Valve CEO Gabe Newell was interviewed by The verge and it’s an excellent read. Gabe discuss the Steam Box gaming console/computer that Valve is making (the article has pictures of prototypes) and how they don’t want to replicate what’s already out there.
Controllers have their advantages and their disadvantages it looks like at Valve they have spent a lot of time thinking about how to best use a controller. This is great as they are even thinking of using biometric and gaze tracking to help make games better. They are looking beyond the gimmick:
I think you’ll see controllers coming from us that use a lot of biometric data. Maybe the motion stuff is just failure of imagination on our part, but we’re a lot more excited about biometrics as an input method. Motion just seems to be a way of [thinking] of your body as a set of communication channels. Your hands, and your wrist muscles, and your fingers are actually your highest bandwidth — so to trying to talk to a game with your arms is essentially saying “oh we’re gonna stop using ethernet and go back to 300 baud dial-up.” Maybe there are other ways to think of that. There’s more engagement when you’re using larger skeletal muscles, but whenever we go down [that path] we sort of come away unconvinced. Biometrics on the other hand is essentially adding more communication bandwidth between the game and the person playing it, especially in ways the player isn’t necessarily conscious of. Biometrics gives us more visibility. Also, gaze tracking. we think gaze tracking is gonna turn out to be super important.
He also offers some design decisions about Half-Life and Valve’s overall appoach to making games that are fun to play:
One of the things that started to drive me crazy in video games is that when I walk into a room, I’m covered with the gore and ichor of a thousand creatures that I have slayed, and the monster in there reacts to me exactly the same. So in Half-Life there’s this whole progression depending upon what you do and how scary you are [to enemies]. Eventually they start running away from you, they start talking about you, and that was just another example of having the world respond to you rather than the world kind of being autistic and ignoring everything you’ve done. So then we did Counter-Strike, [and found] the rule we used for Half-Life doesn’t work in a multiplayer game. We got all this weird data, like you put riot shields in and player numbers go up. Then you take riot shields out and player numbers go up. Fuck! It’s supposed to go the opposite [direction], right? So we had to come up with a different way.
You really should read the full interview.