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Is there anything about gamepads that you wish were different?

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  • Is there anything about gamepads that you wish were different?

    What stands out to you as some of the most important things hardware developers could do to make their controllers better?

  • #2
    Hello, such an interesting question here

    I think that the most inaccurate thing many gamepads have is a stick — that would be cool to make it more precise. Luckily, Xbox controllers have pretty great resolution.

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    • #3
      Oh boy. Lets dive into this.

      Everything.

      So that's vague. Let's get into some details. First of all, we're really still working with Controller v1.X. The DualSense/Xbox controllers (and even the joycon to a slightly lesser extent) all stem from some early controller designs. "D-Pad on the left, multiple buttons for your right thumb" has been the standard since....forever? Even early arcade games utilized this basic layout. The SNES gave us the iconic 4 face buttons with bumpers. Then the PSX gave us the second set of buttons on top and the two joystick. So at worst we can say we're still using the first idea of controllers and at best we can say our innovation stopped almost 30 years ago. That's terrible.

      Let's put this in perspective. The basic modern controller is 27 years old and in that time we haven't addressed *any* of the problems with the design. Assigning 4 face buttons AND a joystick to a single thumb -- which goes to both sides as well (dpad and joystick for one thumb). Joystick drift (though this one actually has tech to address it but companies are too cheap to use Hall Effect sensors rather than potentiometers). The awkwardness of the bumpers/triggers (one finger grip vs two finger grip). Several fingers sitting on the back of the controller with nothing to do. But instead of thinking outside of the box and making a true successor to the SNES/DualShock controller the industry shifted to iteration. Analog face buttons, touchpads, accelerometers, gyroscopes, different types of physical feedback, new triggers. And don't get me wrong, I don't want to knock any of that. I use the IMU (inertial measurement unit -- it's responsible for gyro aiming) for a ton of stuff. I love touchpads, both the DS4 and the Steam Controller ones. They're highly flexible and cover a variety of use cases. Haptic feedback tech is really neat and the adaptive triggers in the DS5 are immersive. I'm glad this stuff exists. But it's like continuing to add content updates to a buggy game rather than provide patches to address the issues.

      I'd love to see someone really think outside of the box. Split controllers are the way forward I think, not only from a comfort perspective but it also allows for an extra IMU to be seen, which opens up all sorts of option input-wise. One shoulder button (probably the trigger) for your primary finger and then 3 digital buttons down the back of the controller for your remaining 3 fingers. One input on top of the controller for your thumb. This input should be modular with modules for joystick, a diamond set of digital buttons, or a touchpad. This would allow not just flexibility in genre (dpads for platformers, dual joysticks for shooters, etc) but would also allow for handiness preference like moving with the right hand and jumping/punching/etc with the left. Alongside this modular component should be auxiliary buttons, 2 per controller. Start, Select, Aux3, and Aux4. I don't have names for them.

      And I understand this is still quite inside the box. It's basically just JoyCons with back buttons and a modular top. There's probably some really neat input based tech out there that. Not to mention this still focuses on the hands. Where are the foot controllers? There's an on rails shooter arcade cabinet that uses a giant foot pedal to shift you in and out of cover (hold down to go into cover, release to poke out) and it's awesome. Let's bring some of that into the home without getting into the "made for a specific genre" peripherals. I think the Xbox Adaptive controller was onto a fantastic idea but it sort of got pigeonholed into an accessibility device rather than an innovative look at controlling games.

      Which brings me to my biggest gripe with current controllers -- Microsoft and XInput. I'll keep this short because it's only tangentially related but as long as Microsoft a) continues to drag their feat technologically and b) continues to dominate and dictate PC game controllers then we'll never see any real advancement. I mean, it's 2022 and every modern game controller has an IMU except the Xbox. The PS5 has a touchpad and adaptive triggers. The JoyCons are pushing the split controller idea as well. They both have speakers (both an actual speaker and a haptic driver). And here Microsoft is with a controller that is functionally equivalent to that 27 year old PlayStation controller.

      Anywho, if you've read this far. Uhh...thanks? I'm a huge controller nerd and think about them way too much. This came off as negative but I do see a lot of innovation, just sadly not a lot of collaboration. Valve was working on advancing input theoretically, Nintendo is constantly pushing form, and Sony is highly iterative and is pushing this Controller v1 as far as it can go. I'd love to see the three of them come together (maybe with the wacky ideas of Flydigi) to truly make something next gen and revolutionary.

      Note: for those who don't know of Flydigi -- they put a third joystick under the face buttons. It's mostly used to replicate the idea in android games where you would click on a spell and then drag to aim like in the mobile League of Legends game. It's so weird but actually works well and is the kind of innovation I'd like to see in a "controller v2.0"

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      • #4
        That's so great to see a huge controller nerd in our community — you took so many words our of our mouth

        Not sure why Microsoft continues ignoring anything connected to gyroscope, even in their Adaptive controller, that's something Xbox controller obviously should have. Xbox 360 controller has a few unused bytes, and it seems that they considered adding accelerometer functionality back in 2005-2006, but something went wrong. Hope it will be changed someday.

        In the meantime, Sony continues making interesting controls but still is stuck to the same layout. Huh.

        By the way, we are excited about Flydigi too and are going to support Apex 2 controller in the upcoming release (with a few limitation though, it is not perfect on the hardware level, but the manufacturer states that new controllers will have a more complex report).

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        • #5
          That's interesting that Microsoft was toying with motion data but abandoned it. I'd wager they were trying things to compete with the Wii since, at least at launch, it only had an accelerometer. But eventually they decided to innovate on motion input rather than copy and made the Kinect. I think the sad thing about hoping for Microsoft to change is that their big takeaway from the DualSense is "those triggers are pretty neat, maybe we'll do something similar" and they've been radio silent about adding a gyro.

          The Flydigi support might get me to buy one. My DualShock 4 is is on it's last leg and really should be replaced but I don't want to waste money on a replacement, I want to upgrade it. Unfortunately there really isn't anything out there that's better yet. Though the DualSense is getting some aftermarket versions so that was what I was leaning towards. But the Apex 2 might be worth snagging first before I go dropping $200 on a SCUF Reflex or a HexGaming Ultimate controller.

          Edit: Except I just remembered the Apex 2 has staggered sticks. 😭 Well....the search continues. 😅

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          • #6
            Will see if it is possible to adjust the sticks of Flydigi the way they work better.

            I do hope the industry will be evolving and bring new devices that meet the needs of gamers. While reWASD will make them even more useful

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            • #7
              Originally Posted by CriticalComposer View Post
              So that's vague. Let's get into some details. First of all, we're really still working with Controller v1.X. The DualSense/Xbox controllers (and even the joycon to a slightly lesser extent) all stem from some early controller designs. "D-Pad on the left, multiple buttons for your right thumb" has been the standard since....forever? Even early arcade games utilized this basic layout. The SNES gave us the iconic 4 face buttons with bumpers. Then the PSX gave us the second set of buttons on top and the two joystick. So at worst we can say we're still using the first idea of controllers and at best we can say our innovation stopped almost 30 years ago. That's terrible.

              Let's put this in perspective. The basic modern controller is 27 years old and in that time we haven't addressed *any* of the problems with the design. Assigning 4 face buttons AND a joystick to a single thumb -- which goes to both sides as well (dpad and joystick for one thumb). Joystick drift (though this one actually has tech to address it but companies are too cheap to use Hall Effect sensors rather than potentiometers). The awkwardness of the bumpers/triggers (one finger grip vs two finger grip). Several fingers sitting on the back of the controller with nothing to do...
              For some reason your post reminds me of this. I've always thought that controllers were oddly shaped for human hands.

              Wooo, I haven't replied yet because I've been looking this stuff up on and off as I can. I have so many questions. First, holy crap the Apex 2 has an extra set of buttons! - In comparison to my Elite Series 2 anyway. That alone makes me want to get it. Is the shape of the "stick" space under the buttons round or the shape of the opening? I'm assuming the latter?

              Also, just how bad is staggered sticks? I've only ever played with staggered sticks. I have no idea what it's like to hold a playstation controller in my hand. Is asymmetrical sticks really a deal breaker?

              And, I'm mostly playing Halo Infinite; would I even benefit from a gyro/IMU?

              It's interesting to me that Microsoft pursued external motion capture for a while because that's where my thoughts went when I asked this question. It just seemed like it would end up being cheaper to produce an ultra-high frequency wearable that tracks tiny movements at high hertz. Or the same tech in a controller with dummy buttons and dummy sticks. It'd certainly be lighter. Theoretically, it wouldn't even matter what controller you used if it were a wearable or you had multiple sensors you could stick to the top and bottom of the controller. And to deal with occlusion you could supplement a wearable with EMG like with the MYO from thalmic labs.

              I'm not sure where this might fit in but the Peregrine glove was always something that really interested me. I've wanted one for so long now but I just never developed the nerve to actually pursue it. I'm wondering if the tech in that could supplement as well. If it was even necessary.
              Last edited by Jorinth; 14.01.2022, 23:09.

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              • #8
                Originally Posted by Jorinth View Post
                Wooo, I haven't replied yet because I've been looking this stuff up on and off as I can. I have so many questions. First, holy crap the Apex 2 has an extra set of buttons! - In comparison to my Elite Series 2 anyway. That alone makes me want to get it. Is the shape of the "stick" space under the buttons round or the shape of the opening? I'm assuming the latter?
                Unfortunately I don't know. I always saw it talked about in Android circles and it wasn't until recently that I saw it being used on a PC. It looks like it handled flick stick pretty well though so it at least hit all 4 cardinal directions well enough. I'm waiting to see what reWASD's limitations are regarding it before I pick it up.

                Originally Posted by Jorinth View Post
                Also, just how bad is staggered sticks? I've only ever played with staggered sticks. I have no idea what it's like to hold a playstation controller in my hand. Is asymmetrical sticks really a deal breaker?
                There isn't anything wrong with staggered sticks, it just isn't my preference. Like most people my age who have been gaming for a while, the Dualshock 1 was the first dual analog controller I used and I stuck with Sony through every gen. Even when I got a controller for the PC I used Logitech stuff like the F710 which used inline sticks. And despite my love for symmetry that isn't the deal. I'm not a fan of the WiiU Pro controller either.

                Originally Posted by Jorinth View Post
                And, I'm mostly playing Halo Infinite; would I even benefit from a gyro/IMU?
                100%. Gyro is fantastic for fine tuning your aim. Input from an IMU is a lot closer to a mouse than a joystick; it's vector based rather than deflection based. So where a joystick dictates direction and speed, the gyro dictates physical movement from one place to another (just like a mouse). A lot of people will use the right stick for gross aiming (turning corners, aiming close to a target, doing 180 spins) and then use the gyro for fine tuning it (tracking targets, lining up headshots, flick shots). Gyro is a game changer for aiming on a controller. I've been a mouse aimer for 20 years (starting on Quake 2) and I switched to gyro aiming about 5 years ago and am back up to my mouse aiming skills. There is a huge period of getting used to it though that should take 1-3 weeks depending on how quickly you acclimate to it. Just think back to the first time you learned stick aiming or mouse aiming. You didn't pick it up immediately. It'll be frustrating but just remember it'll be worth it.

                Originally Posted by Jorinth View Post
                It's interesting to me that Microsoft pursued external motion capture for a while because that's where my thoughts went when I asked this question. It just seemed like it would end up being cheaper to produce an ultra-high frequency wearable that tracks tiny movements at high hertz. Or the same tech in a controller with dummy buttons and dummy sticks. It'd certainly be lighter. Theoretically, it wouldn't even matter what controller you used if it were a wearable or you had multiple sensors you could stick to the top and bottom of the controller. And to deal with occlusion you could supplement a wearable with EMG like with the MYO from thalmic labs.

                I'm not sure where this might fit in but the Peregrine glove was always something that really interested me. I've wanted one for so long now but I just never developed the nerve to actually pursue it. I'm wondering if the tech in that could supplement as well. If it was even necessary.
                I'm not a huge fan of the "no controller" idea, at least not yet. Tactile feedback is so important. Just think about how difficult it is to consecutively hit touch screen buttons with precision. The Steam Controller got around this on its touchpads with haptic feedback, because when we're not looking at something we need to be able to feel differences to know what we're pressing. The idea of using a wearable with a dummy controller is interesting. It certainly solves the tactility problem but at that point it sounds like an expensive regular controller.

                Bringing VR into the equation makes the question even more convoluted since feedback becomes even more necessary to not break the suspension of disbelief. There are a handful of games on the Quest 2 that have hand tracking. And technically they work great. But not having that controller in my hands removes any physicality to me "picking things up" and my brain is reminded of the artificiality of it all. Meta is working on gloves with micro feedback thingies (I'm not quite as read up on this subject yet) and it's supposed to simulate weight and/or pressure on your hand. I'm interested in seeing where this goes. Though I do believe this "no controller" idea will really only work in VR and only for the least intense games out there like puzzle or narrative games. Buttons are still necessary for more complex ideas (ever tried to do the GunSmith feature of Ghost Recon with connect hand gestures?) and swinging a sword or aiming a gun or holding a shield or whatever will still feel better with your hand wrapped around something. Much like I said earlier, I'm not a tech so I don't have the answers for where to go from here. "No controller" sounds great and opens up a lot of freedom of input but it *can* also imply an artificial element to play if it isn't handled properly

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                • #9
                  Hmmm, you’re definitely right about the feedback bit. I don’t like playing games on my phone in three dimensions. Puzzle stuff is fine for a touch screen but playing KotOR on my phone semi-recently was weird, though admittedly fun and nostalgic. Maybe KotOR is a bad example considering it’s a really limited three dimensions. And turning my phone off and pressing the home button is a weirdly jarring experience. In any case, I get your point.

                  Though it makes me curious if haptic feedback could ever replace buttons. Particularly in cost to manufacture.

                  I am very interested in trying a gyro now. I’m currently fighting with my config trying to figure out how to make using a button (or my foot pedal) as a way to adjust the response curve for my right stick on the fly. It’s…complicated. The idea of using a gyro for finer aiming is intriguing. I’m hoping the next update could possibly ease some of my secondary issues.

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                  • #10
                    I am very interested in trying a gyro now. I’m currently fighting with my config trying to figure out how to make using a button (or my foot pedal) as a way to adjust the response curve for my right stick on the fly. It’s…complicated. The idea of using a gyro for finer aiming is intriguing. I’m hoping the next update could possibly ease some of my secondary issues.
                    At the moment, I could only suggest checking the long article we have about gyro and try the current Shift mode, while your pedal is grouped with the controller. If it doesn't work as you need, please describe which behavior is expected, so I could understand if it is planned in the new version.

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                    • #11
                      That's exactly how I'm doing it. There's nothing wrong with using a button as a shift modifier but the consequences in how it affects other actions has been palpable. For instance, if I use my pedal as a shift modifier to change the response curve on the fly I kinda felt like I needed it to respond faster, which my foot just can't do compared to a paddle. So I tried exploring using a paddle as a shift modifier. It felt weird and I have to be conscious of which paddle to use: the lower paddles are much easier to press, sometimes even on accident, which can be a boon if I set one to Mark in Halo Infinite. Meaning even when I accidentally squeeze a lower paddle it has a positive effect in that despite now being dead, at least my team knows where and how. The same can go for crouch because crouch can save your life by essentially dodging bullets when things get heated. So then I have to decide which of my single press buttons I want to sacrifice for the shift modifier and which buttons I can combine and in what way to mitigate time-to-activation lag. Because lifting my thumbs off the sticks exacerbates fine motor control issues so using the D-Pad and letter buttons are an absolute last resort. Oh but then, I can't reassign the native default single press mappings because it will interfere with menu navigation so if I absolutely have to use them then I have to use an activator to make it happen which only serves to exacerbate fine motor control issues even further. Or I can combine it with the shift modifier which makes the config harder to remember and get used to and trades one down-side for another, both of which are relatively equal, even if I were to be used to it.

                      It's a balancing act that only experimentation can solve. I have to group and prioritize which buttons are better fit to do which actions. The ease at which an action occurs is contingent upon distance to finger, pressure required, and which hand is used. Because I could shoot, crouch, and switch weapons with only my right hand, but it's really unwieldy to do so. So I have to distribute assignments between my hands so I'm not using or sustaining too many actions on one hand simultaneously. Especially since holding crouch and shooting is easier to do when they're each done with a different hand. So essentially, I'm taking into account cognitive load. And then theirs just biology: fingers don't move independently of one another. Especially the middle and ring finger.

                      Pretend you're holding a controller in your hand and contract each of your fingers individually. Which fingers cause another to move? How much? How does it change how you might use that finger? Does it change how much force you need to exert to simultaneously press another button? Does it make accidentally pressing another button more or less likely? By how much in practice? Do you have a particular button that you accidentally press a lot? When? Does the accidental press appear contingent upon pressing another button? Which one? Do I think too hard about this? I don't know: I'd have to think about it.

                      I appreciate you trying to help but most of the time it's not even a software problem. It's just a matter of slowly determining which configuration is the best optimized for someone who has less fine motor control. Broadly speaking, the best software solution for me is to expand possibilities with each update. As far as I can tell, you all are doing an excellent job.

                      Tell you what, if you can magically whip up a visual wizard that used some sort of flow chart with a mix of differently weighted variables to determine which function is best suited for which button with future iterations adding customizable weighting, that'd be great! But, uhhh, I won't hold my breath for that one. That sounds like...a lot of work. I have to admit though, I would pay more than $50 for that.

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