Can the Steam Controller finally make Big Picture useful?

Can the Steam Controller finally make Big Picture useful?

Valve has tried a lot of new things over the past couple of years. It's started branching out into Virtual Reality with the co-creation of the HTC Vive, it's pushed Steam OS and its Steam Machines, it's developed its own controller and it's built a user interface for Steam to make operating it with a gamepad that bit easier.

The only problem is none of it has really set the world on fire.

Of course Steam Machines are a little hard to get hold of right now, with most having not officially released and the Steam controller too hasn't fully debuted. Neither has the HTC Vive for that matter, so it's all 'in the works', apart from Big Picture, which, despite being out there, hasn't seen much usage.

However, that may be about to change, as it recently had a big UI overhaul which has made it easier to use and helps push certain facets of the interface forward, but bigger than that even, the Steam Controller is finally going to launch on November 10. That may be the impetus that the Big Picture mode needs to become more viable for gamers.

As it stands, most Steam users do so on a monitor, since that's what they have their PC hooked up to. Some may use TVs, but unless it's a living room set up, the picture won't be as strong when viewed close up, and traditional TV sizes don't really make it easy to view over shorter distances. With that in mind, using a mouse and keyboard makes more sense, which in turn makes Big Picture mode feel a bit redundant, since the traditional Steam interface – although not as well organised – is much more functional than the controller supporting version.

But what if we all start using controllers?

There are a number of improvements with the Steam gamepad which may make us all ditch our mouse for day to day gaming, especially if we're playing games that may require picking up a controller anyway. For starters, it has two stage triggers, eliminating the need for a separate focus button, and clickable grips on the back, meaning players don't need to take their thumbs off of the analog sticks to look around.

Better yet though, while the Steam Controller does have a traditional analog stick, it also has two touchpads which replace the usual sticks. These touchpads allow for mouse-like control of a pointer or cross hair, as well as movement in a more traditional controller manner. This makes typing easier, as the two touchpads can be used like a smartphone screen, as well as a mouse.

While this is unlikely to be a control scheme that's competitive with high-level mouse gaming, it should close the gap a little more and make it a more worthwhile system for those who prefer the feel of a controller, or indeed already use their PC in a living room setting and just don't like losing the functionality of a mouse and keyboard.

One of the big features of gaming PC hardware though, is that you can customise it. You can remap keys or set up macros. That's all possible on the Steam Controller too, with games having stock mappings created by the game's developers, but players can also upload their own favourite configurations so that others can try them out too.

Or of course people can just make their own if they prefer a controller mapping that is unique to them.

The touchpads too can be customised and configured to act more like a joystick, or a trackball as well as a mouse, if gamers prefer. That makes it possible to use them for flight simulators, as well as more retro titles where ball control is more important.

The whole point of the Steam Controller was to create a gamepad that would be able to play every single game, which should appeal to those that like a neat set up too – there's certainly a lot less cables around if you only have one wireless controller, versus a gamepad, a keyboard and a mouse – the latter which would likely be wired, depending on the environment.

Combined with a new Big Picture interface that is easier to use than ever, with quick access to games, the store and a much deeper and intuitive search function, it's all much more versatile and we'll soon have a more viable controller to move around it, as well as just about every game world; perhaps even better than the control systems we have at the moment.

Maybe even, in some circumstances, the hallowed mouse and keyboard.

What do you think of the Steam Controller and is it something that you think will help make Big Picture mode (and perhaps even Steam machines) a much bigger success than they've been as of late?