Designed to bring the precision controls of the traditional PC gaming mouse/keyboard combo to a handheld games pad, the Steam Controller is something of a mini engineering marvel.
As we’ve seen before, perfecting the games controller is usually a mixed bag of electronics, ergonomic and aesthetics, a tricky and time consuming part of the design process (and one usually shipped out of house to a contractor), but gaming company Valve has gone in a slightly different direction.
Given how customisable and community-driven the Steam games platform is, parent company Valve wants to make its controller openly hackable – promising that all the CAD files for the controller will be made available on its site for download; while the electronic guts can be bought from them, and 3D printing different form factors is actively encouraged.
“We’ve done a lot of work over the years on supporting various disabilities,” said Robin Walker, part of the Steam Controller design team, in an interview with The Guardian.
“When you get a large enough audience you’re going to have a lot of customers with specific challenges: colour blindness, for example.
“We’re really excited to see what effect those people will have when they start playing around with the controller. Often we find that when we ship stuff, it’s the community that makes it better, it’s like a juggernaut, we want to see where it goes.”
For anyone intone with their PC gaming, this is all but old news – many felt it was a white elephant idea at its launch late last year – but now the modders are finally starting to appear, despite the CAD files still being unavailable.
US hacker Ben Heck, who specialises in showing his hardware hacks on YouTube, has built his own alternative controller.
Taking the pad apart, he then figures out all the different mention sensing controls and buttons, and sets about redesigning it in Autodesk Fusion 360, and producing parts on his desktop 3D Printer.
The end result is a bit crazy, but it shows that the modder has a lot of freedom to recreate the controller as they wish, and that the Steam Controller is part of a new wave of hardware actively asking for the community to customise it further than a natty paint job or some stickers.
Till the CAD files finally make an appearance, most of the advanced hackers will have to make do with this making of video for the official product:
Meanwhile, for those interested in taking things a step further, Steam are actively looking to hire more product designers.