Introduction and Thoughts About Touch Controls on a Console

sony

So, this being my first post at MAXKOE, I thought I would introduce myself a little before I get started.  My name is PJ, and I’ve been gaming since I saved up money from my paper route to buy an NES with Super Mario Brothers.  From there, I dabbled in PC gaming before moving to the Genesis during my college years, and then to the original Xbox after getting married.  After a PSP or two, I bought the PS3 after we had our second kid, before finally getting the Vita after our third was born.  Now, I’m anxiously waiting for November 15th and the PS4 to be released.  I play as often as I can, which is usually after everyone else in the house is asleep.

With that out of the way, I thought I’d like to talk about the new controller for the PS4 a little bit.  Each generation tries to find a new level of immersion in the gaming experience.  When the Wii came out, motion controls went from being a gimmick to being the primary way to control a game.  Hardcore gamers were (and still are) skeptical, but the console sold incredibly well, as kids and families and eventually more core gamers started to embrace the technology.  Sony and Microsoft tried their hands at it with limited success (the Move has never had a killer app, and the Kinect has been plagued with spotty performance), but both are continuing to the next gen with enhanced motion controls as more of a throw-in than as a system-seller (I make these assumptions based on Microsoft removing the Kinect 2 requirement, and Sony deciding not to include the camera in every PS4).

This generation has also seen revamped standard controllers, and while the Xbox One’s new controller has been enhanced, it is essentially the same layout as the current 360 controller.  Sony has added a new wrinkle which is the point of this post (that it only took me two and a half paragraphs to get to).  Putting a touchpad on the Dualshock 4 seems like an interesting addition that can be at part bringing it more in line with the Vita’s control scheme, partially a nod to gaming on mobile devices, and hopefully innovative.  But, will it really be that way?

I have played several games on the Vita that had touch controls added in a way that, instead of adding to the immersion experience, took away from it.  Uncharted: Golden Abyss has been the worst offender so far.  I actually enjoyed the game apart from having to “rub” the screen to clean artifacts, swiping the screen to fight hand to hand, and (while it’s not touch-based, but still a forced inclusion), using the camera to light up a piece of paper.  Assassin’s Creed: Liberation used the rear touch pad to pick-pocket, and while the idea of that functionality was great in that it seemed more logical to use, the execution of the move was not so straight forward and it became difficult to accomplish.

So far, a few games have announced how they will implementing the touch pad in their games on the PS4.  Killzone: Shadow Fall, inFamous: Second Son, and now, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (by the way, what’s with all the secondary titles for all these games?) have each added their own spin on these options.  In some cases, the results seem like they could really enhance the experience, but in others, it removes you from it, and turns it into something like a mini-game.  Killzone will utilize the touch pad as a way to control the drone which I think makes a lot of sense, depending on the execution.  As I understand it, the touch controls are small and therefore will not require you to remove your hands from the normal playing position for long in order to perform the task.  Two uses within inFamous have been demoed that I’m aware of, with very different degrees of success.  Using it as a “mini-game” to match-up your finger to where the character’s finger should be seems a little like trying to fit something in where it didn’t need to be.  Hopefully that will be tweaked a little before final release.  Using the touch-pad to absorb powers just like it is an extra button, I don’t have as much of a problem with, because a button is a button.  Finally, Assassin’s Creed will be using the touch pad for navigation within the map (which in this game should be very extensive).  From what I’ve read, this is a perfectly intuitive use of the controls and really make the experience better.

So at the end of the day, it largely depends on how the designers choose to use the controls as to whether they will feel like an integral part of the game-play or something tacked on to justify the inclusion of the touch pad on the controller.  I’m hoping for more uses like Assassin’s Creed to really take this into the next generation.

So, what’s your take?  Do you think we will see more innovative control ideas?  Or will the novelty wear out, leaving the touch controls on the Dualshock unused?

PJ (Personal Blog)

(Sources:  IGN, twice, and vg247.com)

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