If this is the PlayStation 4 controller, Sony hasn’t learned a damned thing

If this is the PlayStation 4 controller, Sony hasn’t learned a damned thing

Destructoid ran an image of what looked to be the prototype of the PlayStation 4 controller. You can see that image on the top of this story. Multiple sources have told multiple outlets that the image is real, although it’s a picture of an early prototype controller, and may not represent the final product. This wouldn’t be the first time Sony has dramatically changed the shape and ideas behind its upcoming controllers. Does anyone remember the boomerang that was shown off in 2005?

Still, if only half of the features shown in that prototype controller make it into production, we can expect some bad news for the system’s first batch of games. That isn’t a prototype controller, it’s more evidence that Sony has a hard time learning lessons from its own past.

Drop motion controls

It’s rarely talked about these days, but the original PlayStation 3 controller contained no rumble, but it did include basic motion controls. The first few waves of PlayStation 3 games included some tacked-on areas where you could tilt the controller to interact with the game, and the infamous Lair was partially sunk due to the terrible controls. IGN has created a detailed look at the PlayStation 4 prototype, and there is not one, but two possibilities for gimmicky controls included: That touchscreen and the Move-like light on the top of the controller.

So what can we expect from launch titles, based on this information? Gimmicky, tacked-on segments where you have to interact with the game via the touch screen, or by waving the controller around in front of the screen. The Vita includes both front and rear touchscreens, and they do little except drive the price of the unit up. At least the Vita’s touchscreen allows you to interact directly with the objects in the game; the touchpad seen in this controller would force you to look at your television while rubbing the pad.

I’m trying to think of some way that action would add to a game, but I’m coming up blank.

Sony has a long history of throwing a bunch of technology at problems it doesn’t understand. By packing everything into a controller, they’re showing that they’re suffering from the same lack of vision that caused the Vita to be such a costly challenge in the market. If you don’t know if gamers want standard controls, touch controls, or motion controls, why not just jam all of them into a single Frankenstein controller? The problem is that a lack of vision from the console’s manufacturer leads to muddled, unfocused games where all this technology is used in annoying ways.

Outside of the Nintendo Wii, motion controls have also been something of a dead end for gamers. There are few Kinect or PlayStation Move games that are must-haves, and the failures have been public and embarrassing. There’s a reason that the Kinect has become little more than a glorified microphone, allowing you to yell commands at the screen in games like Dead Space 3 and Mass Effect 3.

Adding a Move-like sensor to every PlayStation 4 controller may mean that the controller is now in every house without an optional purchase, but that could be a bad thing. Now developers may be tempted, if not outright incentivized by Sony, to cram motion control sequences into its games.

First-party launch titles are usually used to show off everything a system can do, which is why you were rubbing everything you saw in the Vita Uncharted release, so everything that makes it into the controller will make it into the first run of Sony-published games. The ideas seen on this controller are things that gamers have tried, and mostly rejected. Touch controls may work on phones, but do we need them on consoles? Do we even want them?

This prototype is scary

It’s possible that the prototype will undergo massive changes before launch, and developers will find great uses for it, but this early look is a little scary. Sony has often fallen into the trap of throwing technology at gamers and developers that they may not want or need, and this is the controller of a company who is flailing while trying to figure out the direction of the next generation of gaming. Instead of coming up with a solution, they simply shrugged and gave us an unwieldy, feature-laden mess.

We’ll have to wait until an official announcement before we can say anything for sure, and Sony definitely has the time and resources to change course, but if this image is legit it’s bad news for the company. By offering us everything, Sony seems to be saying they know nothing.