Sony is supposedly planning to ditch the DualShock controller with the release of its impending next generation console, the PlayStation 4. The iconic input device, with its pointed handles and symmetrical analogue sticks, has been a pivotal part of Sony’s gaming ecosystem since its original release in 1997. But is it time for a change?
There’s a reason that the DualShock controller has persisted through three console generations, and it can be attributed to more than just the unit’s award winning design. The device is extremely versatile, adapting itself to almost all genres. Shooters, brawlers, and action titles all feel at home on the peripheral, unlike alternative controllers which fail to adjust to some types of games.
The Xbox 360 controller, for example, can feel like a poor choice for fighting titles due to the positioning of its d-pad. It can also struggle with character action games – such as the recently released DmC: Devil May Cry – due to the positioning of its shoulder buttons. Meanwhile, the Nintendo Wii, for all of its industry upsetting potential, failed to really establish motion controls as a viable long-term alternative to traditional control schemes.
That’s not to say that the DualShock 3 – the current iteration of the long serving device – is perfect in its current guise. The woolly nature of the unit’s L2 and R2 buttons are a constant source of criticism, feeling particularly unsatisfying when used in shooting games. Meanwhile, the on-board motion controls, which were a source of much conversation at the start of the generation, have faded into irrelevance as the PlayStation 3 has matured.
But we’re not convinced that the unit – as today’s rumours suggest – needs to be completely overhauled. The shape and feel of the controller is outstanding, with the build quality, barring the aforementioned secondary shoulder buttons, exceptional throughout. The face buttons are soft yet responsive to the touch, and the controller doesn’t seem to wear as easily as Microsoft’s alternative.
Indeed, it seems unlikely that Sony would meddle with the formula unless it wanted to take its next platform in a brand new direction, which may just be the basis for the overhauled controller reports. Apparently, the manufacturer is considering adding a screen to the unit, which would be difficult to implement without a complete redesign. Other proposed ideas include the insertion of touch interfaces, presumably on the front and rear like the PlayStation Vita.
But are such additions truly necessary? The Wii U shows excellent promise, but outside of flagship titles like ZombiU, it’s yet to really establish a necessary use for the additional screen. Off-screen play and menu management is obviously a luxury on the touch screen device, but is it significant enough to overhaul an iconic design?
It's possible that Sony could be mulling over a modification to give its upcoming platform the appearance of something bold, brave, and new
Other suggestions include some kind of biometric feature that would allow the controller to detect heart rate, perspiration, and muscle movements. The official patent for the technology – filed in late 2011 – proposes potential uses such as impacted aiming precision when your heart rate is high, or even more subtle tweaks to the soundtrack and visuals. While it all sounds undeniably interesting, would the functionality really add enough to the experience to warrant the inevitable price hike? Even if it did, it’s unlikely that Sony would need to change the controller much to implement the technology. Sensors could easily be added to the existing DualShock’s grips – in fact, that’s exactly what the original patent suggests.
We suppose it’s entirely possible that the company could be mulling over a modification in order to give its upcoming platform the appearance of something bold, brave, and new. But change for change’s sake seems like a bad idea, especially when it involves a piece of hardware as iconic as the DualShock.
Of course, this isn’t the first time that Sony’s considered ditching the decade-old device. Back when the PS3 was first announced in 2005, the system was accompanied by a curved controller, which has lovingly adopted the ‘boomerang’ moniker in the years since. The company eventually opted to scrap the unit before release, but it shows that the manufacturer has toyed with other ideas in the past.
And this may be a further example of that: experimentation. We’d be disappointed if the company didn’t consider alternative options, but we hope that whatever it settles on, it does so for the right reasons. There may be a more versatile, comfortable controller out there waiting to be designed – but it’s going to need to be something special to outmuscle the existing DualShock 3.
Do you think that it’s time to ditch the DualShock controller? How do you think that the current iteration of the peripheral could be improved? Let us know in the comments section below.