Valve’s Steam Deck has been making the rounds ever since its initial announcement. Every day, the manufacturer reveals a new piece of info that makes us more and more excited for its launch. Today, in tandem with IGN, Valve designer Scott Dalton broke down the device’s unique approach to in-game controls and how it can effectively change the game (pun intended).
Most of you already know that Valve is adopting a sort of hybrid technique for controls on its Steam Deck. The trackpads found on the notorious Steam Controller will be implemented on the Steam Deck, albeit in a much smaller size, along with traditional analog joysticks. However, it’s noteworthy that the trackpads are supposedly vastly improved over their Steam Controller counterparts.
So the trackpads themselves, in terms of hardware, they’re lower latency than [those on] Steam Controllers. We added the force sensitive sensors on there, so you could adjust how much force you need to exert to actuate certain events. It’s a very versatile input method. I mean, people who really want to invest the time to customize it will get a lot of benefits out of it. Yeah, we’re excited to see how people use it, really.
– Yazan Aldehayyat (Hardware Engineer)
The joysticks themselves are capacitive, which means that they can sense when there’s a finger resting on them, even without any movement. This helps to enable the gyroscope as now the joysticks work similarly to the trackpads where the hardware can detect and pick up a gentle touch to facilitate precise controls.
As mentioned, Steam Deck also has a gyroscope inside that enables motion controls. Just like the trackpads, the gyroscope has reduced latency, making it feel more responsive than ever before. Valve is making use of the gyroscope in combination with the trackpads and the thumbsticks to mimic mouse-like precision.
The gyroscope can be triggered by either touching the joystick – since it’s capacitive, or the trackpad. Once in action, the gyroscope allows players to move the camera around in the game using motion controls and even aim via the motion controls. This can come in handy when you need to make those minute movements that a joystick’s flick simply cannot produce.
Scott demonstrates the controls in action on a bunch of iconic FPS games, showing how the motion controls can elevate the experience by offering superior accuracy. He also gives an example of how this could be helpful in a situation where your target is “running across your screen while you’re trying to get a headshot,” as it’s much easier to leverage your entire arm to create more delicate movements.
Another interesting use case and similarity of the gyroscopic controls stated by Scott was how it can effortlessly replicate a mouse’s repositioning attribute. With a mouse, you can perform aggressive flicks to cover long distances quickly, then lift your mouse and put it back in its original place, all in a moment’s notice. The Steam Deck can also do this thanks to its intuitive motion controls.
The motion controls kick in only when you rest your thumb on the right joystick or trackpad – the ones that control the camera movement/aim. As soon as you lift your thumb, the Steam Deck instantaneously returns to standard analogue controls, allowing you to continue playing with the joysticks like you normally would. So, if you’re adjusting your posture on the sofa or reclining back in a chair, you won’t have to worry about your aim messing up.
Perhaps the best part about all of this is that developers don’t need to go out of their way and implement this in their games. Instead, the Steam Deck can do this on a hardware level by itself. Even if the game doesn’t work through Steam Input, the Steam Deck can automatically map the appropriate controls to the trackpads and the gyroscope, enabling the motion controls to work flawlessly.