Recent job postings at Valve and comments by the company have sparked a great deal of speculation on the company's long-term plans for a Linux-powered gaming console. In a recent interview, Jeri Ellsworth, one of Valve's R&D engineers, shed some light on what the company is working on. Thus far, the company's efforts have been focused on recruitment and brainstorming, but Valve's long-term goal is to "Make Steam games more fun to play in your living room."
Devoid of context, that's the sort of meaningless statement business CEOs are fond of making, but as Ellsworth told Engadget, that's the last thing Valve has in mind. The company is doing a great deal of research into control mechanisms, exploring everything from new sorts of handheld controllers to designs like the Phantom Lapboard.
Image courtesy of Kotaku
The Phantom Lapboard emerged from the train wreck of Infinium Labs and their Phantom Console. The Lapboard emerged after years of delays and has been judged a remarkably capable product -- Marco particularly liked it
-- but the couch gaming revolution Infinium promised back in 2004 never materialized. In general, couches and keyboards still don't mix.*
At any rate, Valve's goal is to find ways to make a mouse and keyboard palatable to those gamers used to using a controller, as well as finding a solution that works for existing PC gamers / Steam fans. Internal hardware tests are also underway, and the company hopes to launch a hardware beta sometime next year. Valve's entry into the game console market has been billed as everything from a huge shot in the arm for Linux to a substantial problem <em>for</em> that operating system, to a concept that could hurt PC gaming by pushing still more development towards a non mouse/keyboard model.
For our part, we're excited. The keyboard and mouse is a great computing model, but it's ridiculous to think it's a pinnacle of achievement that couldn't be improved upon. The Wii proved that incorporating touch could drive entirely new game experiences, and an alternate device for the still-hypothetical Steambox could possibly do the same. Valve might build games at the speed of grass growing, but the company is rated extremely well by game industry employees and its products are of high quality.
Ellsworth didn't have much to say on Valve's wearable computing
initiative, but she did state that products are at least 2-5 years out. As we recently covered in our discussion of Haswell, many of the power advancements
Intel is working on will likely take at least that long to appear in any case. we're not suggesting that wearable computing devices would necessarily be built on x86 hardware, but many of the projects Santa Clara is researching have application across a variety of CPU architectures.
*(I write this with a sense of irony, as I currently compute from a couch, with a keyboard in my lap and a mouse on the arm.)