Valve’s Steam Deck aims to transform our entire Steam library into a series of games that can be enjoyed on the go. While there are titles that can naturally enjoy the classic system with analog sticks and buttons, others may seem difficult to manage without a mouse. Precisely on this aspect, the designers of Valve’s portable gaming PC have worked hard, creating a hybrid system using the trackpads and the gyroscope of the console: the result should simulate the speed and accuracy.
Speaking to IGN, the console creators explained to us how the process will lead us to slide our thumbs on the trackpad has developed and how this will guarantee an experience very close to moving the mouse on the desk. A process that began long before the creation of the Deck.
“Some games don’t control well with analog sticks, do they?” explains John Ikeda. “We built on what we had learned from making other trackpad-based products, of course, from the underlying electronics to the type of coating on top of the trackpads themselves … all of which sum up our past experiences.”
“We did several experiments with trackpads,” continues hardware engineer Yazan Aldehayyat. “I mean we did a lot of research, a long time ago, which convinced us that trackpads are truly the most versatile input system , and can be the best way to control a lot of games on Steam.”
“We didn’t take anything for granted, though. We re-checked everything, and we made a lot of improvements. So as for the trackpads strictly speaking, they have much lower latency at the hardware level than the Steam Controller . We added the capability. to record the force of the pressure, so that you can set the type of pressure to be exerted to trigger certain events. It is a very versatile input system: I mean that players who want to invest time in customizing them will benefit greatly. We are really curious. to see how they will actually be used. “
The improved latency and customizable pressure levels should make a difference in certain game genres. Designer Lawrence Yang explained that latency has improved tremendously over the Steam Controller and has emphasized one of the genres that will benefit from it. It explains that trackpads guarantee “the fastest response in a firefight in a game. FPS “.
Similarly, choosing how much pressure to apply on the pads to trigger a click will allow users to use a light touch to type on a virtual keyboard, for example, and stronger pressure to trigger a hand-to-hand fight in a shooter reduce to minimize errors.
Yang also points out that trackpads offer many more opportunities than simply emulating the use of a mouse: “They can be used for many different things. We have programmed a keyboard that allows you to type with two thumbs. In the game, you can map them to specific areas of the screen to have the mouse cursor immediately position there and create specific inputs for that purpose. You can create on-screen menus that appear at the top of the game and feature customizable macros with multiple buttons or keys of the keyboard. And you can choose to use them only as a mouse, a really powerful and reliable application for people who are used to this type of controls “.
The designers are keen to point out that trackpads are only part of Valve’s attempt to replicate a traditional control system. Steam Deck also features a touchscreen – useful for using a cursor with greater precision – and programmable buttons located on the back of the console, which can be used as hotkeys. Most potentially, the Steam Deck also includes gyroscopic controls, which can be exploited to offer more or less noticeable changes to aim simply by tilting the console.
“The gyroscope is a feature we’ve been working on for a long time,” explains Yang. “[On Steam Deck] can be activated by either touching the trackpad or the stick: we have developed a new type of thumbstick that is effectively capacitive and is therefore able to detect whether the finger is positioned on it or not. The gyroscope has been even improved in latency to provide more responsive pointing experiences . I think it can be used to increase the power and flexibility of any game that supports the mouse as a control system, [and] developers don’t have to do any kind of work specific to integrate these alternative controls “.
In a separate demonstration, designer Scott Dalton explained how combining trackpad or joystick movement with motion controls can fundamentally change aiming accuracy: “It allows you to do things that would previously have been more complex. like doing these fine movements or trying to hit a target in the head that is moving across the screen. It is very easy to use your arm to get that precise movement, while it may be much more difficult to get the perfect deflection of the analog stick to get it right. same smooth movement . It’s a very mouse-like experience. “
The gyroscopic controls are seamlessly implemented in the Steam Deck control system without the developers having to integrate this scheme manually – and, of course, they are fully customizable for the user, who will have full power to disable them. However, Dalton himself claims to have converted after trying this feature:
” It’s one of those things that takes some time for your brain to get used to completely., but after you figure out how to use it, it feels so normal to you that you’ll wonder how you’ve ever played without it so far. I can’t help but play FPS without using this control system, because every time I see a target in the distance, my brain starts moving the controller trying to hit it. If this function is not there, I have the impression that the game is ‘broken’. It’s one of those things that completely assimilate after a short time. “
Consequently, Steam Deck should offer a control system for any game, with enough customization possibilities to give any player a useful way to approach the chosen game in portability.
As Ikeda pointed out, “I think it’s really about giving players a diverse set of inputs that can be customized to play their favorite games in the way they see fit.”
Unveiled in early July, Steam Deck is a new portable gaming PC from Valve designed to allow the entire Steam library to run on a device capable of doing much more.