Ugly AF

Steam Deck devs called an early prototype the 'Ugly Baby'

The candid way Valve's developers have spoken about the creation process is refreshing and a great way to build trust with consumers.

The final version of Valve’s forthcoming Steam Deck is a thing of beauty: slick in all the right ways, with innovative controls and a very manageable form factor. It’s so impressive-looking that it brought in more than 100,000 preorders in the first hour after it went on sale, and now would-be owners are being forced to wait until at least Q2 of next year to get their hands on one. All on the basis of just a few photos and videos.

The Steam Deck’s developer team didn’t manage to create such an attractive product without some trial and error, though. Early prototypes of the handheld were apparently fraught with a variety of issues, not the least of which was how very ugly the device started out. “Ugly” is the dev team’s word, not mine, I promise.

In a recent interview with IGN, Valve co-founder Gabe Newell and developer Pierre-Loup Griffais spoke candidly about the device’s development. The device’s naming scheme came up in the interview; Newell says they tried out monikers like “Steam Buddy” and “Steam Pal” before settling on the final name.

Some of the early names weren’t quite so friendly, though. “Very early on we had pretty terrifying prototypes so we gave them appropriate names, like ‘Ugly Baby’ and things like that,” Griffais said.

Transparency does the work — We have no idea what the ‘Ugly Baby’ would’ve looked like, though surely it must’ve been pretty horrifying to earn that name.

What that particular prototype actually looked like is less important than the fact that Valve is openly discussing it. Giving consumers a peek behind the development curtains is a really great way of building trust around a (relatively expensive) piece of hardware made by a company that usually focuses on software. The interviews Valve has been doing demystify the Steam Deck, making it even more attractive to the general public.

Ugly no more — We’ll probably never see the Ugly Baby; it’ll rot away somewhere in Valve’s basements until some retro gamer unearths it a hundred years from now. That’s fine by us. The final version of the Steam Deck is a marvel of modern engineering, with its dual trackpads and large touchscreen. Whatever steps Valve took to get here were worth the struggle.

That unique exterior is supported by an impressive set of interior tech that should position the Steam Deck to succeed where many other PC gaming handhelds have failed. It’ll be a few months until the public has the chance to actually try gaming on it; in the meantime, we’ll wait with bated breath for the next interview with its developers.