Tommy Refenes of Super Meat Boy's Team Meat went hands-on with Valve's recently-unveiled Steam Controller, noting in a recent blog post that while the hardware is off to a "great start" it "needs some improvements."
Refenes — who admits that he is "very picky about controls in games, to the point if the game doesn't control well, I don't care who makes it or what it is, I will stop playing it" — tested the new controller on his own Super Meat Boy and Mossmouth's Spelunky, both of which he was able to play comfortably after some tweaking.
Refenes called the controller "strange." He noted that the prototype he tested did not have a functional touchscreen, but said the buttons surrounding it can be thought of as "additional functionality" for different in-game actions. These buttons won't be primary action buttons, he said, because the left and right circle pads are the primary input. The triggers and bumpers on the top and back of the controller work "as you would expect," he said, and aren't over-sensitive. The controller itself is thicker and a little bit bulkier than an Xbox 360 controller but still weighed the same in his hands.
"The big problem with touch pads/ touch screens is you never know when you are actually over a button or pressing it," he wrote. "Valve has tried to rectify this by having some adjustable haptic feedback fire when you press one of the circle pads. Throughout my play session the haptic feedback helped with the problem, but wasn't enough to solve it."
Refenes said he noticed "significant lag," at first while playing Meat Boy, and thought, "Oh shit, I'm going to have to tell them that their controller is laggy and bad." But once he turned the demo TV's settings to Game Mode, the latency lessened. However, the touchpads gave Refenes some pause; a Valve engineer had to update the controller's firmware so the circle pads didn't make Meat Boy move while Refenes' thumbs were simply resting on it rather than pressing, and after that "the controller felt like a controller."
"If you were to ask me if I would play games with the Steam Controller... I would say yes," he wrote. "If you were to ask me to choose between Steam Controller and a 360 controller, I would choose 360. Don't take that as slight to the controller though because it's more about the comfort of familiarity over functionality. I would choose a 360 controller because I have several thousand hours experience using it, however if tomorrow all game controllers were wiped off the earth and the only option was the Steam Controller, I don't think this would be a bad thing."
"Great start, needs some improvements, but I could play any game I wanted with it just fine," he added.