Remember the Rumble Pak? Depending on when you first started gaming, you might take a rumbling controller for granted, but did you know that Microsoft is adding in even more oomph to its next-gen Xbox One controller? That's right -- not only does the Xbox One controller boast rumble, but it's also built right into the triggers -- imagine what that can do for gaming.
Since 1997, when Nintendo's Rumble addition added a tonne of weight to your trident-shaped N64 controller, the state of rumble hasn't really changed -- aside from the, *ahem*, rather naughty Trance Vibrator that came with Rez back in 2001, the premise has stayed the same. Force feedback, straight to your hands when you hit a wall with a car, for example, or when you're shooting a tonne of bad guys with a beefy gun. That's set to change now with Microsoft's Xbox One controller, which has rumble in a place you wouldn't expect, but it's something you wouldn't want to do without.
Okay, okay, they've got a rather unusual name. Impulse Triggers. And while vibrating motors under your fingers won't be the same dramatic change as from black and white tellies to full-blown colour, it might be the extra topping on your pizza that you never knew you wanted.
Your controller currently buzzes in a variety of different situations, but the feedback is mostly the same. Hit a wall? It buzzes. Fire a gun? It buzzes. Different games might use the vibration in different ways, such as the intensity catering to different guns and how heavy they fire, but with the rumble in the triggers, have a think about how that'll effect your immersion.
Pulling the trigger on a gun will give you feedback right on your finger instead of your palm, while each trigger rumble could be assigned to the front wheels of a car, giving you a different sensation depending on what surface you're driving on. That also frees up the traditional rumble in the palm to handle differently too -- while your gun is buzzing under your right finger, you might be getting shot in-game, and so your controller will vibrate to mirror that.
It's a minor change, but it could be the next best thing since sliced bread. Careening around corners in Forza 5, for example, will give you a different experience in your fingers, rather than the same general rumble that is felt in both hands. The rumble in each trigger is independent, so you'll feel what is going on on the track a lot differently, especially if you drive your car off-track.
Speaking to NowGamer, Forza 5's creative director, Dan Greenawalt, says that the controller will even help you drive better: "When you're over-accelerating and spinning the rear tyres, we can tell you you're over-accelerating with the acceleration impulse trigger. It's the same thing with the brakes; if they apply the brakes they can feel the threshold if you don't have ABS on and if you do have ABS on you can feel it pulsing."
"Now it's very subtle, but what we've already found, and this is what's so cool, is that formally digital players are becoming analogue. They didn't know why, but it's because of the impulse trigger. Instead of going all acceleration, they are going in a little bit," Greenawalt added. "It doesn't happen straight away, it takes a couple of laps, but it happens subtly -- we don't have to tell them."
Lead designer of the actual Xbox One controller, Quintin Morris, has said that the unit itself has been in development for almost two years. Design changes from the Xbox 360 controller are numerous, such as a smaller thumbstick, reduced button spacing, and that it's also twice as sensitive whilst also being firmer in the sticks and d-pad -- the latter of which is now clicky and plus-shaped. It's an evolution, a refinement, but the impulse triggers are brand new, and they're going to be what sets it apart from the rest of the pack. Microsoft went through over 40 different design changes from the Xbox 360 controller to the new Xbox One controller, including ergonomic studies that helped shape the new controller you see today, plus there are also Kinect features involved which can recognise if you've passed the controller along.
Most interestingly of all, is that Microsoft almost contemplated putting smell-o-vision into it. Talking to Kotaku, Zulfi Alam, Microsoft's head of Xbox accessories, revealed that one next-gen Xbox controller prototype emitted smells as you played to recreate what you'd be playing on-screen. There were full-on smell cartridges of various flavours, such as gunpowder, burning rubber and even flowers, and it would almost seem like you were there -- adding another level to the immersion factor. That was shelved though, as the smell would linger around the room long after it was first unleashed, putting off testers -- and likely, your family members too.
"We went all out. This was all about, 'Hey, how can we make this more immersive for core gamers,' but, in the end, it was like, 'Yeah, the smell thing, that didn't work out," said Alam.
Immersion is one core concept that Microsoft is striving to provide, and it looks like its Impulse Triggers are the much subtler way to bring gamers right into the game. Are you looking forward to it?