Scouring through patents, blueprints, rumours and ‘twitter leaks’ (aka bollocks) has put us on a seemingly endless chase in recent months for information about what we’re getting from the next-generation of consoles. With the Wii U sitting uncomfortably between two generations, Sony’s task of judging where to go next with their controller in an unenviable one. Do they once again add minor tweaks to the DualShock, an iconic controller that’s dutifully served them and millions of gamers for over a decade, or move forwards to keep up with what may turn out to be the popular trend in years to come?
There were undoubtedly some tough choices made at the drawing board, or perhaps nothing is set in stone yet, the rumours of a March reveal simply digital whispers and Sony will be gluing together a prototype minutes before this year’s E3 presentation. Fingers crossed they don’t try anything like that ridiculous bananarang redesign that they tried for the PS3.
Motion-control mania seems to have come and gone. Does the controller still even need SixAxis tech? Seeing as only Heavy Rain made decent use of it on PS3, it doesn’t look like developers lost enthusiasm for it early on. PlayStation Move may continue to be supported, but Sony may well cut their losses, as it’s hardly been a big success despite being technically impressive.
So, after staring at my beloved DualShock 3 controllers for an unnatural amount of time and digesting some internet rumours I’ve opted for these seven steps that I think could be useful to rebuild the controller for the PlayStation 4.
1: Don’t Put A Screen On It
I’ll admit the above concept image above looks fantastic, but I believe a controller needs to be reasonably small and sport proper grips for extended use. If I’m honest, there’s no need to try to squeeze a touchscreen onto a pad. It’ll be too small to be of use or it will be oversized causing the controller to become unwieldy and power hungry, like the Wii U’s gamepad. Instead, why not take advantage of our existing gadgets? Something along the lines of Microsoft’s Smartglass app that uses devices like the iPad or Nexus tablets. Sony could use tablets, smartphones, or I don’t know, the bloody PS Vita for all additional screen activities, like inventory management, reading journals, secondary controllers, rear-view mirrors, checking Trophies and so on.
2: Curved L2/R2 Triggers and Concave Analogues
Presuming Sony doesn’t do away with a pad concept altogether, we’ll want tweaks to the existing format. Mainly those slippery L2/R2 triggers. Sure, you can buy attachable curved triggers to stop your fingers slipping off the DualShock 3, but they tend to break/fall off easily. This is mainly a problem for driving games, rather than shooters, but a fix is important. While content with the analogue positioning -no Xbox lazy eye analogues here thanks- perhaps adding concave areas for added thumb grip would be an improvement.
3: Heat / Cooling Features
After rumble feedback and motion control we could do with a new sensation for our controllers. So, how about a change in temperature? Some minor heating elements on the pad and fanned air vents in the side of the controller could correspond to the game. Hot and cold environments for example, like going between the arctic outdoors and the foundry in MGS1. Or maybe for warning you of turrets overheating or adding the rush of wind when snowboarding down a mountain. The downside of such tech though would be maintaining such features without sapping the battery too fast.
Rumours of biometrics being included in the next-gen controller have been floating around for a while now, although we’re struggling to think of anything potentially exciting to go with them. Patents we’ve seen include the technology to measure body temperature and heartbeats. The latter has more potential. For example, in a sniping section of a shooter you may have to wait until your own heartbeat calms down in order to minimise any wayward scope movement.
If we’re going to leap a bit further into the future, a controller could even read our DNA to personalise the pad as uniquely yours for those multiplayer nights or as a security measure to use the PS4. Although, it’ll be a hard sell to Sony trying to convince them to put Judge Dredd Lawgiver security measures in to maim anyone foolish enough to try to use your pad.
5: One Size Fits All
Gamers with larger hands often complain about the DualShock being too small, saying it gets lost in their gaping mitts. Sony could counter this by beefing up the pad a little to be closer to the 360. For those of us that like the size as it us, another option could be to introduce two sizes of pad, as the original Xbox did. Ha, remember that first one? What a monster, no wonder that console tanked against the PS2. A few extra colours would be neat too.
A few years ago, we wouldn’t have suggested this as retailers wouldn’t want to stock both pads as shelf space is always limited for peripherals. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen in recent weeks, video game retailers are on their last legs, so gamers buying controllers are increasingly more likely to do so online. If their massive hands can navigate a keyboard that is.
6: Eight-Direction D-Pad
The d-pad has needed eight-direction support for ages now. Yes, Microsoft haven’t quite figured it out yet, with even their adjustable d-pad controller still feeling unresponsive. But if Sega, could manage it with the Mega Drive controller, it’s about time today’s consoles caught up. While purists/posers may insists on playing Street Fighter V with an arcade stick, some of us would prefer a decent d-pad that didn’t slowly peel the skin from our thumbs during a night’s multiplayer. And no, we can’t use the bloody analogue instead, you peasant.
7: Support the Oculus Rift
The what? A virtual reality-esque headset that completely immerses you into a game. Matt tried the headset out Gamescom and was blown away by it. For FPS games especially it’s one of the few things that we know is in the works that could work exceptionally well with the PS4. Intuitive turns of the head to explore your surroundings is something that could put you into a game world better than anything a control pad will ever do alone. For all we know, Sony could be working on something like this for PS4 right now. For years, virtual reality has been something of a sci-fi pipe dream for us gamers. Isn’t it about time the future arrived already?
So, those are the seven steps that could be useful if Sony do decide to overhaul the traditional controller design for the PS4. There will be a large contingent of gamers -myself included to a degree- who believe that Sony don’t really need to change their pad. But how about you? Is it time Sony started from scratch with something new and unique or do they just need to tweak the existing model with minor extras extras that wouldn’t change the familiar shape? With rumours persisting about a March reveal, we may learn the truth sooner than we think.