What Can We Expect of the PS4 Controller?

Seb Wuepper takes a look at the future of Sony's controllers for the PlayStation 4.

by on 22nd Jan, 2013

Rumor, or rather “information given to us by usually credible sources”, has it, that Sony will ditch the long lasting Dualshock controller design for the upcoming Playstation 4. The Dualshock design has been with us since the very first Playstation, bearing the same general button layout as the Super Nintendo controller of old, with added dual analog sticks and two extra shoulder buttons of course. But by and large, it is a pretty old design. But what could replace it? Maybe it’s time to take a look at the competition and where they come from.

Nintendo has been through one type of special controller per console since the days of the Nintendo 64. There was the starfighter shaped N64 controller, introducing the analog stick and later the rumble pack. Then with the GameCube things got no less weird with an awkwardly shaped (but super ergonomic) controller that should probably have had two analog sticks instead of just one. And then there was the Wii with the two-component waggle motion controller that grew over time, with add ons and security slip on rubber covers. And now the WiiU with its - again - unique touchpad controller. 

Does that mean the Playstation 4 will no longer have a regular controller? Judging by what we can see with the WiiU, I wouldn’t count on it.

Microsoft’s controller history is much more straightforward, mostly because they’re only into their second console at this time, the “Xbox 3” about to be revealed later in the year. Microsoft inherited its controller design with the designers from SEGA’s Dreamcast controller. There is a similar design philosophy in shape and button layout behind the Xbox controllers, especially with the Controller S inspired Xbox 360 pad. 

But all parties had more than just one baseline set of controllers. Nintendo’s Wii had the classic controller, a device that was really that, a classic, regular, non-waggle controller to play older games with. Microsoft, in an effort to cash in on the casual motion technology market, came up with the entirely controller-less Kinect 3D camera input device. And, well, Sony, for similar reasons, came up with the suspiciously Wii-controller like Playstation Move component controller. 

So where will Sony go from here, if rumors are true that there will be no more Dualshock? Does that mean the Playstation 4 will no longer have a regular controller? Judging by what we can see with the WiiU, I wouldn’t count on it. Nintendo is clever enough to supply the WiiU with three types of controllers from the get-go. Wii style component motion controller, WiiU touchpad controller and a souped up, dual analog stick bearing “classic” controller. I guess we can expect to see similar things happening with the PS4.

Sony might have made huge mistakes within the first two or so years of the Playstation 3’s shelf life, but I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Everyone can learn from past mistakes, and if any of the console makers has reason to do so, it is Sony. So I highly doubt it that the Playstation 4 will not be backwards compatible, at least not when it comes to Playstation Network purchases. It would be a crying shame if all the games people bought online could not be transferred to the next console generation. Knowing Sony, the process of account migration will be awkward, but in all likelihood, if they make it possible at all, it cannot be worse than what Nintendo did.

Everyone can learn from past mistakes, and if any of the console makers has reason to do so, it is Sony.

So chances are that the Playstation 4 will retain some kind of classic controller. If that device will still be shaped like the beloved Dualshock is actually irrelevant as long as the option to use such a device still exists. What we will in all likelihood also see, is a Playstation Move controller set. Knowing Sony, I would be surprised if they did the sensible thing and just made the Playstation 4 compatible with the current Move controllers. Also, and this one really is a no brainer, there will be a new version of the Playstation Eye camera. 

But there will be another kind of signature Playstation 4 controller. And from what can be heard through the grapevine, it sounds like this device will be somewhere between Nintendo’s WiiU touchpad controller, and Sony’s own Playstation Vita. And why not? For one, since entering the gaming console market, Sony has taken inspiration from Nintendo’s controller designs. Mind you, I am not saying ‘ripped off’. Though I guess some people might argue that. 

The Dualshock shape and layout is a Super Nintendo pad. The analog stick was also added in after Nintendo had the idea first. And then the Playstation Move, which is really suspiciously close in appearance to the Wii controller. So it wouldn’t be surprising if we saw Sony now taking on the WiiU touchpad. Now let me don my heavy speculation cap here. How close this controller will come to the Wii’s streaming video capabilities and functionalities is impossible to foretell at this point without further information. But what might just happen if Sony actually goes and takes inspiration for this controller from the PSVita is that we might see some kind of interconnectivity between the Vita and the Playstation 4, the Vita acting as a control pad. 

Which again would be an idea Nintendo had first when they added interconnectivity for the GameBoy Advance to the GameCube. But whatever you can say about Sony’s “inspired by Nintendo” design, their designs tend to work a little better. The WiiU’s touch pad controller has a pretty low res screen and, while functional, the touch reception can be a bit finicky. Whereas Sony has the PSVita, which has a gorgeous screen (yes, not a Retina display, go back to your corner, Apple fan...) with tight, responsive touch functionality. And I would guess Sony’s proven expertise in this field will make it to the Playstation 4. 

Let’s just hope they last long enough to bring this thing to the market to begin with, and that it will have worthwhile games.

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