanted a trackball that wasn’t a trackball. The solution was to make exactly that: a virtual trackball. “Once we started looking at haptic feedback, we realised it could also help us hold onto the things we’d achieved with a trackball. The electromagnets in there are so precise that they can emulate the momentum in a physical ball. The user can feel that the ball is spinning fast, or it’s slowing down, or it has stopped. So you can toss the virtual ball and have it feel like it’s spinning under your thumb, then plant your thumb on it and have it quickly come to rest again. And that channel of information makes it easy to use. It makes you aware, even before you’re seeing the results on screen that you’re speeding up, turning or stopping.”



Top 10
Review : Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art
Review : Canon EF11-24mm f/4L USM
Review : Creative Sound Blaster Roar 2
Review : Philips Fidelio M2L
Review : Alienware 17 - Dell's Alienware laptops
Review Smartwatch : Wellograph
Review : Xiaomi Redmi 2
Extending LINQ to Objects : Writing a Single Element Operator (part 2) - Building the RandomElement Operator
Extending LINQ to Objects : Writing a Single Element Operator (part 1) - Building Our Own Last Operator
3 Tips for Maintaining Your Cell Phone Battery (part 2) - Discharge Smart, Use Smart
- First look: Apple Watch

- 3 Tips for Maintaining Your Cell Phone Battery (part 1)

- 3 Tips for Maintaining Your Cell Phone Battery (part 2)
- How to create your first Swimlane Diagram or Cross-Functional Flowchart Diagram by using Microsoft Visio 2010 (Part 1)

- How to create your first Swimlane Diagram or Cross-Functional Flowchart Diagram by using Microsoft Visio 2010 (Part 2)

- How to create your first Swimlane Diagram or Cross-Functional Flowchart Diagram by using Microsoft Visio 2010 (Part 3)
Popular Tags
Microsoft Access Microsoft Excel Microsoft OneNote Microsoft PowerPoint Microsoft Project Microsoft Visio Microsoft Word Active Directory Biztalk Exchange Server Microsoft LynC Server Microsoft Dynamic Sharepoint Sql Server Windows Server 2008 Windows Server 2012 Windows 7 Windows 8 Adobe Indesign Adobe Flash Professional Dreamweaver Adobe Illustrator Adobe After Effects Adobe Photoshop Adobe Fireworks Adobe Flash Catalyst Corel Painter X CorelDRAW X5 CorelDraw 10 QuarkXPress 8 windows Phone 7 windows Phone 8