PlayStation Controllers Explained, And What Could Be Next For PS5

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DualShock Through The Ages

Following the announcement of the PlayStation 5’s Holiday 2020 launch window, we’ve got some new details about what to expect from Sony’s next-gen console. With ray-tracing capabilities, an SSD storage device, and an optical drive that supports 4K UHD discs, the PS5 is looking to be a substantial leap forward from the PS4. But with every reveal of a new console, the one thing that many users want to see is the controller itself–the device that will allow people to connect with the console and the games they’ll play.

PlayStation’s DualShock has become one of gaming’s most iconic controllers, possessing features that would go on to become a trailblazer within the market. There’s a lot to learn from PlayStation’s history and how it created some of the most memorable devices in recent memory. With this in mind, let’s take a look back at the history of PlayStation controllers, and how they’ve helped shape nearly 25 years of gaming.

For more on the latest with PlayStation 5, and what could be next, be sure to check out our roundup of the latest announcements.

The Digital Controller | Release Date: December 4, 1994

Conceptualized by former Sony Computer Entertainment designer Teiyu Goto, the original PlayStation controller was a little different from what people expected. Possessing two sets of shoulder buttons and an overall unusual shape that had actual grips for players to grab onto, the finalized design presented to Sony executives received some tepid responses. In an interview with 1UP, the designer explained that it needed to differentiate itself from other gaming controllers, particularly the Super Nintendo. Just before the development of the PlayStation, Sony had failed to enter the gaming market after a falling out with Nintendo–which served as the catalyst for the tech company’s trajectory in the field. Goto’s controller was designed to work with both 2D games and others that utilized new 3D graphics, and after several meetings and hands-on sessions, internal reception changed.

Known as the Digital controller, the distinct shape and button layout would eventually become the most recognizable aspect of the original PlayStation, and for the consoles that followed. The controller’s eye-catching Triangle, Square, Circle, and Cross buttons would become an iconic part of the PlayStation brand, essentially becoming the console’s logo of sorts. The Triangle represents perspective; Square reflects a piece of paper–i.e., information and data–and the Cross and Circle buttons are decline and confirm. Though depending on either Western or Eastern regions, the button inputs for Confirm or Decline will vary. The Digital controller was discontinued towards the end of the console’s life-cycle, but it would make a brief comeback for the launch of the PlayStation Classic, a poorly received console that nonetheless served up some of the greatest hits from the early PlayStation era.

The Dual Analog Controller | Release Date: April 25, 1997

With PlayStation games making significant strides in the still-new 3D space, Sony would eventually release an enhanced controller that allowed for more sophisticated control. As the direct successor to the Digital controller, the Dual Analog was released in the West on April 25, 1997. With two analog sticks and a slightly larger shape compared to its predecessor, players had a greater range of movement and precision than before. The Dual Analog device also featured longer shoulder buttons, allowing players to get an easier feel of the inputs on the tops of the controller. At launch, the games that supported analog control were Mechwarrior 2, Ace Combat 2, and Colony Wars. In one feature that was dropped from future devices, users could activate a “Flightstick Mode,” which would replicate the experience of the more expensive Analog Joystick controller.

A few months after its release, Japan would get a similar controller–with the difference being that it would feature vibration. This device would eventually be known as the DualShock. During the development of the new twin analog stick controller, Sony Computer Entertainment had planned on releasing a device with analog sticks and vibration for all territories at the same time. This didn’t come to pass, however, resulting in the creation of the Dual Analog, which lacked vibration. Though reasons for this decision–including competing patents from Atari–vary, the lack of haptic feedback made the controller more affordable than other PlayStation peripherals on the market. Eventually, Sony would bring the DualShock to the West, resulting in the subsequent discontinuing of the Dual Analog. Though in a case of history repeating itself, this wouldn’t be the last time that the company would release a controller without the vibration functionality.

The DualShock | Release Date: November 20 1997 [Japan] / May 1998 [North America]

The DualShock controller, featuring twin analog sticks and haptic feedback, was a significant upgrade for PlayStation peripherals. While the device was introduced fairly late into the PlayStation’s life-cycle, it would go on to find great success, setting the standard for the PlayStation interface going forward. Following the DualShock’s launch in all territories, Sony discontinued the production of the original Digital controller and the Dual Analog. The first game that required the use of analog sticks was Ape Escape, laying the groundwork for PlayStation games with this new control method going forward. Another game to make use of the DualShock–though not exclusive to the controller–was Metal Gear Solid. In addition to controlling movement with the analog sticks, Konami’s stealth-action game made some clever use of the game’s vibration functions during some of the game’s key moments, showing a level of self-awareness not seen in games at the time.

The DualShock 2 | Release Date: March 4, 2000

Not wanting to disrupt a good thing, the DualShock 2 for the PlayStation 2 was mostly a minor upgrade from its PS1 predecessor. Now featuring a black finish to accompany its console’s look–which would go on to become the standard aesthetic for PlayStation moving forward–the DualShock 2 was lighter and more functional than its predecessor. One of the more noticeable upgrades was the pressure-sensitive inputs for all face buttons and shoulder buttons. With the DualShock 2, all inputs (except for Start, Select, R3, and L3) on the controller were registered as analog inputs, giving each button a wider range of possible input. Depending on how hard you press the face buttons, that input would be reflected in the game. For instance, in Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec, your car’s acceleration would depend on how much pressure you apply to the face and shoulder buttons. In addition to the DualShock 2 introducing pressure-sensitive buttons inputs, the analog sticks also featured a more detailed range in motion, offering more responsive feedback in games.

“The Boomerang” Controller | Unreleased

Debuting at E3 2005, the PlayStation 3 was positioned as an all-in-one home entertainment system, allowing users access to the then-new Blu-Ray format to watch films and play games at a higher fidelity. To better utilize this all-in-one device, Sony presented a controller with a button dedicated to backing out of applications to return to the PS3’s home screen. It was also the first time that an official PlayStation controller was wireless, allowing for you to charge its internal batteries via USB. These features were undoubtedly impressive at the time; however, at its debut, many people were distracted by its unorthodox design

This new controller featured a familiar button layout but was dubbed the “Boomerang” by the gaming press and fans online due to its resemblance to a toy boomerang with a glossy finish. The intent behind the new controller was to reflect the new and more modern approach of the PS3. However, a lot of negativity fixated on the look of the peripheral, prompting Sony to go back to the drawing board. It would eventually be resigned, making the Sixaxis more in line with controllers that came before. Despite the backlash, Sony’s then VP of Worldwide Studios Phil Harrison stated that the design of the controller was never final.

The Sixaxis Controller | Release Date: November 6, 2006

Due to an ongoing patent infringement case during the PlayStation 3’s development, the console launched with a controller that lacked rumble support. The Sixaxis controller was the apparent successor to the DualShock, but without one of its predecessor’s essential features, Sony developers focused more on the device’s function as a motion-control device. At the time, the push for motion-controls was an increasingly popular trend throughout the 2000s, allowing users to have a deeper level of engagements with products. However, many regular PlayStation users had trouble getting over the lack of vibration feedback.

While the original Sixaxis was much lighter than the previous controllers due to the absence of vibration, it also puts it in stark contrast to its competitors–even the DualShock 2. The Sixaxis’ motion-control functionality was a big selling point for the device, and several games like Warhawk and Lair leaned heavily on the new movement style. However, in the years following its release, motion controls would become a minor feature for the games of the PS3. Nearly a year after the PS3’s launch, Sony would introduce the next core peripheral for its still-new console that brought back rumble support.

The DualShock 3 | Release Date: November 11, 2007

Going back to the DualShock name, the PS3’s DualShock 3 was a standard Sixaxis controller with added vibration feedback. With the release of a new controller, some existing games received updates to add in vibration support, and all future PS3 games would also include the feature. One of the first big games to utilize the DualShock 3’s rumble feature was Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Much like how the original Metal Gear Solid broke the fourth wall to acknowledge the DualShock, MGS4 also included some moments where it singled out the controller–even poking fun at how the Sixaxis didn’t have haptic feedback. In 2008, Sony officially discontinued the original Sixaxis controller.

The DualShock 4 | Release Date: November 14, 2013

The PlayStation 4’s DualShock 4 was a big step forward for the controller, enhancing most of the existing features from previous iterations. It largely retained the same distinctive shape and set of features that previous controllers had, such as vibration, wireless functionality, and motion-controls–but it also introduced a slew of new upgrades that leaned further into the convergence of gaming and online entertainment. Continuing the PS3’s focus on being a nexus for home entertainment and online gaming, Sony added a dedicated Share button on the DualShock 4, as well as an Options button, effectively doing away with the traditional Start and Select. The Share button allows you to record quick videos and screenshots of your play sessions, and easily share them online through social media. The shoulder buttons also saw an upgrade, particularly the L2 and R2 buttons, which moved away from the flat design from previous generations to a more curved and protruding shape. This made them feel more like an actual trigger, making them more comfortable to use during action-oriented games.

The DualShock 4 also features a new light bar, making the top plate of the controller glow in different colors depending on the game you’re playing or actions you’re performing on the PS4. One of the controller’s most significant innovations came in the form of the touchpad on the front center of the device. Doubling as an actual button, which many games use as a way to access menus, the surface of the touchpad also allows users to use it in a similar vein to a trackpad from a laptop. This light bar essentially added a mood lighting feature for the controller and could be adjusted to your liking. Sony would eventually release an upgraded version of the DualShock 4 to coincide with the PS4 Pro. In this new model, the LED lighting from the controller now shines through the top of the touchpad, allowing you to see the changes lights on the face of the controller. Also, players could use the controller as a dedicated wired controller via USB, which wasn’t possible with previous models.

What’s Next For PlayStation 5?

Compared to other videogame controllers, the PlayStation controller has been one of the more visually consistent devices, giving it an iconic presence over the years. In recent coverage from Wired Magazine, an early prototype of the controller was described as looking very similar to the PS4’s DualShock 4, complete with a matte-black finish. One detail described in the article was that haptic-feedback tech was applied to different areas of the controller. According to Wired, the PS5’s prototype controller had something called “adaptive triggers,” which offer greater control and precision when applying a certain amount of pressure. This can potentially replicate the feeling of tension and force in the device’s button and triggers.

In a post on the official PlayStation blog, Sony Interactive Entertainment President Jim Ryan stated that this new haptic-feedback technology will replace the traditional rumble feature, allowing for a greater sense of immersion via the PlayStation controller. The SIE president also confirmed that prototype controllers are already in the hands of developers. Whether the PS5’s controller will be called the DualShock 5 or if Sony will try to move onto something else remains to be seen. Still, given recent patents focusing on AI and voice feedback within the controller, there seems to be a lot of focus on trying to further engage users with the console than ever before.

Source: Game Spot Mashup