Ramifications of the PS3 controller

Since my last post, I’ve been thinking about the ramifications of the PS3 controller.

Although IGN asserts that the PS3 controller is nothing but a tilt sensor, it was described at the press conference as a 6 degrees of freedom (6DOF) controller. This means that it should detect tilt and motion in 3 axes (X, Y, and Z). I have a bit of experience with these types of sensors and I assume that the motion detection is accelerometer-based (since there are no external sensors for reference or calibration). That means it is okay for relative motion, but poor for absolute motion (the exact position in space tends to “slide” over time).

Technology and Gameplay

Now a bit about what I see as the key differences between the PS3 and Wii controllers. As I’ve described, I expect that the PS3 controller can detect orientation (very well) and changes in position (with small errors that accumulate over time). Based on what I know about the Wii controller, it looks to provide the same sort of orientation detection, better position detection (using position relative to external sensors), and exact pointer control (using the sensor at the front of the controller). So, the question is “how will these differences affect potential gameplay?”

It should be immediately obvious that there will be some games that cannot be played using the PS3 controller instead of the Wii controller. The most obvious is anything that that requires pointing to items on screen. It should be fairly intuitive to point at something directly using the Wii controller, but I can’t see how it would be possible on the PS3. The Wii controller could be used to easily navigate onscreen menus by pointing at them, but you won’t be able to do this on the PS3. This could make quite a difference in RTS or RPG games.

Anything that requires robust absolute positioning will also be problematic on the PS3. Accelerometers generally don’t provide “clean” data, and without external calibration you can’t know where the device is relative to the screen. This limits some types of gameplay. For example, a Wii Nintendogs game could position a toy exactly where the controller is relative to the screen, but a similar game on the PS3 will not be able to do so.

Effect on the Industry

Now onto what this all means to the games industry. Sony have offered a way for game developers to experiment with “tilt and motion” sensitive games without sacrificing potential sales by limiting themselves to a single platform (namely, the Wii). Even though the feature set isn’t as good as the Wii controller, third parties may be able to port their games by making a few changes. For example, they could replace the pointer-style input for menu selection with a more traditional scheme using the analog stick or direction pad, or they could remove requirements for absolute positioning.

It could all come down to developing for the lowest common denominator. In the current generation, many games were developed with the PS2 in mind because it was the least powerful and any PS2 game could easily be ported to the XBOX or Gamecube. Sony’s PS3 controller could represent a lowest common denominator for motion sensors, and this could have bad consequences. Here are a few possible negative ramifications on the major players:

  • Worse case for Nintendo: Third party Wii games tend not to utilise the Wii controller fully and they just look like the PS3 versions with worse graphics.
  • Worse case for Microsoft: Microsoft is now the only controller without basic motion sensors and people opt for the PS3 versions of games.
  • Worse case for Sony: Like the analog buttons on the Dual Shock 2, the motion sensor is not used much since games are developed with the Xbox360 controller in mind as well.

I suppose decribing these as the worst cases is a bit of a stretch. None of these scenarios is absolutely abysmal for any company: People may buy Wii for the first party games or because it is inexpensive, Microsoft could release a “Controller M” (for motion!), and Sony just end up paying for under-utilised features (it’s a decent gamble). I guess we’ll have to wait and see what happens. It could turn out to be a useless gimmick (like the PS2 analog buttons and the Dreamcast VMU) or it could help Sony maintain their position as market leader.

One thought on “Ramifications of the PS3 controller”

  1. It’s also interesting for Sony to remove the vibration because it “interferes with information detected by the sensor”. This may be true… but I do believe the court case with Immersion had something to do with it.

    They may be just taking down two birds with one stone. A good excuse to not use the vibration, and make it semi-compatible with Wii motion controller.

    My own thoughts about the motion sensing tends to be along the lines of the analog buttons. I wouldn’t say it was useless, as some games (notably racing games) did use the feature. However, it wasn’t widely used, and ended up as a optional gimmick.

    I agree with Nick. Perhaps they should have stuck to their guns, and went with the ‘boomarang’ controller. Inital reactions were bad, but after that, people seemed to more accepting to the controller. Oh well….

    Sorry for long comment… and…. FFXIII! Sweeeeet! …. ahem…. 😛

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