Yesterday Jim Ryan, CEO and President of Sony Interactive Entertainment, confirmed the release window of the Playstation 5 as holiday 2020. At the same time, Playstation 5 System Architect, Mark Cerny, talked with WIRED about the hardware in the new console, and the new controller. The article covered the many different aspects of the controller, and how it can deepen the immersion of the player, but my concern is that developers won’t take advantage of these new features, because they didn’t for the Playstation 4.
Before I begin, I just want to point out that I won’t be commenting on the rumoured built-in screen for the Playstation 5 controller. No confirmation of this has come from Sony at the time of writing, so I can’t count it as accurate just yet.
Feeling the Game
In the WIRED article it is discussed how the rumble motors are gone from the Playstation 5’s controller. Instead Sony has opted to use voice-coil actuators, also known as non-commutated DC linear actuators. To put it in simple terms, these devices mimic noises that you’d expect to hear in real life by vibrating in specific patterns. If you imagine the controller as a cone of paper, the voice-coil actuators will vibrate that paper in order to create the sound of a voice, or a crash, or the movement of feet through sand.
This kind of technology is really clever, and it certainly sounds as though it adds to the experience. In the article we read about how wading through sand felt like a slog, and mud felt soggy, even though no moisture can be communicated. The writer even comments on how the feel of a character sliding over ice enhances the experience, almost translating it into them as every movement is accentuated, inducing the feeling of losing balance completely.
The triggers of this new controller are also briefly touched upon. Cerny says that developers can tweak the tension of the R2 and L2 buttons, if that’s what they’re called on this new controller, to create just the right level for whatever action is being portrayed in a game. It sounds like this will be most used in shooter games, but I can also see it potentially being used in titles similar to The Last Of Us Part 2, for crafting or interacting with certain objects. Quantic Dream will definitely love the new feature, that’s for sure.
Making Players use it
The problem with all of these new features is that they take additional time to work into a game. While rumble feedback is important, I don’t see every developer working out how to convey just the right sounds for each and every surface in their game. Instead, I think this feature could be relegated to titles such as God of War, and other flagship Sony IPs that demonstrate what can be achieved in the very best experiences on the hardware.
As I already mentioned, I can see shooter games using the new trigger tension tweaking feature very easily. This will make each weapon in a game feel different, and could go a long way to helping partially-sighted gamers feel more involved in the games they play.
However, I also think that these features could fall by the wayside as the ever-growing rush of releases makes its way to Playstation 5. With so many games launching for multiple platforms these days, it’s impossible for a developer to make the most of every feature without rewriting huge parts of their games. I don’t say this to be cruel and pessimistic about the new console, I say it because I saw the same thing happen with the Dualshock 4.
This might surprise you, but the touchpad on the Dualshock 4 controller was intended to be used for more purposes than simply acting as a map button. In Dark Souls 3 and Bloodborne, pressing one side of the touchpad opens your inventory, while the other opens emotes. In Killzone Shadowfall, there was a complex system of interactions that would control the player’s drone, ordering it to do one of four tasks depending on the interaction. In Infamous Second Son, players could use the touchpad to have their thumbprint scanned at in-game checkpoints, or launch cars into the sky.
While the Playstation Store, and some games, still let you navigate keyboards with the touchpad, the feature has gone largely unused for most of the Playstation 4’s life. I’d hate to see the same thing happen with such unique functionality as has been presented for the Playstation 5’s controller. Maybe if Sony supports developers with this feature more, allowing them to do whatever they want with them, as opposed to being limited to certain actions, we’ll see some truly immersive games from holiday 2020 onward.
Let us know what you think of the new Playstation 5 controller features in the comments.