"We’re very interested in trying to make hardware more like software. With a traditional controller, people think of it as a solely physical object [...] but there’s actually a huge software layer that’s doing a lot of work."
- Steam Controller designer Robin Walker speaking to The Guardian about Valve's design philosophy.
Half-Life developer and Steam creator Valve has shed light on its hardware design philosophies.
Speaking to The Guardian's Keith Stuart about the company's Steam Controller, Robin Walker, a veteran coder and designer who's been working on the device for three years, explained that Valve has been trying to make its hardware "more like software."
According to Walker, the design team tried to visualize the controller as a piece of physical software - something innately flexible that could be adjusted and tweaked at will.
“We’re very interested in trying to make hardware more like software. With a traditional controller, people think of it as a solely physical object: you build the hardware, you build a thumbstick and the thumbstick says ‘I’m being pressed right’, and that information goes to the game," said Walker.
"But there’s actually a huge software layer that’s doing a lot of work: how you interpret and filter for things like my thumb slipping off the pad; or if you want a character to move sideways, well, the reality is no one moves their thumb perfectly horizontally, so how do you adjust for that? It’s all software work.”
Most companies, says Walker, design hardware and ask players to bend to its needs. With the Steam Controller, Valve sought to do the opposite, allowing players to improve the device and shape it in their own image.
“Our games are better today because we have created many channels, like Steam itself, where communities can get their hands on software and improve it,” says Walker. “A lot of the thinking behind Steam was: how does the internet make you better?
“This can be the same for hardware. We have a bunch of ideas on how to create those channels."
For more on the subject check out The Guardian's full interview.