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blog.gkaindl.com » Rumbling is last-gen?

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Rumbling is last-gen?

UPDATE Mar 3, 2007 - Sony/Immersion lawsuit settled

Phil Harrison, Executive Vice President of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, said a really weird thing about the rumbling capabilities of game controllers in an interview with GameDailyBiz.

I believe that the Sixaxis controller offers game designers and developers far more opportunity for future innovation than rumble ever did. Now, rumble I think was the last generation feature; it’s not the next-generation feature. I think motion sensitivity is.

Phil Harrison in an intereview with biz.gamedaily.com

That’s quite a bold thing to say without backing it up. First, the new PlayStation3 controller is basically just a wireless version of the PlayStation2 controller minus the rumble feature, but with a few accelerometers slapped on to provide for 6 degrees of freedom in motion sensing (suspiciously, this feature was not present in the early previews of the controller, but appeared after Nintendo demo’ed the Wii remote). Obviously, motion sensing does provide developers with “more opportunities for innovation”, but how would that have been different if there was rumble technology built into the controller as well? It’s like saying “Having a scrollwheel in the mouse provides developers with far more opportunities for innovation than having a second mouse button ever did”. Hmm, damn, that sounds like something Apple could have said, but that’s besides the point. You get the idea. Anyways, now we have scrollwheels and second mouse buttons. Those things are just not directly related to each other at all, hence such a statements doesn’t even make the least bit of sense.

Ok, so motion sensing is obviously a next-gen feature (as proved by the tremendous success of the Wii, which is basically a slightly upgraded GameCube with cool motion sensing capabilities). But what is it that renders rumbling so much of a last-gen feature that it has to be left out? How do you define a “last-gen” feature. Just because it has been around for 10 years?

In fact, you can only call something a last generation feature if you come up with something that replaces it in a meaningful and evolutionary way. Rumbling has been the only type of haptic feedback we’ve had so far, and Sony replaced it with nothing at all. The PlayStation2 DualShock controller has multiple levels of rumbling intensity which has been exploited by a lot of games, most often in a direct-mapping approach (such as rumbling when the player get hit by a bullet or when a huge rock slams onto the ground besides the player), sometimes in more metaphorical ways (such as rumbling when your character is going to pass out or rumbling to simulate a heart beat to build up suspense). All this is no longer possible on the PlayStation3. So how is it “next-gen” in terms of haptic feedback then? Well, not at all! On the level of haptics, the SIXAXIS is a step backwards.

Sony initially explained the lack of rumbling by claiming that it would interfere with the motion sensing capability of the controller. Well, the Wii remote has a rumble motor (however, a rather weak one) and the motion sensing works top-notch. So Sony is either lying to us here or was simply not proficient enough to integrate rumbling with their motion sensing technology, or not able to secure a deal with a third-party company to license either a software or hardware solution to filter out the noise in the motion sensors that is caused by a rumble motor.

Ironically, Immersion Corp., the very company that previously sued Sony over patent infringements regarding the rumble technology, has such a software solution ready. Considering that Sony lost against Immersion two times in court and has to pay retroactive compensation for patent infringements for every PlayStation2 controller sold, Sony was either too pissed to deal with Immersion again or too proud/lazy/financially weak to solve the copyright quarrel (mind you, Microsoft bought 10% of Immersion in stock to resolve the issue concerning rumbling in its Xbox controllers) or acting like a pissed little kid and simply didn’t want to talk to Immersion anymore, let alone paying them more licensing or compensation fees. Thusly, they just abandoned rumble technology. This sounds quite plausible to me, especially because Phil Harrison also mentions in the interview that Sony expects third parties to publish rumble extension packs and the such, offloading the legal responsibility to them. Very clever.

Even more so, if Sony had really planned in motion sensing from the beginning and that was the true reason why they left out rumble, then why does the controller not at all look as if it was designed with motion sensing in mind? I mean, the Wii remote looks like a stick. A stick has been used as a prop in children’s games for many years, it can be a sword, a baseball bat, a hammer, basically everything that has a handle. Children use sticks like this every day. Thusly, the stick form is a perfect general purpose motion sensing device because it just feels “right” in a vast array of applications. Considering how well-balanced the Wii remote is, that it works both in horizontal and vertical orientation and that it can be upgraded to a more traditional feel by attaching the joystick-equipped Nunchuk (which, incidentally, gives you another motion sensor, too, allowing for two handed motion sensing), it is very obvious that the Wii has been designed with the motion sensing capability as the core aspect.

The PlayStation3 SIXAXIS, on the other hand, is just a traditional controller with a motion sensor tacked on. You can only hold it the traditional way, using both hands. It’s not properly balanced to hold it in one hand, and I can’t imagine it feeling like a Tennis racket or a sword, considering its “horn” shape. This limits the potential quite a lot, and it’s true, in the initial PS3 line-up of games we don’t have anything that fully explores motion sensing capabilities in an innovative (read non-obvious, experimental) and/or (most importantly) fun way. Yeah, I can turn it around like a steering wheel. Basically, you can use it like an aircraft yoke (and developers can surely expand on this idea), but it doesn’t have the almost universal shape of the stick that makes the Wii remote applicable in so many situations. Can you imagine playing Wii Sports with the SIXAXIS?

So please, Sony, don’t tell me motion sensing has been a priority when you designed the controller, even so important that you had to leave rumble out. In fact, many games in your initial line-up could have profited from rumbling rather than from motion sensing. You’re just not believable here.

Anyways, calling rumbling a “last-gen” feature is a pretty bold claim to make. It just sounds like the most obvious form of marketing mumble-jumble, where Sony, being under heavy crossfire between the Xbox360 and the Wii in the next-gen battle, cannot afford to admit that there have been things out of their control (Immersion Corp.) when developing the PS3. It’s ok, we all hate it when a patent prevents someone from integrating a cool feature into a potentially cool product, but please don’t use such a lame excuse, insulting an obviously good and accepted feature such as rumble capability and make us believe that the PS3 is about motion sensing just to hitchhike a bit on Nintendo’s momentum. It doesn’t sound credible.


Mar 3, 2007: Sony & Immersion settle their lawsuit

In a funny coincidence, Yahoo Finance reported on Thursday that Sony and Immersion have finally settled their lawsuit concerning the rumbling technology in the PS2 DualShock controller. Additionally, there are apparently ongoing talks on how to integrate the noise-filtering technology for controllers that have both a rumble motor and motion sensors built-in (the technology I was referring to in my original article) into the PS3 SIXAXIS controller. Even more interesting is this quote from the article:

“We look forward to exploring with Immersion exciting new ways to bring the largest and best range of gameplay experiences to our customers,” said Kazuo Hirai, President and Group Chief Operating Officer, Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. “We are very excited about our new partnership with Immersion and the potential for new and innovative products incorporating their technologies.”

Yahoo Finance article

“Best range of gameplay experiences”? “Innovative products incorporating their technologies”? So rumbling apparently isn’t so last-gen after all. Well, at least it looks good now for people that have been missing the rumble capability badly, but really, Sony, contradicting yourself this extremely over the course of just a week makes you lose a lot of credibility. Even if it was a whole Internet week…

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    Games :: Rumbling is last-gen?
    wrote on Feb 27, 2007 at 15:58

    [...] Original post by blog.gkaindl.com [...]

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