The cat is basically out of the bag at this point on what we can expect the PS4’s controller functionality to have. The leaked photo that ran around the internet a couple of days ago – that has been all but confirmed by Sony – showed us that the PS4’s default input device will have Frankenstein parts ripped from the PlayStation Move and Vita, namely a glowing light thinger for the PS Eye and a touchpad. Now, before Sony officially unveils it on the 20th, let’s take some time and think of some game applications for this thing.
This challenge might actually be tougher than first thought. I recall back when the Wii was introduced, then called the Revolution, I flung open several doors in the hall of the dorm I was in to my friend’s room and we discussed all of the possibilities of this new control scheme. It was so easy to think of swords and bats and golf clubs. Of course, the Wii hardly delivered on this promise, but it was certainly easy to speculate when the unveiling showed people jumping over couches and fighting invisible enemies.
With this PS4 controller, direct analogues are not so easy. Before going any further, we should note that the touchpad on the controller, as far as we know, is just that: a touchpad. Not a touchscreen. It’s not going to light up in any way and show auxiliary information.
The first rut my mind got in when thinking about this controller is that the touchpad and Move glow would be replacing traditional input instead of augmenting the buttons that currently exist. The question of “Why would I want to swipe on the touchpad instead of use the control stick?” cemented itself, and it was hard to move passed that roadblock. New control schemes make me think the old ones are getting usurped, I suppose.
Soon, though, I came to the thought of an adventure title where the touchpad and Move support could possibly add benefit when all of the other buttons are in use as well. Say you are wandering about the countryside in a Skyrim-esque fantasy title. You are walking straight ahead and you need to set a new way-point. Currently, that would mean pausing the game and going into a menu. With the touchpad, maybe you just swipe up from the bottom, and a map overlay appears. Using the Move support, you point to a spot on the map and tap the touchpad to set the new point. When done with the map, you swipe back down. All of this was done while still moving your character forward, and had an enemy shown up, your buttons would be free to fight with if the map was still up. Even if setting way points is not a thing, swiping from the sides in could display certain information and help you de-clutter the HUD.
I suppose sports titles would be a big category that could benefit from new input methods, but I am suddenly having a hard time thinking of something that would be beneficial. Maybe a swipe left or right could instigate a stiff arm in football? You could draw the shape of the knuckle ball you want to throw?
I am not a huge sports game player beyond anything sports title that has the word “Mario” in the title, so maybe it is hard for me to think of new ways to hit, throw, or dunk balls.
Another thought for the touchpad would be the inverse of the upcoming Vita game Tearaway, where you would be poking into the screen. There might be games where you use the touchpad to brush away dirt or do an etching of letters on to a piece of paper. The problem with these two ideas is that they run pretty close to things we have experienced before on the Nintendo DS.
Of course, much of the waggling and twisting of controllers we have been subject to in the last six years will return in some form this next generation, if this controller prototype is to be believed. The benefit of the Move support might make some of these physical movements – e.g. driving a car, flying a plane, pointing – a little more precise, though. One example I can think of would be for the next Killzone. In the last couple of titles, the sniper rifle relied on the Sixaxis to make subtle movements of the crosshairs when zoomed in. In the next iteration of the franchise, the Move support could take its place (or augment it), and the results would probably be a much more precise.
Actually, a second aiming method might be pretty interesting. Say you are playing a FPS title with conventional movement, i.e. two sticks. The right stick that normally provides the aiming of the gun could be instead the movement of your head, and the Move support would be the aiming of the gun, which could be anywhere on the screen. This setup would probably feel most like the current Move or Wii FPS controls, but here you would have a dedicated stick for turning instead of having to point the reticule with the Move or Wiimote to the edge of the screen.
Although I have tried to put down thoughts on how the touchpad and Move support would add to the controller and ultimately games, as I have been writing this and holding a PS3 controller in my hands while brainstorming, one thing became totally clear: Any time you want to use the touchpad, you are trading an input for another. When you take your thumb off of a control stick or button to touch the touchpad, someone decided along the way that a button or stick could not perfectly do the thing you are about to do. So unlike the Vita, where the screen is on the back and your thumbs never leave the face buttons, here to tap or swipe, you are moving away from up at least four buttons (d-pad if you touch it with your left thumb or face buttons with your right).
I think this is why it is hard to think of applications to use this new stuff (touchpad specifically). At all times you do not have access to all input, so it is difficult to say, “Yeah, use the touchspad!” (and take your thumb off of four buttons or a control stick to do so) when a butt might simply suffice.
And that will be the challenge for developers. It is pretty easy right now to write some things off on speculation created by a blurry photo of prototype hardware, but surely Sony and people creating games for the PS4 have figured out interesting uses. I remember people questioning the DS’s two screens when it was first announced, but I have a hord time believing anyone hates it now.