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Hands On With Valve's Steam Machine Controller

I remember people laughing when Valve first announced its new controller for the upcoming Steam Machine, but now that I've gotten my hands on the unit, I'm eager to take one home.

For decades the two analog stick controller has been a staple of the gaming landscape, but is it really the ideal way to play every game? Valve doesn't seem to think so. Its new Steam Controller is more of a mouse/keyboard replacement than a traditional controller model. As you can see from pictures of the device, it's a little bulbous, but if feels good in your hands. 

The two trackpads on the controller function a lot like analog sticks, but they feel subtly different. than a standard analog stick. The one on the left controls your characters movements, while the one of the right can be used to look around in a shooter or emulate some other mouse-like commands. I played both Portal 2 and Metro Last Light with the device and after a few minutes felt really comfortable with the controller. The right analog pad is great for fine movements, and I actually felt more accurate than when I use a standard analog stick for shooters. 

I think that one of the Steam Controller's biggest advantages is its programability. You can have the left pad emulate the WASD keys on a keyboard, but the pad can also be programmed for 8-way movement, letting you bind additional keys to the diagonal edges. You can also widen the dead zone in the middle of the pad, which will be handy for gamers will big thumbs who might continually brush up against the edges of the pad. Additionally, the right pad can be programmed to function like an analog stick, which keeps moving if you''re pushing up on the pad, or can act like a mouse, which will stop when you stop moving your thumb across the pad. The outer edges of each pad can also be used as different inputs, so you can have the left pad set up to move your character forward as you move your thumb up the pad, and then change to have your character start running once your thumb hits the top of the pad. 

All in all, I walked away impressed with Valve's new controller. I'm still not sold on the button layout; I think the four buttons on the center of the device (which may eventually be a touch pad) are awkward, but the shoulder buttons feel good, and the undersided buttons where the tips of your fingers rest, could come in handy, so maybe you won't have to use the center section much. 

I don't think that the Steam controller will replace all of my other PC controllers, but for certain kinds of games it might prove to be a superior form of input. 

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