What About The PS4 Touch Pad?

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Each of the three next generation game consoles has its own unique new input device bundled with every unit, but all the attention seems to be on two of two of them. I’ve started to wonder about the potential of the PS4 controller’s touch pad.

Core gamers have generally not accepted the Wii U GamePad or the Xbox One’s Kinect requirement, but basically haven’t said anything about the PS4 touch pad. It’s probably because the touch pad isn’t as big or expensive as the other two — it’s relatively non-intrusive. A lot of people probably hope they can just ignore the touch pad. I hope that doesn’t happen.

Small, cheap, non-intrusive input additions like the touch pad are arguably the ones with the highest chance of eventually being accepted as standards in console gaming. Motion controls tried to replace standard buttons and failed to become the standard, the GamePad and Kinect are additions but also add cost they haven’t yet justified. Shoulder buttons on the SNES controller were cheap and non-intrusive, as were analog sticks and triggers. The touch pad seems more similar to those than what Nintendo and Microsoft are trying now.

What ultimately matters though is killer apps to justify new inputs. Each new input has to have a hit game that couldn’t have been done without it. The first time I saw Super Mario 64 I instantly understood why it needed an analog stick. The DS’s touch screen finally made sense when Kirby Canvas Curse came out. The Wii Remote didn’t progress far beyond Wii Sports. The GamePad and Kinect have yet to be utilized in such definitive ways. I wonder what the touch pad’s chances are.

Because so many games are multiplatform these days, if any killer app games show up for any of the new inputs they’ll probably be first party. Sony’s touch pad at a glance seems like it’ll make its biggest contributions to general user interface navigation.

The touch pad is basically a laptop touch pad, so right there you have the possibility of mouse-like cursor input, which in my opinion could be fairly big for console games. It’s one of the last things that’s continually separated PC and console gaming.

Blizzard has already confirmed that the PS4 version of Diablo III will use the touch pad for navigating the inventory, I imagine in a fashion not unlike the PC version. Maybe someone could finally get a real time strategy game (or any strategy game really) to work well on a console. That genre by itself, if it became viable on the PS4, could provide the platform with a decent stable of exclusives from Xbox One. What if someone could get a MOBA to work on the touch pad? League of Legends by itself on any console could be huge. On top of that you already have a fair number of MMOs hitting the PS4.

What makes the possibility of workable ports of traditionally PC-centric genres more interesting is Sony’s allowing self-publishing on the PS4. The guys making games like WarFrame or War Thunder don’t need a publisher to get on PSN, so theoretically Riot games would face almost no obstacles in getting LoL on there. The same goes for a huge number of indie games that have yet to leave the PC but probably wouldn’t work on a standard controller.

Possibly even more intriguing are original ideas from console developers who’ve never had to work with anything like the touch pad.

What I don’t want to happen is for it become another Sixaxis, only used for token features and eventually forgotten. I’ve heard some developers are already planning to use touch pad swipes for QTEs or directing orders and I think that sounds pretty unimaginative. Things like that sound like they could just as easily be relegated to another button.

That tends to be what happens when you try to incorporate a new input device into existing game types. A lot of Wii Remote experiments failed because they stuck to the confines of shooters or other typical action games when Wii Sports was a whole new kind of activity. Mario 64 didn’t try to enhance the 2D platformer with the stick, but wrote a whole new book on 3D platformers. The most successful mobile touch screen games have been in new genres like runners or unique mini games. The same will probably apply to the GamePad, Kinect, and touch pad.

The problem with that is today’s console game publishers sticking so closely to the safe and known. Maybe one of the scant Xbox One and PS4 exclusives will do something amazing with the Kinect and touch pad respectively, but right now they all seem to play like games we’ve seen before. The control innovation almost certainly won’t come from the multiplatform third party games. This might be an area where indie games have the advantage.

One thing that can easily benefit from the touch pad is the PS4’s central UI. If Sony is smart it’s designing the whole PS4 interface around the touch pad. If not that, then at the very least the web browser will be a lot easier to navigate.

Whatever happens, the ultimate sign that one console’s new input device has won will be when the other consoles adopt it. Some people may not want that to happen, but I for one don’t want to be playing games on the exact same controller layout for the rest of eternity.

BULLETS:

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One thought on “What About The PS4 Touch Pad?

  1. There’s an old saying about not getting your hopes up so you don’t get crushed when things don’t pan out.

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