The path to DualSense: evolution, successes and errors of the PlayStation controls throughout its history


Every time a new console is introduced, the focus is on the specifications of the machine itself. How much power does it have? What games will it be able to move? What will it look like? It is logical, of course, since its internal construction has a drastic impact on the titles that we will play in it. However, in a secondary position, there is another element that is also of vital importance—one that determines our relationship with the very act of playing: command.

We are living in the months leading up to the launch of Xbox Series X and PS5, so expectation and guesswork are the order of the day. From the first one, we have known its control pad for a long time, conservative yes, but it is difficult not to agree with an “if it is broken, do not fix it,” so resounding. Microsoft controls have spent years showing overwhelming ergonomics and quality, so we can not fault it. The new PlayStation, on the other hand, doesn’t want to be left behind either.

DualSense is your controller, as revealed this week. A name that breaks with the traditional DualShock iterations that we are so used to. There is an evident declaration of intent there: they want it to be perceived as an evolution in the way we play. That it is not just about power increases, but also a change in the kinesthetic paradigm, in the language through which we communicate with the video game. It is hard to believe that this happens seeing how similar it is to the previous ones, but it will be necessary to know how these adaptive triggers behave and that haptic vibration of which they speak so much.

It is not the first time that Sony tries to give a little more flavor to its controls. It takes from the start of the PlayStation adding slight (but ambitious) modifications and evolutions to an immovable structure setup. Some of them decisive for their future, and others directly forgettable, although the Japanese firm refuses to give them up. Next, we review the history of all the PlayStation controls, their successes, and their errors.

Taking what already works further

We started, of course, with the command that was launched with the first PlayStation back in 1994. The briefly called PlayStation Controller, without more. Nor could they be very original with the name, since in essence, it was a carbon copy of the Super Nintendo pad. Something logical if we consider that the first incursion of Sony in this of the consoles was going to be a collaboration with the great N. The thing did not go afloat and they decided to launch a machine on their own with the acquired knowledge (mainly that reader of discs that was going to be for SNES). Its console presented quite remarkable technical advances for the time, but in control, they did not want to risk much.

However, there are a couple of considerations that we have to thank this PlayStation Controller (which, by the way, is the one that came with the PlayStation Classic at the end of 2018). On the one hand, the addition of those two firm hand grips at each end, which brought better ergonomics to the classic SNES design. On the other, the decision to include two more upper buttons, R2 and L2, which would become a standard from then on, as they allowed even more control possibilities.

PS1 was a perfect experimentation laboratory for Sony, and that could be seen in the various control models that were launched throughout its useful life. After the PlayStation Controller came to the real evolution, the Dual Analog. Adopting once again the ideas of Nintendo (a trend that will become common in Sony, as we will see), this controller incorporated the revolutionary analog stick of Nintendo 64, but with a twist. In essence, it had two instead of one.

That second stick was probably PlayStation’s most significant contribution to video game controller design, as it would define the optimal way to control characters in 3D environments and move the camera at the same time. A control scheme that continues to this day in many titles. Back then, it seemed odd that we were forced to play Ape Escape with such a martian, but it didn’t take us long to get used to it and realize the immense possibilities that were opening up. Also, both sticks could be pressed, becoming the new R3 and L3 buttons, also of paramount importance for the future.

Dual Analog did not last long on the market. Not because it didn’t work, but because it was replaced a year later by an even better version. Thus we arrived at the first model that would become the hallmark of PlayStation controls for more than two decades: the DualShock, whose main novelty was in the use of vibration.

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