The Steam Deck had some wild prototypes

A bunch of Steam Deck Prototypes in front of a white back ground.
(Image credit: Valve)

As Valve's Steam Deck slowly finds its way into the hands of PC gamers in the next couple of weeks, those of us eager for a behind-the-scenes look at how the handheld gaming PC evolved can take a peek at what could have been. Valve released photographs that show off some early designs of the Steam Deck, and it seems like the Nintendo Switch inspired some of those prototypes. 

Steam in your hands

Steam Deck with an image from Elden Ring overlayed on the screen

(Image credit: Future, FromSoftware)

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You can see iterations of Steam Deck leading up to the version Valve eventually settled on. Some models similar to the Nintendo Switch and its removable joy-con controllers are among them, roughly halfway down the photo.

"There were things like articulated handles that had hinges on either side," Greg Coomer, designer at Valve, told PC Gamer last summer. "A lot of different explorations of the physical form that you hold, and what shape it should take control placements moved around during the development process, the size of the screen varied as we tried different playable prototypes."

There are even some models with alternate color schemes. Even though the Steam Deck currently only comes in black, Valve didn't dismiss the idea of later selling it in multiple colors. One thing that remains consistent through each version seems to be the size of the screen and the Steam Deck itself. Though Valve settled on a design without removable Joycon-like trackpads, you can still see the evolution of the trackpads and controller layout in later models.

Jay Shaw, another Steam Deck designer, said that Valve "had working units that had differently shaped trackpads and different amounts of 'play'" to feel out the right controls. "It went beyond just quick, easy prototypes, into working units that had a lot of variation," he said.

Considering the time spent in development, it makes sense that Valve R&D had so many different control schemes prototyped before deciding on the final version. There's one thing I still really need to know: which one of these was the one affectionately known as 'The Ugly Baby.'

Jorge Jimenez
Hardware writer, Human Pop-Tart

Jorge is a hardware writer from the enchanted lands of New Jersey. When he's not filling the office with the smell of Pop-Tarts, he's reviewing all sorts of gaming hardware, from laptops with the latest mobile GPUs to gaming chairs with built-in back massagers. He's been covering games and tech for over ten years and has written for Dualshockers, WCCFtech, Tom's Guide, and a bunch of other places on the world wide web.