After several years and a multitude of gripes, Microsoft finally released an updated controller this past week. Game Informer had the good fortune to speak with senior industrial designer John Ikeda, who has been involved with developing Xbox products since 2004, about the redesign. Three new features of the controller were discussed in particular: the new D-pad, the switch to gray buttons, and some mild tweaking of the analog sticks.
The D-pad is probably the most notable difference, especially for many gamers who prefer to use it when playing games such as Street Fighter IV
. In fact, Ikeda confided to Game Informer, issues with the D-pad have been looked at by Microsoft "since day one."
In order to address those issues, Microsoft tested several different models of D-pads before settling on the present design. Players can now adjust the D-pad from a "plus style," ideal for precision games such as Pac-Man
, to a "platter style" which is ideal for fighting titles. This is done by twisting the D-pad to the configuration you desire.
Ikeda explained the thought process behind the twist design:
We had several other ideas of how we could accomplish this, but we had some pretty tough metrics that we were measuring ourselves against. One, it had to be simple. You can do removable parts and junk like that, but we really wanted this to be something that the user could do really simply that would never ever interfere with gameplay. We also wanted it to be very robust. It had to last a long time.
The color scheme of the new controller certainly drew a good deal of attention once it was revealed. Why would Microsoft change the iconic colored buttons at this stage in the game? Ikeda makes it clear this design choice was to appeal to the core:
The attitude we had with this was the ABXY buttons are [labeled] and color-coded. That’s for usability. That’s something that we do on all our products. But this new gamepad isn’t for people learning how to play games. This is for the person who’s already customized their controller. They already know that thing forward and backward, left and right. So we want to keep that looking professional and part of that is taking the colors off of the ABXY buttons. They’re still clearly marked, but if you really need to look down to know which color A is then you’re probably not a core gamer.
Finally, Ikeda addressed the changes that have been made to the analog stick. Presently, each stick has four nubs on them (though many gamers have worn these out over time) which were not intended to be directional, but rather to help your grip. For the new design, Ikeda elaborates on why a design with a lip was chosen instead:
What we tried to do with the new thumb stick is give you that little lip, that little edge, and that little concave, so it still sucks your thumb down a little better. You get a little more ‘sticktion.’ That’s kind of a word we use for not stickiness, but friction.
Ikeda states that he hopes, so long as people like the device, that we'll "see [the changes] in other devices." In a statement that may come as heartening to some given the recent release of the Kinect, he continued "As long as we make games that need gamepads we will always be looking at improving the gamepad."
The new Xbox 360 controller came out earlier this week in the United States and is available at most, if not all, of the stores from which you would normally purchase Xbox 360 gear. The new controller will be available in the UK in February. I know I've been looking forward to this for a while so I can finally play Lumines
with a proper D-pad. Anyone pick this up yet and have any opinions to share?