Next Generation Controller Speculation

ggl04

Last week Eurogamer posted a new next gen console rumor suggesting that Sony could be instituting a big change for the PS4’s controller, which in itself is a big deal after three Dual Shocks. The bigger deal is that they might continue their trend of aping Nintendo with a touch screen controller of their own. Personally, I’m not at all against this, nor am I against Sony or Microsoft diverging from established console gaming input next gen, depending on how they go about it.

People have also speculated that Microsoft may ship every single unit of the next Xbox with the successor to Kinect. I personally think they more than likely will, and that it could open up possibilities depending on what Microsoft is actually planning with Kinect. I just wish that traditional console gamers wouldn’t be so afraid of these developments.

I think I’ve defended the Wii U’s GamePad at least once here. My basic argument for it is that I think console game controller design should keep pushing forward as it always has — that if we weren’t accepting of change we’d still be playing with Atari joysticks.

At the risk of reiterating, I’ll add that the reason I think the Wii Remote, PlayStation Move, and Kinect were so hated by the hardcore this generation is because it tried to replace what they were used to, not add to it. Every input innovation that has become part of standard controller interface has endeavored to add to it, not replace it. This is pretty much what the DS did, and now basically every handheld has a touch screen. The Wii U GamePad is doing the same thing. I would welcome an attempt from Sony to follow suit.

The only real question I have regarding that is the production cost. Nintendo has implied in recent months that a big chunk of the cost in developing and manufacturing the Wii U is in the controller. It may even suggest that Nintendo chose to put money and resources into the new controller that they could’ve put into developing a more powerful console.

We already know that Sony is developing a console that will be a beast relative to the PS3. I could only imagine the financial burden Sony might feel adding a fancy touch screen controller on top of that. How would that affect the PS4’s price?

Of course a common point brought up in touch screen discussions is how Sony already has the Vita and Microsoft already has Xbox Smartglass. I think both of those are imperfect solutions at best. The Vita is by itself a $250 handheld, and while I imagine it’ll get some use out of connecting to Sony consoles, I don’t think that feature will get widespread developer support — not as wide as a touch screen controller shipped with every PS4. Smartglass on the other hand can’t be used simultaneously with buttons at all.

On Microsoft’s end we know little-to-nothing about how Kinect is supposed to develop in the future, but they still seem to be putting a lot of stake in it. It suggests that it’ll play an even bigger role for Microsoft consoles in the future.

I don’t see why you have to use Kinect independent of a standard controller anyway. Maybe Kinect’s current iteration isn’t powerful enough to operate while you’re using a controller (or just wasn’t designed that way). I’m just saying: it’d be nice to be able to always input voice commands, use your hand as a cursor, or have the console interpret various body movements while you’re still playing a game with a standard controller. Like I said above, it would only add to the current traditional console game experience, not take away from it.

One odd thing that might happen though is if Sony and Microsoft go with radical changes like these, it could create a stark rift between the input environments of each console. You’ll really only be able to make the best use of Kinect in Xbox-exclusive games. You’ll really only be able to make the best use of a touch screen in PlayStation-exclusive games (or games developed on both PS4 and Wii U).

Some people might welcome that kind of uniqueness between game consoles — giving each one more of an identity. I think that if this happened, one console manufacturer would just start to copy another until they all have relatively the same control interface again. Either way console gaming would move forward.

If radical additions to controller design aren’t what’s desired though, there’s still hope for small changes to next generation game controllers. Both the Xbox 360 and PS3 controllers are fine in my opinion, but each has small flaws that I’d love to see Microsoft and Sony fix respectively.

The biggest issue for both of them is probably the Dpad. The PS3’s Dpad is okay, but Sony has struck a very good design with the Vita Dpad, and I would love to see a Dual Shock controller sporting that Dpad. If Microsoft can also figure out a good Dpad, then the Xbox controller will just about be perfect as far as today’s standard gaming controllers go. Outside of that, Sony should alter the triggers on their next controller. Either way, the point is that I don’t think we should be using Microsoft’s and Sony’s current controller designs, unchanged, for all eternity.

Oh, and happy MLK day.

BULLETS:

  • If these gifs don’t sell you on Metal Gear Rising I don’t know what to say. http://flip.it/cG7bk
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