Slide Pads & 5.5 Inch Touchscreen Also Considered
The PlayStation Vita's dual thumbsticks are a cause for much celebration and jubilation as a gaming handheld can finally deliver the traditional home console experience right down to the control scheme... but things could have been very different. Sony has revealed that they considered swapping the thumbsticks for laptop-style "slide pads" or a monstrous 5.5 inch touchscreen during the development process, which would have resulted in a very different beast altogether.
Speaking to the EU PlayStation Blog, Vita's head designer Tokashi Sogabe explained that the analogue sticks were only one of a number of control options considered for the device, since keeping the device as flat as possible would have been much easier from a design and portability point of view. At one stage, Sony was actively considering using flat slide pads instead (such as you'd find on most laptops) - but the idea was dismissed after testing a working prototype.
For me as a designer, [sticks] have presented a huge challenge, partly because it's much easier to design products with entirely flat surfaces.
We also built a prototype with flat slide pads, a bit like what you have on your laptop, but it just didn't feel responsive enough for gaming and we learned that you need that physical response of tilting the stick to feel like you have total control.
Other options included a 5.5 inch touchscreen that incorporated buttons and virtual analogue sticks as on-screen icons. However, the idea was canned after deciding that playing games would have been much less intuitive without tactile feedback (not to mention the fact that it would have severely limited developers).
It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking bigger is better when it comes to screen size but it isn't.
There was a great deal of discussion and we even talked about using a 5.5 inch screen with all of the buttons included on it, but that had a negative impact on the operability of the device and the idea was abandoned.
Other form factors, such as the PSP GO-styled clamshell design that we used to test out F1 2011, were also considered before deciding on the more traditional body shell. Apart from the slightly small face buttons, we're rather pleased with the finished article.