The Steam Controller VS Console Controllers

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Watching Valve’s better-late-than-never demonstration of its controller made me realize something about a fundamental split between different kinds of games and how they’ve been effected by control inputs. I started wondering if major changes need to happen on the console side as well as on Valve’s end.

We know Valve’s controller was primarily built for PC games. That means certain genres like strategy games, but what hit me was how well this controller seems to work for shooters — better even than a traditional console pad.

The player’s performance in that video in Counter-Strike Golbal Offensive looked nearly perfect — better than a newcomer to the game like me is with a keyboard and mouse, and probably better than what you see most of the time with analog sticks. More importantly, they did that even with a controller that has extremely odd face button placement. The face button placement has been one of the biggest concerns with Valve’s controller, but it doesn’t really seem to matter for shooters. In fact it might be one of the things that improves the controller’s performance with shooters.

Console game design has historically been centered around use of the face buttons, but shooters, at least first person shooters, probably prioritize the right stick and shoulder buttons more. There are specialized FPS controllers that even prioritize them over the face buttons. This is essentially what Valve’s controller does, and it makes sense because despite FPSs being more popular on consoles now, they still originated on the PC.

For a look in how this affects gameplay just look at the Xbox 360 control scheme for Call of Duty Black Ops II. Any function mapped to a face button, particularly reloading and switching weapons, can’t be done while using the right stick to aim. The same goes for selecting items with the D pad while moving with the left stick unless you do some thumb gymnastics. I hear there are COD gamers who actually use modded controllers to change this and get an advantage. And of course you can do those things on PC because on a keyboard all functions except look, firing, iron sights, and grenades, are accessible with one hand. On Valve’s controller however, one could map some of those functions to the left face buttons or even the extra buttons on the underside of the controller, changing the experience. On top of the supposedly superior aiming of the touch pad, this theoretically make’s Valve’s controller the best official controller for FPSs.

If shooters are so popular on consoles, wouldn’t that make it reasonable to start taking a hard look at how controllers are designed with them in mind? The current format of a console controller came about largely because of Nintendo’s influences. The D pad and face button layout was made to accommodate 2D games with a single analog stick added for 3D movement in traditionally console genres like platformers and brawlers. Shooters eschew this, and influence in console gaming has shifted from Nintendo.

On the flipside though, you also have to consider Valve’s controller in relation to games on Steam made for console-oriented genres. The face button placement still worries me when it comes to platformers like Super Meat Boy, or fighting games, or other games that were essentially brought over from the console world. These kinds of games are becoming increasingly common on Steam, and right now I feel like if I got Valve’s controller I’d be switching back and forth between it and a standard 360 pad.

Valve is still tweaking the controller, but I honestly don’t know how they can compromise while keeping the trackpad-centric design. Maybe add a couple more buttons to the underside of the controller to make up for the face button placement. I know the right trackpad can be mapped to replace face buttons, but it wouldn’t be quite right. I also have no idea how Valve can shimmy the D pad on there, and one of the things I’ve wanted for a long time is a good D pad for PC games.

Still, I’m anticipating Valve’s controller for one big reason: instead of trying to make developers conform to a standard like the 360 pad’s Xinput, Valve basically just made a controller that’s really good at mimicking a mouse and keyboard, which automatically makes it compatible with all PC games to a certain extent. I think that’s a major step up.

BULLETS:

  • Ikaruga coming to Steam. http://t.co/RKXByxLSzW
  • Apparently UK PSN has Siren Blood Curse for £6. https://t.co/Oo4FXSiimN
  • Kill la Kill is every American stereotype about anime distilled into one anime. It is exactly what average Americans think anime is.
  • If anyone else took advantage of the Resident Evil 6 Steam deal, remember to read the “real” manual for the game. http://t.co/Dj3LjgbLod
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