A small table in a side office at Valve's headquarters is littered with Steam Controller prototypes. Designer Greg Coomer is walking me through the thought process behind Valve's first hardware release, and he begins his story on an unexpected topic: the Nintendo Wii. "We were watching other platforms like the Wii innovate in input, and the PC was stagnant. The mouse and keyboard was basically decades worth of static; lack of innovation there," he said.
It's with that in mind that the hardware experiments began. First, with a motion controller. They sourced the guts (at least in part) from a Razer Hydra controller, though the changes Valve's engineers made are substantial.
"It's a break apart motion controller where there were gyroscopes or magnetic sensors in either path, to sense orientation and position," Coomer explained. "There were also buttons under all your fingers here. A sort of hi-hat thumbstick. So it was really a Frankenstein." The idea behind this controller -- the first of many prototypes that eventually spawned the Steam Controller -- was to find out what works, what doesn't, and what PC gamers want from a new input method.