Hands On With Valve’s Steam Controller/Game Streaming

on Friday, Mar. 21st

“It’s a good thing that I played a lot of Strider last week.”

That’s the thought that went through my head as I was handed the latest iteration of software maker Valve’s new video game controller this week at the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco.

The fresh take on the classic control pad features two discs with feedback mechanics instead of traditional joysticks. Valve promises higher fidelity for first-person shooter games, the kind of fine control that players who use a combination of keyboard and mouse expect from PC gaming. Yet a joypad needs to be responsive for all kinds of games, and Capcom’s nostalgic take on the 90’s arcade classic is about as different from a first person shooter as you can get.

Strider is a twitchy, side-scrolling game that favors quick button inputs and sudden reversals. It is as unforgiving in its own was as a competitive multiplayer shooter. That the just-plain-odd in theory disc-pad was able to mimic the feel of a traditional control pad is a testament to how much engineering prowess Valve has put into the device. That effort is needed: Valve is trying to launch a whole new console-like platform with their Steam Machine initiative.

The new controller wasn’t the only challenge that Strider was taking on: the game was also being streamed in.

Streaming games–where the actual game code is handled in the cloud while inputs and visuals are passed back and forth over the internet–is still fairly new territory. Sony bought up Gaikai, a company that developed one streaming platform, and will launch their own streaming service for Playstation hardware. The other game streaming pioneer, OnLive, has withered on the vine. Valve plans on making streaming a part of their pitch for gamers to turn their back on consoles and embrace the PC gaming environment, albeit more streamlined.

Strider looked fine in streaming form, and played well about 95% of the time. I was able to tear trough a familiar level with relative ease, save for a few moments when the on-screen character kept moving forward without my influence. A quick conversation with a nearby Valve representative revealed that that issue might have been with the streaming latency and not the controller itself.

If the fault does lie with the streaming, then Valve just might have a future hit on its hands with this controller. What looks so strange feels awfully familiar, and when it comes to game controllers aimed at “core gamers” that counts for a lot.

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