Revolutionary: The Perfect Controller, part 2

Mike sylvester
M. sylvester|09.25.08

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Mike sylvester
September 25th, 2008
Revolutionary: The Perfect Controller, part 2

Game controllers have come a long way since we were holding a box with a protruding stick and tapping a single button. Now they're so packed full of cutting edge (yet inexpensive) tech, I'd half expect to see a Wii Remote and Nunchuk in the cockpit of the space shuttle* as a cost-cutting measure. As advanced as the Wiimote is, a lot of us have found a thing or two that could be revised about its design. I've gone to the most extreme reaches of my imagination, and come up with a design concept that I believe is about as radical a step beyond our current Wiimote, as that controller is beyond every console controller that came before it. And just like Nintendo's own design, my perfect controller would be based around technology that is already being used today in different applications.

*Warning: The Wii Remote and Nunchuk's accelerometers will not work in space. NASA engineers, be advised to wait for the MotionPlus.

Do you realize that a complete set of Wii controllers for a single player can total out to around $100? That's the Remote, a Nunchuk, a Classic Controller, and a Gamecube controller for your Gamecube games. Then on top of that, you've got to pay extra for batteries or a recharging kit. Street Fighter fanatics like myself are in grave risk of spraining our fingers on the Classic Controller, so that's more money for a fighting game stick or gamepad. Figure in the costs for building an addition to your house to store all this gear, and you've spent a small fortune on what's thought to be one of the most affordable consoles of this generation. There's no getting around the fact that all of those features can't be crammed into a single controller for free, but it would be worth a little money just to not have so many controllers and attachments cluttering up the place.

Click for larger imageIf you can manage to get underneath your pile of Wii accessories to dig out your old Xbox and Dreamcast stuff, take a look at their controllers. Microsoft seemed to borrow heavily from the styling of Sega's swan song controller, but skipped over what was probably the most revolutionary feature the Dreamcast pioneered -- Visual Memory. Sony dabbled in it with their own PocketStation VMU, and Nintendo took the concept in a different direction with Gamecube-to-GBA and Wii-to-DS connectivity. But not since the Dreamcast have we had screens inside our standard game controllers. Before the motion-sensing abilities were revealed, many people believed the Wii's controllers would feature a touch screen for input, and I still believe that that idea has potential.

Just think of what could be possible with a screen in your modern controller. Using Bluetooth for data transmission wouldn't provide enough bandwidth for streaming video or anything like that (it's already strained with your control data and the speaker's audio, plus you wouldn't want to drain your batteries with such a resource-hogging task), but images could be uploaded to the revised Remote's increased internal storage during the wait while your Wii loads up a game level. A thumbnail pre-rendering of your Mii could have a few frames of animation showing it wincing with every blow landed in Wii Sports Boxing, or beam with pride while your on-TV avatar does a victory dance around the ring.

Such a simplified usage of the touch screens would mean that they don't require heavy processing, a high refresh rate, or high resolutions. 64x64 pixels would be a sufficient resolution, but for a full color screen with controller-fitting low power requirements (Dreamcast VMUs were 48x32 and monochrome) , OLED screens might be the way to go. The thin screen, self-illuminated technology is already gaining popularity in cell phones, and Art Lebedev has designed some novel computer interface devices incorporating OLED screens. Even though the geek chic gadgets come with high price tags, it hasn't done much to spoil their appeal.

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Dual analog sticks are old 'n' busted. Dual touch screens are the new hotness.

I had a Windows Mobile PDA before I got my Nintendo DS, and I've gotten an iPhone since then, so I've seen touch screens used in a wide variety of ways over the years. My dream controller's touch screens are used similarly to how the Nintendo DS touch screen works for playing Metroid Prime Hunters. Instead of using a stylus, you'd run your thumbs across the screens for analog-precise joystick controls. This required a thumb stylus on the DS, but my vision incorporates capacitive touch-sensing, like on the iPhone. A light touch would register just fine.

As it is, the Wiimote loses a big chunk of its functionality when you turn it sideways to use like a NES controller. With the controller's IR sensor pointing away from the Sensor Bar, there's no way to smoothly and accurately control an on-screen pointer with the fluidity of a mouse. I think of that ability as a key piece that's missing from the perfect-control puzzle, so I've added some redundancy with a second IR sensor on the side of the Remote. The Nunchuk portion retains backward compatibility with digital buttons opposite the analog-stick-replacing touch screen. Flipping the Nunchuk around would also allow its new analog trigger and six face buttons to be used in conjunction with accelerometer and integrated MotionPlus gyroscope. Yes, my perfect controller has a gyroscope.
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MiniUSB ports supply power and data connections for charging batteries and linking attachments.

Data between controllers would travel across a short USB cable when connected in the gamepad/extended remote configuration, and a longer cable would bridge the gap when you need to 'chuk like Bruce Lee. Like the two halves of the Motus Darwin, my perfect controller should be able to slide together with minimal effort, after you've connected that USB cable. Remember how the Dreamcast's VMUs could be connected to each other to share data and play games? Why not connect two Remotes together in a similar fashion. Think of the force that could be unleashed with a double-sided, Darth Maul Wii-saber!

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Gaming in stereo!

A built-in USB-rechargeable battery, rumble motor in the Nunchuk, dual touchscreens, analog triggers with a Gamecube-like "digital click," more flash memory for saves and graphics, Wiimote-to-Wiimote connectivity, MotionPlus integration, six face buttons for fighting games, and full backward compatibility with Wii, Virtual Console, and Gamecube games, crammed into a tiny little package is my idea of perfection. I'd be willing to pay over $100 for such a controller, but I'm not the average consumer, and Nintendo has to cater to a wider demographic. Whatever revisions may be coming this generation, or if Nintendo has a plan to completely change the way we interact with games is anybody's guess. But for now, feel free to share your ideas for the future of gaming input in the comments.

Every other week, Mike Sylvester brings you REVOLUTIONARY, a look at the wide world of Wii possibilities.
The perfect controller may be an intangible dream, but you can mix some of the best features of the Remote with a Classic Controller. Read The Perfect Controller, part 1 to see how.

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