E3 Notebook: The new trend in game controllers

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First it was Nintendo’s Wii (nee: Revolution). Now Sony’s Playstation 3 will have it. Tilt-and-motion sensitivity is already the big trend from this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, and the gaming trade show doesn’t officially start until Wednesday.

When Nintendo first took the wraps off the controller for its forthcoming Wii video game console, the game market was a bit taken aback. First of all, the controller doesn’t look like the M-shaped contraptions we’ve become accustomed to from gamepads—instead, it looks more like a television remote control. And Nintendo has made it clear from the start that the controller itself would be used with motion and tilting in mind, to help add an immersive quality to gameplay. So you can cast a rod in fishing games, strike blows with your sword in fighting games, or hit a ball with a bat in baseball games, just as you would in real life.

Now Sony has revealed that the controller for its Playstation 3 game console, which will go on sale this November, also uses tilt-and-motion sensitivity.

The controller looks remarkably like the Dual Shock analog controllers we’ve gotten accustomed to since the original PlayStation was released. This is a step back from the fluted, aerodynamic-looking controller Sony has previously shown when discussing the PlayStation 3—that controller was already a source of debate and derision in the gaming community.

But what differentiates the controller isn’t so much the design as what’s inside. It can sense when it’s being turned to the left and to the right, up and down, adding six degrees of motion in three dimensional space to a control system that already uses a directional pad, forward-facing flippers, buttons, dual thumbsticks, and a mysterious center button that Sony hasn’t yet defined a use for. And this looks like a functional improvement that should translate into more intuitive gameplay, even for beginners.

If you’ve ever watched a PlayStation newbie wield a controller, they often tilt the controller to the left and to the right while playing, convinced (or perhaps just intuiting) that it’ll have some effect on what’s going on on screen.

In the same way, games being developed for the new PlayStation 3 will feature support for this feature, helping to put the system on a level playing field with the Wii.

Will this translate into new and improved gamepads for PCs, and subsequently, Macs? It’s almost a certainty—the game controller market for computers has been following the trends forged in consoles for years. I’m curious to know how this tilt-and-motion capability would be programmed, however.

Apple, for example, long ago embraced HID Manager as its input system of choice for Mac OS X, which has enabled the platform to support game controllers that use an industry-standard input methodology. And for several years now, Apple has also supported force-feedback in controllers that utilize Immersion’s haptics system—one of the most popular on the market.

I hope to have these answers for you soon, but count on seeing new controllers that offer support for tilt-and-motion capabilities in the months and years to come.

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