Sure, Spider-Man: Miles Morales and the Dark Souls remake are getting most of the PlayStation 5 love, but Sony’s most significant next-generation launch game may be Astro’s Playroom. It’s a showpiece for the new DualSense controller's haptic capabilities, which includes finely tuned rumbling and adaptive triggers with adjustable tension. Best of all, you can start playing it on your PS5 right away; it’s pre-installed on every system. Just like with Astro Bot Rescue Mission on the PlayStation VR, the diminutive robot is the ideal guide as Sony breaks new ground with hardware.
As I mentioned in my PlayStation 5 review, simply booting up the game jolted me awake -- it vibrated in my hands as if it was the one holding me. I could feel Astro’s every step, and I was even more amazed that every surface he walked on felt different. Thanks to the adaptive triggers, using a bow felt startlingly realistic, as if I was pulling back on a taut string.
From the start, it’s easy to see that Astro’s Playroom was built in concert with the DualSense controller. In an interview with Engadget, Nicolas Doucet, creative director of Astro developer Team Asobi, said his group jumped at the chance to develop new ideas for the gamepad.
“We’re based in Japan, and [Sony’s] hardware engineering is also in Japan, so we have this kind of old relationship of collaboration with the team,” he said. “Those guys come up with these mechanical features that go inside the controllers, and of course they have a good kind of hunch for what might be a good thing for the future of games. But their core discipline is mechanical engineering."
Thanks to their proximity, Team Asobi was able to snag early DualSense prototypes, which at the time were large and saddled with assorted wires. “At the time, the form factor isn't really the point,” Doucet said. “It’s more about having all of these features and whether they’re usable inside the game and making the experience better.”
Doucet and team started rapidly prototyping gameplay concepts. The first was a small shooting range with pistols, shotguns and a variety of other weapons, which was meant to test how the adaptive triggers handled them. They also learned how the revamped haptics could make walking over a variety of surfaces feel distinct even on a handheld device, so you could tell the difference between sand, water and ice without looking at the screen.
One demo effectively simulated the feeling of controlling a character in a motorcycle, so much so that you could feel the engine revving up and the exhaust kicking back in the controller. That test even surprised Sony’s engineers. After Team Asobi shared some of their gameplay findings, the engineers ended up tweaking some aspects of the DualSense controller's design.
“It made them think about weight position in the controller, and does it work so you feel it well,” Doucet said.” “Do you get that kind of trinity, of what you see, what you feel, and what you feel? Does it feel right? It helps us kind of get better.”