Retired games developer Valve continues its push into the hardware sphere after its launch of the Steam Link device meant to ease connections between a heavy PC and any TV in the home and the Steam Controller, a unique peripheral which used surfaces akin to laptop trackpads in place of traditional joysticks to attempt to give users the ability to aim with greater precision. Now, its focus is on the new “Knuckles” VR controllers, which it has eagerly been shipping out to many developers for testing. Technically the second version of the Knuckles product, these handhelds still aren’t consumer-ready but certainly look a lot smoother and more polished than their first iterations.
Thankfully, Steam officially posted loads of details about what the controllers are and how they differ from competitors. And from their official statements, these things do sound like a good direction for VR peripherals.
The main feature of the Knuckles is the strap that users tighten around the back of their hand to keep the controller locked in place, even if they let their fingers slide. In addition to keeping players from dropping the device, this enables a “Finger Tracking Grip Force Sensor” on the main handle to detect which of the user’s fingers are closed around the device in addition to the grip strength the user is applying. This lets users pick up and drop items in the physical world more naturally than other controllers. The peripheral still features a few face buttons and a joystick on the top, so it still has the ability to match the functionality of traditional VR controllers and probably can be used to play many existing VR titles.
Taking some inspiration from the Steam Controllers, the face of the device also features an elongated trackpad that allows a user to drag their thumb across the interface, or tap it at-will. It’s essentially a multi-use button, though it’s not clear how this will be more useful than a regular button or trackpad when it comes to gameplay control.
The Grip Force Sensor has, however, showed its merits in Valve’s own Portal-themed gameplay demo set on the moon that has been detailed through community forums. Using the grip sensors, users can crush moon rocks in their fists, grip the steering wheel of a moon buggy, assemble parts of a space station with delicate tracking of all ten fingers, and even enjoy some casual target practice with “the most natural throwing VR can offer”, according to forum poster Zulubo, a member of the team that created the demo.
Zulubo, the developer of this moon demo, complements the force sensors for their low latency and the incredible range of grip responses that can be recorded with the controllers. He also admits to a humorous mistake where he and his team set the threshold for force needed to crush a rock too high during testing, leading to one tester accidentally breaking a prototype controller while squeezing as hard as they could.
But possibly most exciting of all is the target practice range, which in addition to featuring an infinite amount of grenades that players are free to experiment with to their heart’s content, also contains a fully squishable virtual portal turret plushie. The gaming community has waited generations for the ability to squish virtual plushies, and will breathe a great sigh of relief knowing that this wait has come to an end.
And, yes, if you feel like being a terrible person, you can also hurl the plushie into deep space like the heartless monster you are.
Featured Image Via Official Steam Post Detailing Knuckles Controllers