On Friday, Valve showed the culmination of its living room initiative with its own controller. It replaces regular button- and analog-based inputs with mappable trackpads, but the throngs of the Internet (including our own) seem unconvinced. Fortunately, some developers actually have gotten hands-on, and they seem much more positive.
Ichiro Lambe of Dejobaan Games explained how it felt to Kotaku. "This sounds weird, but it's almost like rolling two weighted trackballs that are too large to actually fit into the controller," Lambe said. "For camera controls, slide one thumb to the right, and you'll feel this ticking, like you're turning a physical control. Flick your thumb quickly, and this imaginary physical thing reacts like something with weight to it--the 'trackball' continues to roll for a bit, eventually coming to a rest. And since it's all controlled through the software, the same trackpad then becomes more like a mouse or a laptop trackpad when you're navigating through menus."
Dan Tabar of Cortex Command developer Data Realms told Gamasutra that it's particularly flexible, since trackpad zones can be mapped to have multiple button inputs. For example, he said, the top could be mapped to Shift+W, making it the run function like holding an analog stick at the top. Or, one of the pads could be split into quarters or even eight sections to emulate a multiple button interface. He noted that the devs invited played Borderlands using the controller, which hadn't been optimized for the controller yet. Other than strange behavior from the haptic feedback thanks to the lack of optimization, though, it seemed to work.
Chris Remo of Double Fine added that they were allowed to play two of their own games: The Cave and the upcoming Broken Age. "We just plugged it in, and it worked," he said. "We didn't have special support for it or anything. It worked really, really well. I was really impressed with the mouse imitation. It doesn't feel like a trackpad."
Tommy Refenes of Team Meat gave his own impressions on his blog, saying that it worked well enough in Spelunky and his own Super Meat Boy, but still had a few reservations about a controller without physical buttons. He noted that he sometimes lost track of where his fingers were on the trackpad, and floated the idea of small nubs to signify placement. "If you were to ask me if I would play games with the Steam Controller... I would say yes. If you were to ask me to choose between Steam Controller and a 360 controller, I would choose 360," he concluded, as it's more familiar. "Great Start, needs some improvements, but I could play any game I wanted with it just fine."