Revolutionary: Controller Showdown, Round 1

Every (other) Tuesday, Mike Sylvester brings you REVOLUTIONARY, a look at the wide world of Wii possibilities.

Nintendo has recently been accused by a former game developer of copying the idea for the Wii's central point of interest, but whether or not Nintendo took inspiration from this industrious engineer is not the topic of today's Revolutionary. There have been many motion-based game controllers to precede the Wiimote, but none have been so well-received that they can pull double duty as the gearworks of a money printing machine. For the Playstation 3, Sony took a page from Nintendo's playbook and ran with it, so we'll be putting the SIXAXIS through its paces to see how it measures up.

Ergonomics, price, and aesthetics won't be judged in this battle (although the PS3's controller might win some extra points if it were a more versatile form baton). What's of the utmost concern is the potential for fun gaming experiences. Anything that enhances or impedes the controller in this respect is relevant. While it won't be entirely objective, we'll at least try to be semi-scientific in our judging methods.

PSThrii Sports?
Sadly, the PS3's Blu-ray remote doesn't have an accelerometer

Connectivity
Both controllers are Bluetooth wireless, but the SIXAXIS can also be connected by USB cable. In theory (but not necessarily in practice – more on this next time), that would make the SIXAXIS easier to hook up and use on a PC. Unlike the wireless Xbox 360 controller, the SIXAXIS will transmit data across the USB cable as well as receive power when you connect it. Sony uses this feature to pair controllers to consoles, in the chance you have multiple PS3s within range of each other (as is the case in my household). The console and the controller will know each other through their unique Bluetooth MAC addresses and not try respond to someone else's gear. On occasion (read: at the worst possible times) the SIXAXIS randomly stops transmitting to the console for a moment and then resumes transmission (after you've thrown it across the room in frustration).

The Wii Remote does not at this time have any sort of wired interface for connecting the controller, and as such there is no standardized way to charge the Li-Ion battery it doesn't come with. There aren't any widespread reports of connectivity issues, but I've personally had my Remotes turn off during heated games of Wii Sports. Hard centripetal forces make the batteries push away from the contact terminals, which has led to a few unintentional bunts as I've scrambled to get the Remote turned back on between pitches. A 3rd party rechargeable battery pack has a tighter fit in the compartment, and resolves that issue.

Rumble
In my first encounter with the Wii, I was handed a Remote and Nunchuk and felt a little jolt as the pointer moved across the screen and bumped across Mario's body in the Super Mario Galaxy demo at E3'06. I instantly decided that motion controls needed haptic feedback. My short experience with the Wii made me less enthusiastic about working my way back to the PS3 booth to get my hands on the SIXAXIS, because I already knew there'd be something missing.

Though the SIXAXIS ships with no rumble motors, it's got a vibration-equipped successor on the way in the form of the DUALSHOCK 3. It's already available in Japan, and is scheduled for release in other territories some time this year. Older games like Heavenly Sword are being patched via PSN, and new titles like Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction and Uncharted: Drake's Fortune are shipping with support already built in, but for now only Japanese gamers and impatient importers know what it's like to feel rumble in the jungle.


Impatience has its virtues

Attachments
Every Nintendo home console has had an expansion port, and two generations ago, the Nintendo 64 pioneered controller expansion. Now with the Wii, Nintendo can finally claim that one of their expansion ports is living up to its full potential. The Nunchuk, Classic Controller, and Guitar utilize the processing and transmission abilities of the Wiimote to keep costs down.

The PSP has the same type of USB mini-connector as the SIXAXIS, so it's not hard to imagine it having attachments built to enhance its functionality in a similar manner. As it currently stands, however, that plug is only used for connecting the PS3 to the controller.

IR Pointer
The great distinction between the Wii Remote and just about every other motion-based gaming interface lies behind that little black window on the front of the controller. The IR sensor and Sensor Bar aren't entirely unique in the gaming world, but when combined with the accelerometer, they make possible a greater degree of accuracy and define the Wiimote as a more versatile controller.

Motion sensing
The Wii Remote detects motion on only 5 axes, but no matter how you're holding the controller, those axes can still register some amount of movement and affect gameplay. The SIXAXIS has, in addition to the 5-axis accelerometer, a gyro for sensing motion on the yaw axis. Having a yaw sensor (which would only be useful when the Wiimote is held flat with the A button toward the sky) may have been considered a needless expense, because the shape of the Wii Remote allows it to be held and used in different orientations. The SIXAXIS, on the other hand, is designed to pretty much always be held flat, so developers would be more likely to find value in yaw sensing. Unless Nintendo takes a de-evolutionary step backwards in shaping the Wii controller's successor, I wouldn't expect them to include a yaw-specific controller next time around, either. It just seems a better fit for controllers that have limited grip orientations ... so maybe a DS2 could have it.

Speaker
With the exception of a game mode in a title which not very many people care a whole lot about, the Wiimote speaker hasn't proven to be a necessary component for gameplay. There is a great amount of potential for anything that brings more sensory feedback to the controller, but in the case of the Wiimote speaker, the hardware might not be developed enough. The limited bandwidth of Bluetooth and the tiny, tinny speaker just don't produce great sound. And we really can't knock Sony for failing to follow suit here.

Going to the scorecards it looks like it's a draw on Connectivity, and Speaker, while the Wiimote comes out on top with wins in the Rumble, IR pointer, and Attachments categories, and the SIXAXIS still puts up a fight with its Motion sensing advantage.

In the first year, when the Wii was trying to prove itself as a contender, gamers debated over what qualified a console as "next gen." Now, with the Wii strutting its stuff as the undisputed champion of the stores, the argument has proven to be of no importance (not that its resolution was ever high up on the UN's agenda or anything). Consumers have decided that the Wii is at least "next gen enough" to warrant a purchase, and the Xbox 360, which technically stands in stark contrast to the Wii, must also be considered "next gen enough," seeing as it's taking the #2 spot in worldwide sales. The PS3 pairs a next gen controller with next gen processor specs, but developer apprehension and the high price of entry keep it trailing behind.

In Round 2 we'll be running some actual numbers and testing the Wiimote and SIXAXIS against each other with GlovePIE scripts to determine which one takes the title with a technical knockout. If you've got any suggestions for PC games you'd like to see the used in the testing, please let us know in the comments.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.