Tracy King loves the idea of the Steam Deck, but is concerned about its size. In the latest issue of Custom PC, she checks out Valve’s customisable solution for handheld gamers.
I was a PC kid rather than a console kid, but I remember the early handheld wars well. I was 16, doing a BTEC in computer programming, poor as can be and intrigued by the Sega Game Gear. That was until a fellow student with rich parents brought one in, and I realised it was comically large for the tiny screen and kind of unwieldy. I went back home to my ancient creaking Amstrad 464 gratefully, while he burned through countless batteries and only two games.
But these days I spend a lot of time on handheld games, because schlepping a PC or gaming laptop around on the bus requires more strength, security and chutzpah than I possess. While Nintendo has allowed more variety on the Switch store, including some truly excellent indie games (I spent over a hundred hours on Terry Cavanagh’s Dicey Dungeons, mainly because my sister bet me I couldn’t get all the achievements by Christmas, which I absolutely did and she absolutely laughed at me), it’s still a limited platform. Really, what I’ve always wanted is a handheld PC and it’s very nice of technology to get to the point where I can be accommodated.
But. There’s always a but and it’s (hee hee) a big but. The Steam Deck is here, and it’s a major weapon. I don’t mean this ‘in the increasingly competitive handheld gaming market’ sense (its impact in that regard remains to be seen), I mean you could easily kill someone with this thing. It’s massive. It’s at least a third bigger and heavier than the Switch OLED – it’s the Jack Reacher of handheld gaming devices – not the Tom Cruise one, the new one where he crushes a mobile phone in his bare hand.
It’s a difficult trade-off. Making it smaller and lighter, even if that were possible, would increase costs way beyond a reasonable launch price. Affordability is as much part of accessibility as ergonomics. But it’s also the case that a lot of people will struggle to use it for long periods. It’s awkward, because what gamer wants to hold up their statistically smaller hand and say ‘yo, this doesn’t fit actually’? It’s an invitation for ridicule and even abuse. But I’ll take the risk, because it needs saying.
There’s a history in tech design of using an average male hand span and grip strength to mean average person, which of course is greater than the average female. A few years ago, after experiencing hand pain while using a gaming mouse, I looked into the design and testing of various console and PC controllers and discovered that in most cases they simply don’t test a variety of hand sizes. As it is, the Steam Deck is too heavy for me to hold comfortably for long, and my thumb span isn’t sufficient for the button placement.
However, Valve isn’t Nintendo or Sony. Valve knows full well that PC gamers want to customise and individualise, so it’s released all the CAD files for the Steam Deck, so anyone with a 3D printer can make their own dock, case or any other mod they fancy.
Although this could be the excuse I’ve needed to buy a 3D printer, Valve has also invited contact from those looking to 3D print for the commercial market.
This is a really great compromise for the one-size-won’t-fit-all problem, and those of us without Jack Reacher proportions are sure to find it handy.
Get Custom PC #224 NOW
And if you’d like a handy digital version of the magazine, you can also download issue 224 for free in PDF format.