On the Lambda

Programming, Technology, and Systems Administration

On the Lambda

Steam Controller Review part 1 – Expectations and Unboxing

October 16th, 2015 · No Comments · IT News

To start this review, I need to come clean: I hate game controllers. I mean, really hate them. My game of choice is the first person shooter, and my platform of choice is a PC. Give me a keyboard/mouse or give me death! Literally. My character is probably gonna die a lot if I’m forced to use a controller instead of my beloved mouse and keyboard.

In the Steam Controller, Valve is attempting to bring some of that mouse and keyboard precision to your living couch and TV, but you’ll have to color me skeptical. I think the key words in that previous sentence are, “some of”. I’ll be very surprised indeed if the device sitting next to me is able to deliver.

Thankfully, I can use the power of reasonable expectations to still come out of this with a positive experience for the controller. While shooters are my preferred game, I’ve been known to play the occasional Final Fantasy, Lego Star Wars, or real-time strategy. I’m looking for the Steam Controller to up my experience in these areas. I’m also hoping to use the Steam Controller as an improvement over my current setup for controlling Netflix playback via the computer behind my TV.

About that. I have a computer behind my TV. It’s a 2010 Mac Mini that I got for free and resurrected from the dead by putting a spare laptop hard drive inside to dual boot Windows 10 and OS X. A gaming PC this is not. However, it’s adequate for Netflix playback, and should suffice for Steam In-Home Streaming. Again, color me skeptical that In-Home Streaming will be responsive enough for shooters. However, this won’t be a problem as long as I limit my expectation to the kinds of games where millisecond adjustments aren’t needed. The Steam Controller can succeed in getting a 5-star review by excelling in those areas. If it works for shooters, too (and I will at least try this a few times), that’s just a bonus.

Let’s move on to the unboxing. Here, I have to give Valve full marks. I wasn’t really expecting to see my controller until later this month or early next, but they did right by their pre-orders. I received a notice with tracking info when the controller shipped, as well as a follow-up notice just ahead of it’s arrival that I believe is worth re-printing here:

The first Steam Link and Steam Controller pre-order units are scheduled to arrive over the next few days.

We’re eager to hear your feedback as we continue to make changes and improvements leading up to the full retail launch on November 10th. For the next few weeks, we recommend that you opt in to the Steam client beta (through the System settings panel in the Big Picture UI) so that you’ll be running the most current fixes and functionality.

We’ll be keeping an eye on forums everywhere, but we’ve also set up a contact email address for everyone on the team: SteamHardwareFeedback@valvesoftware.com. Whether you’re having a great time or running into issues, we want to know.

I believe that was beautifully executed. Well done, Valve.

The device itself looks and feels great. Here is the box:

Steam Controller Box

Opened up:

Steam Controller Opened Box

Further contents:

Steam Controller

Also in the box were a¬†Product Guide and Quick-Start Guide. You can see that controller ships with a set of AA batteries. I have no idea what the battery life will be, but I have an ample supply of rechargeable AA’s at home. I am a little disappointed that it doesn’t use something more like a cell phone battery, but I imagine this helped keep costs down, which I also appreciate.

The feel of the controller is pretty good overall. The right trackpad fits under my thumb much better than expected. Left and right motions are actually more of a diagonal axis¬†across the pad, so I hope this is either adjustable or pre-tuned correctly (I will report this after some time in actual game play). The handle buttons under my ring finger and little fingers feel good. I’m not so sure about the upper trigger buttons yet.

My biggest concern right now is that my thumb has to leave the trackpad to use the XYAB buttons. I have to choose one part of the controller or the other. However, this is more on game designers using layouts and mechanics that don’t require this, or on me to work around it through customizing the layout.

That’s all for now. Stay tuned for part 2 in a couple days, where I’ll talk about the actual playing experience with the controller.

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