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The Playstation Controller Philosophy: Sacrifice Convenience For Novelty

The Dualshock pretty much set the standard for what a controller needed, and Sony knew it. So when they made the Playstation 2, they hardly made any changes to the controller. They just made it lighter and made most of the buttons pressure-sensitive, and they called it the Dualshock 2. And it was great.

Then when the Playstation 3 was announced, things started getting weird...

And no, I'm not talking about that abomination that was the boomerang design.

Never forget.

No, I am referring to one of gaming's most infamous moments in recent memory: Sony's E3 2006 presentation.

Yes yes, I know, 599 US dollars, Giant Enemy Crab, Riiiiiidge Racer! Did I get everything? OK, moving on.

Near the end of the presentation, Phil Harrison and Ken Kutaragi got on stage to introduce a "brand-new" feature of the Playstation 3 controller: Motion controls!!!!

The controller's name was based around this feature: SixAxis, short for 'Six Axes/Degrees' (the official term is 'Six Degrees of Freedom'). On stage, Harrison showed that however he moved the controller, the object on screen followed. Then he made splashes in a bathtub with a rubber duck.

This demonstration was... weird, to say the least. It was mainly because it felt like it went too long without showing actual games that would use SixAxis, which gave everyone the impression that the feature was just a knee-jerk reaction to the Wii (Spoiler: It was).

Near the end of the demo, people began wondering, "OK... but how would it work in an actual game?" And then, as if Sony read their minds, they showed off Warhawk, a game about driving a flying vehicle and blowing stuff up.

How did this game differ from the rest? Well Sony was determined to show Warhawk's superiority by showing off SixAxis, ditching the sticks and using the controller itself as a means to maneuver the ship.

And... yeah.

It was quite clear that it would have been easier to just use sticks. And that's what I mean by 'sacrificing convenience for novelty.' And the only thing that could possibly make that situation worse is when the novelty in question doesn't work.

It took one game to make people believe this.

Lair was a game that had everything going for it, namely two things.

One: What better developer to make this kind of game than Factor 5? Their Star Wars: Rouge Squadron games proved they were more than capable of something like this.

Two: YOU'RE RIDING A FREAKING DRAGON!!! How could this possibly go wrong!?

One word: SixAxis. That feature single-handedly ruined Lair. It just. Didn't. Work.

Now they did patch in control stick functionality, but it was far too late. Rest in peace, Factor 5.

Speaking of SixAxis being the name for the controller, what did this mean for rumble? It wasn't called 'Dualshock 3,' but they wouldn't just throw it away, right?

Well, they did. The reason? Well Phil Harrison called it a 'last-gen feature' and motion controls would make us forget about it.

Yeah, that lasted about a year.

So what's next? No, not the Dualshock 4. It's the Playstation Move! This was Sony's attempt to steal the Wii's audience, with two remotes (as opposed to the Wii's Remote + Nunchuk layout), both of with had more fluid response than the WiiMote, and buttons.

As evidenced by the Kevin Butler ad, one of the biggest selling points of Move was having much more buttons than the WiiMote, allowing you to do more things in your games. Ironically, that was the exact reason why it failed to capture mainstream attention (apart from the piss-poor games built around it, and the half-assed implementation of it in AAA games). The appeal of the WiiMote was its lack of buttons, allowing users to just pick it up and play games easily. It was convenient for them.

Next, we move on to the Vita.

The DS is very successful. The DS has touchscreens. Smartphones have touchscreens, and they are successful as well. Therefore, touch screens = success. Thus, if we put two touch inputs on our new handheld, it will be twice as successful.


Finally, there's the Dualshock 4.

When Sony announced the Playstation 4 this past February, they showed off the Dualshock 4, as well as their latest knee-jerk reaction to Nintendo: a touch pad. Not a screen, but a pad.

Now, let's talk about the games that utilize the SixAxis, the Vita's touch inputs, and the Dualshock 4's touch pad. I will go by system, and give my take on how each game (that I know of) utilizes the system's feature.

Playstation 3 (SixAxis)

In Heavenly Sword, you use SixAxis to control arrows in slow motion to direct them to your enemies. While neat, it gets repetitive and boring after the first two shots... and you'll be doing this quite a bit.

In inFAMOUS, you use SixAxis to control your Thunder power, which you earn at the very end of the game. It feels like Sucker Punch completely forgot about SixAxis until the game was nearly finished, then decided to slap it on just so they can say the game takes advantage of the feature. Does the second game even use it? I never played it.

In Killzone 3, you use SixAxis to turn some wheel thing to set up a bomb. That's it, as far as I remember.

In Flower, you use SixAxis to control the movement of the wind. While awesome, it can be hard on the wrists, especially in the second to last level where you carefully avoiding getting shocked.

In Journey, you can use SixAxis to control the camera. I use the right stick.

In Heavy Rain, you use SixAxis as an input in the game's many quicktime events. The one in the very beginning when you shake the controller to simulate Ethan shaking a carton of orange juice actually felt natural and better than conventional inputs. You know something's wrong when the only game that actually makes good use of a feature is a game by David fucking Cage.

And that's about all I remember. If there are other games that use SixAxis, nobody ever talks about them. Shows how everyone truly feels about it, huh?

Playstation Vita (Touch Screen and Rear Touch Pad)

In Gravity Rush, you use the touch screen to slide around and dodge attacks. The tilt controls feel much less tacked on.

Persona 4 Golden, the most successful Vita game, doesn't use the touch features.

Uncharted: Golden Abyss, thanks to the touch screen, proved that quicktime events CAN be worse.

In Dynasty Warriors Next, you can tap on the rear touch pad to cause shockwaves, which is actually kind of neat, as rolling your fingers is a natural motion humans make. It's much better than repeatedly mashing a button. Oh, and you use the touch screen for duels. Fuck that.

Tearaway... Tearaway is a special case, as it's the only Vita game made by a developer that actually wanted to create something unique, and not the same shit, but with a twist! Seriously, if you have a Vita and you don't have Tearaway, you're a terrible human being.

Playstation 4 (Touch Pad)

In Killzone: Shadow Fall, you use the touch pad to select what you want your OWL to do. 'Cause, you know, it's much more convenient than using buttons and sticks where your fingers are naturally placed.

Knack doesn't use the touch pad.

In Blacklight Retribution, you use the touch pad to taunt, check the score, and to spin your customized weapon and character when you're viewing them. Wow.

In Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, you use the touch pad to zoom the map. Wow.

In Injustice: Gods Among Us, you use the touch pad for minigames, which is what you do when you can't think of a way to implement a feature in the actual game.

In inFAMOUS: Second Son, you use the touch pad to gouge out your enemies' eyes. I'll admit, that's kinda awesome, but is that all it's gonna be used for?

The reason I did this was to show that there are hardly any Playstation games that would feel like lesser experiences if these controller features didn't exist (Hell, most of them would be better). Now, this isn't to fault the developers who use these features. I mean, it's there, so you might as well do something with it, right?

And that's exactly the problem. Sony is not giving these developers any incentive to go out of their comfort zone to create unique experiences. Hell, Sony admitted that the Dualshock 4 was designed to appease FPS developers, 'cause we don't have enough of those, right? So when these developers make their games, they approach these new features with the mindset of "We might as well," making the use of the feature as half-hearted as Sony's implementation of it into the controller. And it doesn't help that most of the successful Playstation games are multiplatform, and the developers want to make each version identical to the other.

I'm not saying these features are bad for business, far from it. But it's clear that Sony doesn't think in the long term when implementing these features. They don't approach them with a long term vision. They implement them because they're trendy, they're cool, they're what other successful companies are doing right now. Ever since the Playstation 3 was announced, they have repeatedly gone through this cycle of boasting about these great features and then not even acknowledging them.

SixAxis was a joke from the beginning, the Move is merely a memory, and the Vita had only been around for a year before Sony decided that it would find better success as a peripheral.

How long is it going to be before the Dualshock 4's touch pad is given the same treatment?
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About The Bowels of Trogdorone of us since 7:13 PM on 03.09.2013

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