Just a few short days after revealing its revamped Steam Controller, Valve is letting gamers and developers try it out for themselves on the GDC 2014 show floor. As Valve revealed last week, the new controller does away with the proposed touch screen and instead adds eight front-facing buttons, much as you’d see on an Xbox or PlayStation controller (the ABXY buttons mimic the size, layout, and general feel of the Xbox One controller). When asked about the touchscreen’s removal, a Valve representative told us that the company made the decision as a way to cut costs after tests revealed that users really didn’t need the flexibility that the touchscreen prototype offered.
There’s no doubt that the inclusion of these buttons made the Steam Controller a bit more friendly, and the placement seems logical — particularly in a game like Portal 2 where most of the interaction is with the touchpads and shoulder buttons. While we never got a chance to take the touchscreen out for a test drive (the prototype we tried back in November featured four rectangular buttons in place of the touchscreen), the ABXY placement on the new controller definitely appears more intuitive than it was on the original model.
Actually using those touchpads remains as initially tricky as it was when we first tried them out, but the potential remains for this to be a really new and interesting way of controlling a game. The lack of physical resistance is off-putting at first, as is the fact that there’s no natural "home" position for your thumb to snap back to — but thinking of it more like a mouse, with the precision aiming inherent to it, helped make it a bit more natural.
Unsurprisingly, the controller is still very much a prototype — a Valve representative told us that they were literally hand-building them five days ago for the show. As such, they are rather light and don’t feel solidly built — that said, the touchpads and buttons were all responsive despite the lack of polish. As for when we might see a more final version, all we know is that they’ll be ready alongside the first Steam Machines.