Hands-on with Steam’s DualShock 4 support

Last month, word started spreading that Steam would soon support DualShock 4 controllers. During a talk at Steam Dev Days, Jeff Bellinghausen from Valve talked about using other controllers with the Steam API. He noted that the DualShock 4 had a lot of overlapping functionality with the Steam Controller, including the gyro and touch pad, and talked about what a good fit the controller was for the Steam API.

That support was recently added to the Steam beta client. I’m a big fan of the DualShock 4, so I was excited to try it out.

 

Setting up the controller

In order to get the controller working, I had to launch Big Picture mode, go to controller settings, and check a box that reads, “PS4 Configuration Support”.

 

Steam Controller Settings
Steam Controller Settings

I disconnected and reconnected the controller. It didn’t work at first (more on that later), but eventually, Steam picked it up and it started working. In the controller settings, there were now special options for the DualShock 4. I could set the controller name, rumble preferences, and the color, brightness, and saturation of the light bar.

 

Personalize the DualShock 4
Personalize the DualShock 4

Steam is using the same API for the DualShock 4 that it uses for the Steam Controller, so I wasn’t surprised to see Steam sync my controller settings. The controller was registered to my Steam account the way Steam Controllers are. When I plugged in my adapter and controller into a friend’s PC, and it was able to automatically get my configuration settings, even though I have never logged in on that machine.

 

Steam importing my controller settings on another PC
Steam importing my controller settings on another PC

Going into the base configurations brought up the same screen I’m familiar with from using my Steam Controller. Any of the controller’s buttons can be configured with the same powerful settings as the Steam Controller. You can also set the DualShock 4’s touch pad to be split vertically, making the left and right sides act like the two touch pads on the Steam Controller.

 

Configuring the DualShock 4
Configuring the DualShock 4

Using the controller

The controller acted like a normal mouse I wasn’t in a game. The right side of the touch pad moved the mouse, the left side of the touch pad scrolled the page I was on, and the triggers acted as a left and right click. This made the controller a bit more useful for desktop use compared to InputMapper and DS4Windows.

I also noticed right away that the Playstation button worked, which is something I’ve never been able to achieve using other programs. Pressing it launched Steam’s Big Picture mode. Pressing it while in a game opened the Steam Overlay, where I could change controller settings, use Steam chat, or use the browser. In fact, you can set a special configuration for when you are in the browser, so certain buttons on the controller do things like scroll, go backward and forward, or change tabs.

 

Playing Steam Games

The DualShock 4 acted normally in most games that had controller support. However, I did have to change the configuration on some games. Many games that had support for both keyboard/mouse and controllers had button mappings defaulted to keyboard keys. Pressing X brought up the usual screen for browsing configurations, and I was able to select the Gamepad template to get it working again.

I did have problems in some games, but it was rare. The mappings in Assassin’s Creed II were off. Pressing the right joystick did nothing, while pressing the trigger buttons moved my camera left and right. Every button seemed to be somewhere else. I didn’t encounter it very often, but when I did, I had to disable PS4 controller support in Steam and fire up DS4Windows to play the game.

The default templates, like Gamepad or Gamepad with Camera Controls, were the only templates I could choose from. There were no recommended or community templates available yet, since this feature is still so new.

 

Browsing Controller Configurations
Browsing Controller Configurations

For games that do not have built in controller support, it was easy to map the controller buttons to keyboard keys, and set the right joystick to work as a mouse. It will be easier to get those games up and running when this is out of beta and more users can upload configurations.

 

Playing non-Steam games

I also tried playing some games that weren’t purchased from Steam. I played Assassin’s Creed IV purchased from uPlay, and some emulated games using RetroArch. When I added these games as non-Steam games and launched them from Steam, everything worked fine. When I tried launching them from Windows or uPlay, however, I had some issues. Even with the Desktop configuration set to the Gamepad template, the controller either had the same button mapping issues I had with Assassin’s Creed II, or didn’t work at all.

 

Issues

Aside from the bad mapping mentioned earlier, there were a few other issues.

 

Configurations from wrong accounts

One time I plugged my controller in, Steam pulled in configurations for several other users, unable to remember that it was my controller. I registered the controller to my account again, and my name appeared in the list of the controller’s owners. I only saw this issue once, though, and plugging my controller into other computers never prompted this issue again.

 

Steam asking to use configs for other users

 

References to Steam Controllers

I also saw that there were still many references to the Steam Controller within Steam. This isn’t surprising, considering that the Steam Controller was the first controller to use the Steam API, and I expect most of these will be cleaned up before this is out of beta.

 

2016-11-23-01_28_22
Steam referencing the Steam Controller when noticing that my DualShock 4 is connected

 

USB port stopped working

Several times, enabling or disabling PS4 controller support caused my adapter to stop working completely. Plugging in the adapter did not even register with the computer – the entire USB port was not responsive. It’s such an odd issue that it’s hard to say Steam caused it, but it happened multiple times on two different machines. Restarting the computer fixed the issue.

 

Input Lag

This is another one that is hard to pin exactly on Steam, but can’t be ignored. I occasionally had input lag when using the DualShock 4 with the official adapter from Sony. This only happened in games or in Steam Big Picture mode. I tested the controller in Window’s game controller settings, and the input lag was gone. Normally I would blame wireless interference, but there wasn’t any input lag outside of Steam. Switching back to DS4Windows caused the input lag to stop.

 

Conclusion

The controller worked very well, the configuration has everything I need, and overall I’m happy with this new change. As long as you don’t mind it running Steam on your system all the time, this is a good solution. The plug and play support this provides, and the easy configuration, will make this controller easier to use for most people.

However, if you don’t use Steam to launch all of your games, you might want to wait on using this full-time. It’s likely that Steam will fix the remaining issues before launch, but until then you should continue to use the more reliable DS4Windows or InputMapper.

I use Steam very heavily as my front end, even going as far as adding retro games directly to Steam, so this is a natural fit. I will be keeping an eye on this, and hopefully I will be using this exclusively soon.

Have you tried Steam’s DualShock 4 support yet? Did you have the same issues? Tell me what you thought about it in the comments below!

mike

Michael Day is a web engineer, javascript junkie, video game enthusiast, and blogger. Hating how the big console makers were taking advantage of gamers, he made the switch to PC and set it upon himself to make a machine that did everything the more popular consoles wouldn't.