Valve released details about its second-generation Knuckles prototype controllers, which feature improved ergonomic and structural design, a thumbstick instead of a trackpad, and new force sensor inputs.
Valve first introduced the Knuckles controller prototype at the company’s Steam Dev Days conference in October 2016. The early prototype controllers featured a small hand grip that included the input buttons from the Vive controllers. They were also equipped with a unique clasp that allowed you to let go of the controller without dropping it, which opens up the door for hand gesture inputs.
At the conference in 2016, Valve already had working Knuckles controllers, and Cloudhead Games demonstrated a build of The Gallery that supported the new input device. Valve also began shipping prototype controllers to select developers within months of the conference, which suggested that the consumer version of the controllers wouldn’t be far behind.
In June 2017, Valve released new details about the Knuckles controllers, including documentation to help developers prepare their games for the new input device. We were under the impression that Valve would soon launch the consumer version of the controller, but here we are a year later, and we still have no idea when the Knuckles controllers are coming. We should have known that Valve would be operating on Valve-time. At least we now have an idea of the progress that Valve made in the last 12 months.
By sending prototype controllers (internally called EV1.3) to developers, Valve learned that its initial product design didn’t live up to expectations, so the company went back to the drawing board and reworked the controllers' industrial design. The latest iteration of the Knuckles controller, now called EV2, is a completely different device from the old model. In Valve’s words: “While it's still recognizable as Knuckles, very little of EV 1.3 was left untouched.”
Valve improved the ergonomics of the Knuckles EV2 controllers with a newly sculpted handle and a redesigned hand strap that, along with multiple adjustment upper strap attachment points, mean the controller can accommodate a wider range of hand sizes. It also includes a quick release button so that you can quickly release the safety strap.
The new Knuckles design also features a reconfigured button layout to better support people with large or small hands. The old Knuckles layout included the buttons and trackpad found on the Vive controllers, but the new design more closely resembles Oculus’ Touch controllers. The top of the controller now includes A, B, and system buttons, and in place of the trackpad, it features a small thumbstick and track button combo.
Version EV 1.3 of the Knuckles controller included capacitive touch input along the grip, which enabled developers to create interactions with finger input. The Knuckles EV2 controllers include the capacitive sensors, and they also include analog force sensors, which means developers can create interactions that react to the strength of your grasp. That should allow for more sophisticated and natural interactions within games.
The new controllers also feature a larger 900mA battery that offers up to six hours of continuous use. Valve also indicated that the new controller features SteamVR Tracking 2.0 sensors.
Valve still isn’t talking about the consumer release of the Knuckles controllers, but the company is about to ship hardware to developers, and it's offering documentation for those who want to support the upcoming device. The company also released a Knuckles EV2: Quick Start guide, a Throwing Mechanics guide, and a tutorial that explains how to use the Unity plugin with SteamVR input.
Developers get access to the Moondust demo, too, which is currently the only piece of content to support every Knuckles EV2 feature. Valve also provided documentation about the demo's development to help give curious devs an idea of what making games that support the new Knuckles will be like. Here's to hoping Knuckles EV2 will be better received than EV 1.3 so we can get our hands on the controllers sooner than later.
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Kevin Carbotte is a contributing writer for Tom's Hardware who primarily covers VR and AR hardware. He has been writing for us for more than four years.