In the early 1960's, the gaming industry was really more focused on general user interfaces that simply ‘did the job’. Over the years, console designers have increasing become more focused on the physical manifestations of the console as well as how the user is to interact with the console. With increasing technological complexity of the console, the interfaces run the risk of becoming increasingly complex without careful consideration.
The console controller really hasn’t changes at all from one of its early iterations for the ‘Nintendo Entertainment System’ to the next generation consoles we are seeing today. They still hold all the core functions but with added features to allow for the added functionality found in today’s games. With more movement controls to allow for the use of the 3rd dimension and more buttons and triggers to give more gameplay functions things really haven’t changed a lot. But, they have changed. More features have had to be added and with the future development in games this is only going to increase especially when having to cater one controller for a wide variety of game styles/ mechanics.
To help with this increase in functionally needed and keeping with the demand for a versatile controller we are starting to see more peripherals that are using non analogue forms of collecting feedback. Motion tracking is something that has been attempted in the industry for a while but was never really pulled off till the release of the Nintendo Wii. It brought a whole new way for you to interact with the game without adding a new bunch on buttons, triggers or joysticks. These functions where still there but the motion tracking of the controllers allowed for this expanse of functionality without the large multiplication of the number of input types.
We have seen since then an increase in the number of peripherals that do the same thing (e.g. PlayStation Move, Razer Hydra) but moving on we’ve seen a shift into how we can get his interaction without having a physical object in hand at all. The introduction of the Xbox Kinect really pushed the boundaries of what was capable as a way of controlling games with as little of a peripheral as possible. It is able to do so much more than just movement and rudimentary Boolean inputs. With the newest iteration released for the Xbox One the Kinect sensor can read facial expressions, heart rate, as well as force feedback and more, allowing for much more versatile interaction with the games.
This technology has also been brought to the desktop with the use of a ‘Leap motion Controller’ which effectively does the same thing but tracks your hands and fingers to do the controls. As well as being used for software and game controls it has often been pared with upcoming ‘Virtual reality’ devices to add to the immersion.
With the addition of VR to the market it is adding a new way to both visualise and interact with the medium. The Oculus Rift allows for head motion and tilt tracking and companies are trying to find ways to increase the amount body reaction and movement tracking with new peripherals, like the Leap Motion. A great example of another devise would be the ‘Virtuix Omni’ treadmill which is the first virtual reality interface for moving freely and naturally in a game environment.
Devices like these are all well and good but we are moving away from a world where we are just adding more and more buttons to our controllers to one which you have to fully kit yourself out in a variety of peripherals to get the “full” VR experience. That’s not to say that this is right or wrong but we are yet to find the ideal controller, and who’s to say that such an item can ever exist. With the ever expanding games industry more new and exciting gameplay is being created that needs more new and exciting ways to interact with it, thus making it increasing difficult to produce the perfect interaction design.
I am Elliott Pacel, a Technical Artist at Reflections, Ubisoft.