PS4 developer feedback saved us from an all-touch DualShock 4 controller

PS4 controller concepts
These familiar face buttons almost got a touchscreen face lift

Sony had previously boasted that PS4 developers helped design its new controller, and now we know the extent of what that means thanks to the unearthing of early DualShock 4 prototype details.

"At the very start, we were thinking of drastically changing the controller," said Toshimasa Aoki, Sony Computer Entertainment manager of product planning, in a GamesBeat interview.

"We made, I don't know, more than 20 prototypes. Some had no buttons, just touch panels. Some were rounded. All this crazy stuff."

That "crazy stuff" included ideas like a single touchscreen replacing the main face buttons of X, square, triangle and circle, to which the Aoki joked the "the vote on that was probably 100-0."

"Some tried out [all-touchscreen controls], actually. They felt that it would be a good new input which the buttons or the sticks can't do."

Developers gave it a thumbsticks down

The all-touch decision was a no-go because some of Sony's first-party studios wanted more traditional control schemes with new twists that wouldn't radically alter gamers' muscle memory.

Killzone: Shadow Fall developer Guerrilla Games pushed for a headphone jack directly in the gamepad and DriveClub developer Evolution Studios wanted better gyros for steering controls.

But for the most part, these core teams wanted to stay conservative so that the DualShock 4 would fit around their games, and that didn't exactly fit well with Sony's "crazy" concepts.

Regarding a touchscreen built into the gamepad, "We actually tested it," said Aoki, "but [besides cost factors], our game teams felt like having to look down at the controller is not what they want to do."

"They want to have the consumers concentrated on the big picture that they show [on the TV]."

Dual analog sticks DNA

Touch screens weren't the only touchy subject early on. Sony also created concepts that put the dual analog sticks in different places on the DualShock 4.

That includes a version with asymmetrical off-set analog sticks like the Xbox 360 gamepad, on which the left stick is at the top and the right stick remains at the bottom.

Upping the analog ante, Sony even had a prototype that resembled the Wii U Pro GamePad in which both analog sticks were up top.

"We decided that it just wouldn't work," explained Aoki.

"People are used to having the buttons up there, and this moves the most-used button - the X - so far away [from your right thumb]. If we moved the X up there, it just breaks all the muscle memory."

And that's what it came down to. The PS4 DualShock 4 controller canned the "crazy" ideas for a tweaked evolution of what gamers were used to from Sony.

"[Having the two sticks symmetrical on the left and right sides] is kind of in our DNA," concluded Aoki.

"The prototype team, myself, and also the management team really felt that having this look is the PlayStation look, and we had to keep that."

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Matt Swider