The new version of Valve s Steam Controller is out in the open at GDC, playable for anyone in attendance. We ve spent some time with it on the show floor, playing Portal 2, Broken Age, Dirt 3, and Strider.
This was my first time using the Steam Controller, Valve s gamepad designed to work with all the games on Steam: past, present, and future, and meant as a companion to SteamOS. Our last chance to play with the controller was at CES in January, when Cory said that he was hopeful after an admittedly short playtime that such a device could be fantastic.
My experience was far less encouraging. I was able to fit in more than half-an-hour with the controller on the GDC show floor. I played every game that Valve had on display one from four different genres and in each, I would ve absolutely had more fun and been more effective with an Xbox 360 controller.
The high sensitivity of the controller s dual, haptic trackpads was constantly frustrating. In Dirt 3, it was very hard for me to make fine steering adjustments; I seemed to only be able to oversteer left or right. As a result, my driving method boiled down to essentially see-sawing left, then right, then left again to correct and then over-correct my oversteering. I crashed a lot. My car was a wreck by the time I crossed the finish line, a lap time of 6:55 on Dirt 3 s Lake Gratiot course. The top AI racer finished in 3:04. Trying it mid-race, I actually drove best while using the Steam Controller s new d-pad.
Portal 2, one of the games using native support of the pad (as opposed to mouse and keyboard emulation) wasn t much better. I was able to clumsily and inelegantly solve a room in the first couple hours of the game, one where you re moving reflector cubes to change the direction of lasers emanating from the wall. When I put my thumb at the edge of the right pad, which controls your aim with the portal gun, it doesn t perpetually rotate your character. If I wanted to make a 90 or 180-degree turn, I had to swipe the pad right-to-left or left-to-right. And as I did that, the vertical alignment of my aim would shift a little, and I d have to correct it. I felt like a loading crane, moving along one axis at a time, picking up an item, rotating, and then moving again. It was so hard to be swift. I gave up after dying twice in the following room, where I needed to use orange (acceleration) and blue (bounce) gels to advance. It was a struggle to simply pan the camera downward, toward my feet, so that I could check that I was making impact with the blue gel.
I m glad to chalk some of my errors up to my inexperience with the device, but it s surprising how unwieldy the trackpads were in every situation. I didn t once feel comfortable, in control, or that Valve s hardware configuration was in any way an upgrade over a controller with analog sticks. I watched a lot of other players use the controller for the first time, and almost all of them echoed some version of The pads are way too sensitive. Valve employees scattered around the kiosks emphasized that you ll be able to adjust the sensitivity to a greater degree once the controller is fully released, but it s curious that Valve would showcase the controller in such a clearly unpolished stage everyone I saw using it at GDC seemed to be having a tough time.
The Steam Controller didn t strike me as either a good fit for casual, undemanding games as an upgrade to the Xbox 360 pad in first-person, 3D games. I thought that Broken Age would be a safe, easy context, but it was just as frustrating as Dirt 3 and Portal 2. How is that even possible? It was a fight just to put the cursor exactly where I wanted, and overshooting static objects made me feel completely silly.
At least at the outset of using this prototype, the new ABXY buttons feel shoehorned into the architecture of the pad. It s an odd placement for them, and they re maybe 80 percent the size of an Xbox 360 pad s buttons. I have pretty big hands, and the X button felt too distant to me. Even as I was navigating menus, I kept hitting B (cancel) when I meant to hit A (confirm). At the very least, I think it s a configuration that s going to require you to un-learn some of your muscle memory, which is unfortunate.
It s evident that the Steam Controller is still in development. At this prototype stage, Valve is actually still 3D printing the body of the controller itself, and the rigid, low-quality plastic doesn t quite feel comfortable. From a gameplay perspective, though, I m completely unsold on the Steam Controller as a viable way of playing PC games at this time. The games Valve had on display weren t flattering uses of the controller, and it s disappointing to know that I would ve played better with an Xbox 360 pad in every case.
Last week, Valve and border game manufacturer Cryptozoic announced they would be working together on a board game based on the Portal series, but details were scant on just how the board game would work. Today we've gotten a clearer picture of the upcoming adaptation, as well as a surprising bit of info on who came up with the idea.
Let's face it: learning science is always fun. You can build dioramas of the solar system with friends, study biology with a science teacher, or combine compounds in a lab with a partner. If we're being honest, though, the best way to learn any science is almost always with an evil artificial intelligence, bent on subjugating the world through its malfeasance, for science. That makes GLaDOS the best teacher ever, as demonstrated in a new NASA video.
In a new educational outreach video released by NASA s Spitzer Space Telescope, GLaDOS educates a couple of computer techs about the difference between nuclear fission and nuclear fusion. Both have to do with Helium and Hydrogen atoms slamming around, and both will eventually lead to GLaDOS taking over the world and exterminating all humanity. The finer distinctions are patiently explained by GLaDOS like it s Take Your Daughter To Work Day. Well, not that Take Your Daughter To Work Day. Some different one.
Check out the NASA Spitzer YouTube channel for more science videos, though this is so far the only one featuring power-hungry computer program.
Image via ICV2.com Board game publisher Cryptozoic announced that it is making a board game based on Portal. The tentatively titled Portal: Uncooperative Cake Acquisition Game is set for a release in the third quarter of 2014. Its suggested retail price is currently set around $50. A portal gun that defies the laws of physics is not included. Cryptozoic has experience translating different franchises into board games. Earlier this month it announced Assassin s Creed: Arena. At the American International Toy Fair, it revealed it s making a DC Comics card game and a dice game based on The Walking Dead television show. That s where Cryptozoic also revealed the Portal game, but it s still unclear how the game will play. In addition to the tentative release date and price, all Cryptozoic said is that it s designed by the creators of Portal, that it will deliver a rich, smart, and utterly unique narrative experience, and that it will be for 2-4 players. Playing pieces will include test subject, sentry turret, weighted companion cube, and delicious cake.
Without his gravity gun, Gordon Freeman is just another geek. Without his grappling hook, Rico Rodriguez is just another agent. And, without her portal gun, Chell is just... fine? As it turns out, removing the portal gun from Portal 2 isn't that much of a detriment, provided you replace it with a gun that shoots endless streams of science gel. That's what the Aperture Tag mod plans to do, and now you can get a little preview of how it'll work.
Typically I don't write about mods I haven't personally played, but in this case I have little choice: the Aperture Tag mod hasn't been released as it is currently attempting to get onto Steam Greenlight. Luckily, though, we can cobble together all the test maps and concept proofs into a little Aperture Tag campaign of our own. Here's the Steam Workshop collection page: just subscribe to all five items, and start splashing the walls.
Why is it so enjoyable sending goo through a light-tube?
What's it like playing Portal without portals? Just fine. It honestly doesn't feel that different than playing Portal with portals. You're still flinging yourself through a 3D puzzle while trying to avoid plunging into poisonous floor-water. This time, instead of a portal gun, you've got a paint gun, capable of squirting repulsion gel or propulsion gel to bounce you higher or speed you faster. No portals? No biggie. It seems like you'd miss them, but you really don't.
Now you're thinking with glop.
Having a portable paint gun in your hands makes gel feel a lot more like a dynamic and useful tool, too. Typically, in the vanilla game, you slathered gels here or there using a combination of leaking pipes, gushing nozzles, and some well placed portals, and then ran through the chamber. If you didn't smear the right spots with the right gel, you'd make a couple adjustments with your paint, and try again. Gels, really, were part of the planning phase of solving a chamber, not something you used reflexively or on the fly.
I feel for the pour soul who is gonna have to hose this place down when I'm finished.
With the paint gun, though, that changes. As with portals, you might suddenly realize you need one when, say, you're plummeting toward a wall or the ground after a faith plate launches you in a direction you didn't expect or a bounce vaults you over the surface you were planning to land on. Being able to dispense a dollop of goo while hurtling through the air makes the gels a lot more fun and exciting. Not to mention, the added enjoyment of being able to slather an entire room like you're wielding a gooey machine gun. It may not lead to the chamber's solution, but it's still viscerally satisfying to make a big dumb mess.
THIS IS NOT A MESS. I AM BUILDING TO A SOLUTION.
The test chambers available start off simply: a few proof of concept puzzles that mostly involve bouncy gel to launch you onto taller and taller objects. But even in the small sample available to us, puzzles get more and more complex, involving lasers, mirror cubes, faith plates, poison floors, and even some turrets. Of course, now that you can spray turrets with bouncy gel at will and from any distance, they've lost some of their adorable menace.
Bounce, my pretties! Bounce for me!
The mod, when fully released, promises 26 levels to solve with splatter, as well as a new personality core with custom voice work, who you can hear in the trailer on the Greenlight page. I'm not sure what the new core's name is, but my guess is "X-Games Snowboarding Announcer." (As far voice work in these demo levels go, there's only a couple of Cave Johnson clips.) Speaking of the trailer, you can play through the exact map that's showcased.
The reflexive "OH CRAP NEED PORTAL" plunge, but with bloo goo.
Will it really be fun to play through a massive amount of Portal levels without a portal gun? If the chambers are creative enough, I think it could be. I had a good time with the few maps available, and I'm definitely looking forward to seeing more.
Installation: Subscribe to the demo levels here on Steam. You can vote for the mod on Greenlight here. And it's got a moddb page as well.
When billionaire bro Cave Johnson turned his vision away from the exciting world of shower curtains to tossing money at a bunch of science stuff, what if paint guns instead of portals were the result? That's the setting for Aperture Tag: The Paint Gun Testing Initiative, a fledgling Portal 2 mod boasting 26 new puzzle floors designed for no portals whatsoever. Instead, we'll sail through that exit door by laying down carpets and dollops of the much-adored red and blue paint for speedy acceleration and longer airtime.
Creator Motanum says Aperture Tag is inspired by Tag: The Power of Paint, the 2009 DigiPen student project which influenced Portal 2's gel mechanics and puzzles. So far, a sample map from the trailer below is playable for a taste of just how fun splashing every surface imaginable with a paint gun can be. Montanum is still debating whether or not to charge for the full mod (as coverage for Havok physics engine licensing fees), but he plans for a full release this summer.
The map design looks great, and the puzzles seem challenging. More importantly, why did it take so long for us to finally get a paint playground? You can give Aperture Tag a thumbs-up on its Greenlight page, which also houses a FAQ from Motanum with more info. Thanks, Kotaku.
For those, like me, who only need the merest reason to play Portal again, keep an eye on Portal: Alive and Kicking. It's "a full remake and re-imagining" of Portal 1 in Portal 2's fancier iteration of Source. The free mod that's been passed through the latest batch of Greenlight approvals, and has the confident endorsement of Jeep Barnett, Valve designer and co-creator of the proto-Portal student project, Narbacular Drop. "Every tile on every panel has been revisited with loving detail," he writes. "Not only have the visuals been updated to match Portal 2, but the weaker puzzle cues have been improved."
The mod also includes a new set of advanced maps based on Portal chambers 13-18, but with "all new puzzles and set in the "Old Aperture" visual theme seen in Portal 2." The adaptive soundtrack has been expanded and Portal's original advanced maps have been recreated in the Portal 2's ruined Aperture aesthetic. It looks a bit like this.
I was a bit skeptical about fan-make remakes of old games until I played Black Mesa: Source. The act of recreation through the lens of intense fandom added dozens of loving touches that enhanced Valve's original vision for Half-Life. See also, The Dark Mod, which did a great job of capturing the magic of Thief. Hopefully Alive and Kicking will do the same for Glados et al.
At this year's Consumer Electronics Show, Valve's Steam Machines are king. The Half-Life developer and Steam creator held a press conference that that everyone wanted to attend, but flipped the script when it devoted the majority of the event to its hardware partners. But even though Gabe Newell gave the briefest of briefs, some Valve-only content was still available: The company's press area included six Steam Machine prototype stations, giving the press a chance to try some popular games with the fabled Steam Controller.
For me, this was a first chance to test how Valve's haptic-powered trackpads hold up in first-person games such as Metro: Last Light and Portal 2. I came away interested in the technology, but not impressed enough to be completely sold on the concept.
The controllers on display were hooked up to 40" televisions through prototype Steam Machine hardware ostensibly the same boxes sent to beta testers late last year. Each test station had a comfortable couch to sit on, emulating a best-case living room gaming setup. Eagerly, I sat down at a station and started playing Metro: Last Light, sliding my thumbs along the controller's rigid trackpads to move and look. The Steam Controller prototype this isn't final hardware by any means uses its haptic feedback capabilities to vibrate under your thumb as you slide across its trackpads. It's an odd sensation: I was acutely aware of each move or twitch I made on the controller's surface, but I'm not sure what it added to the tactile experience.
The trackpads were also incredibly sensitive, at least on the default settings. This isn't necessarily bad: many gamers crank their mouse sensitivity in order to maximize movement. On first picking up the controller, however, it was extremely surprising. I've played shooters on a dual analog joystick setup before, and am used to a decided lack of quickness available the aiming stick will often glide along slowly, and in many cases, a game will throw in some aiming assistance to compensate. There was none of that with the Steam Controller, which means you're getting a purer experience. But it was initially much harder to aim than I'd hoped, and I never quite adapted to the accelerated aiming in my 10 minutes of playtime.
Clicking the dual trackpad controls was also incredibly easy, sometimes to my detriment. I'd crouch when I wasn't expecting to, because the clickiness of the left trackpad was much easier than I'm used to on a thumbstick. I'd like to think that's something to which one can adapt with enough time.
As far as additional buttons, the Steam Controller has plenty for a standard shooter setup. Two sets of triggers on the shoulders could aim and fire, and the buttons on the underside of the controller were responsive and didn't get in the way. The face buttons were easy to reach, though the non-standard setup meant I had to think more about what buttons I wanted to push. Configuring the buttons seemed easy, with a built-in interface that lets you change buttons on the fly.
Games such as Metro: Last Light and Portal 2 make intuitive sense on the Steam Controller, while my limited experience with Starbound proved to be slightly more frustrating, as Evan predicted in his editorial last week. The trackpads' sensitivity didn't lend itself to movement on a 2D plane, though this could be because Starbound isn't quite optimized in its controls the game is Early Access, after all. The ultimate test for Steam Controller, in my opinion, will be games with independent camera and character movement, like Dota 2. Sadly, I didn't get to play one.
I definitely want Steam Controller to succeed I love the idea of a new controller standard, although it would need to live alongside keyboard and mouse controls for other PC functions. And I'm hopeful after an admittedly short playtime with a Steam Controller prototype that such a device could be fantastic. But I need more time to evaluate if such a controller can be viable, and I'd need to see if it really is possible to adapt to such aggressive sensitivity controls.
It doesn't seem like Valve will divulge any release dates or pricing at this year's event--either for the controller or any of the Steam Machines--but I'm confident that Valve's device could be a significantly better experience than existing controllers.