Hardware is Gimmicks


So, we have the PS4. And the PS4 has a big thing in the middle of the controller that has the function of a track pad but which you can press in like a button. So a track pad on a Mac, then. It’s the specter of hardware gimmicks in new consoles again. When you’re trying to persuade the users to throw their old consoles and all its games away, sometimes plain old slightly better graphics just doesn’t adequately provide that motivation. So the other thing you can do to persuade people to move with the times is pretend that the hardware by which the games are played has had to be massively updated, putting paid to silly notions like backwards compatibility.

Except that the gaming controller was basically perfected with the Dual Shock. Every major console since then – with the exception of the ever-anomalous Wii – has had a controller with the same layout. Two analog sticks, a D-pad for the left hand and four buttons for the right, and dual triggers and shoulder buttons for the fingers (although the Gamecube controller only had one shoulder button, it was the first sign of Nintendo’s difficult rebellious phase).

So, the degree by which next-gen consoles could tinker with the design of the controllers was severely limited. Not just because the dual shock is basically fine, but also because straying from the usual template makes it harder to port games from one system to another. The dual shock is essentially standardized at this point. The unofficial go-to controller for PC gaming is an Xbox 360 controller with a USB cable, since we tend not to use the 360 much after having had to make room in our limited number of HDMI ports for the new consoles.

Microsoft didn’t change the controller at all for the Xbox One since they were using the packed-in Kinect to fulfill their mandatory hardware gimmick requirements. Sony are doing the trackpad thing. Subtracting elements from the controller would have been like putting a fucking gun to their head, so all they could do was add features. But since, as we’ve established, the dual shock controller is fine, anything they add is almost certainly going to be useless.

Its function in Killzone: Shadow Fall is to let you switch between four functions of your little robot pal by swiping in one of the four cardinal directions, which essentially makes it a D-pad. One can imagine any number of ways the same functionality could have been achieved with a dual shock as standard. Like for instance by using the D-pad it already fucking has. I know it already had a function in the game, but there’s no reason you couldn’t change the function when another button is held down. Maybe that’s a little fiddly, but no more so than having to stretch one of your thumbs over to the track pad.

You might say I’m harping on a bit on something completely harmless that doesn’t get in the way of any of the other controls I love so much. But here’s the thing, reader: The track pad HAS to have a purpose. And it has to be a purpose that no other control has, or at least couldn’t do as efficiently. Because if it doesn’t, then we find ourselves wondering what the point of putting it in there was. And if we start asking that, we might start asking other questions, like what the point of the entire new console generation was.

You know what it reminds me of is that bit from that one Pierce Brosnan James Bond film where he remotely controls a car with a touchscreen on a smartphone, which was really impressive technology at the time, laughably. There’s a thought – perhaps the pad could have been used to control the little robot friend in Killzone directly. Except you couldn’t have moved the player character around at the same time, ‘cos you need to release at least one stick to finger the pad. Gosh, it’s getting awfully hot in here. And if you can’t realistically control both at once, then you might as well just switch between controlling one or the other with the standard setup.

I’ll be honest – I don’t like track pads. I’ve plugged a traditional mouse into every laptop I’ve ever had, and used track pads only for queuing up my next few sweets. Touchscreens I’m fine with, ‘cos you can see the thing you’re pressing on. Track pads are like a shitty interface perfect storm of limited range of movement and non-existent feedback. And the thing about the one on the PS4 controller is that it’s a sort of amalgamation of several different kinds of control. You can press it in like a button, and you can make both digital and analog movements on it like both a D-pad and an analog stick. Which sounds good, but lest we forget, the controller already has all of those things, and what’s more, anyone with a regulation finger layout can use them all simultaneously. The trackpad cannot be used without disabling your ability to use at least some of the other controls.

See, this is a repeat of the issue I have with the Wii U screen controller in single player gaming: you can’t look at both screens at the same time, ‘cos you do not have the eyes of a chameleon (at least I presume you don’t), so you might as well just have one screen that switches back and forth between the views. But the thing about the Wii U screen controller is that it can come into its own in local multiplayer, because it allows one player to be seeing things the other players can’t. The PS4 trackpad by comparison adds nothing to a local multiplayer situation, except for the fact that it’s fairly easy to reach over and mess around with the one on the controller of the person sitting next to you.

In summary, I think it’s a colossal gimmicky waste of time designed only to dazzle the stupid with a half-hearted facade of innovation. But as always, I’m prepared to be convinced otherwise, I just can’t think of a use for it that the other controls couldn’t cover fairly easily, with one exception: it is absolute perfect for operations that employ the player’s face. But it’s never going to be used for that because Sony are cowards. They’re afraid of the hygiene issues – imagine picking it up to play Clitoral Stimulation Simulation and lovingly placing your tongue against it only to find that your housemate had just finished using it to play Interactive Truffle Snuffling. And now you know what their snot tastes like. The passive-aggressive post-it notes would only be the start of it.

Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn’t talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.

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