Skip to main content

PS5’s DualSense controller is changing how games are made in one surprising way

Now that the launch day smoke has cleared, it’s clear that PlayStation 5’s DualSense controller is the most exciting part of this new generation of consoles. Sony’s latest gamepad features haptic feedback and adaptive triggers that go well beyond an average rumble. The DualSense doesn’t just alter how we play games — it’s changing how they’re actually made.

Playing is believing when it comes to the DualSense, and no game showcases that better than Astro’s Playroom, a free PlayStation 5 pack-in game designed around the controller. Throughout the charming platformer, the haptic feedback simulates footsteps, raindrops, and more with almost eerie precision. Everything physically feels exactly like I expected it to, leaving me to wonder how the developers were able to pull off such pinpoint precision.

Digital Trends spoke to Nicolas Doucet, Studio Director and Creative Director at Sony’s Worldwide Studios Japan Studio, about what went into designing a game with the DualSense’s unique features in mind. It turns out that the controller flipped the game’s development process in a particularly surprising way.

“Typically, the audio designers would come later in the process and would work once there are some visuals on the screen,” Doucet says. “But for the handling of the haptics, which is based on waveforms, we have to get audio designers in. Today, all audio designers are included much, much earlier in the process of the core gameplay.”

Image used with permission by copyright holder

A big change

That major change to the development process is due to how important sound becomes when designing for the DualSense. According to Doucet, the controller’s pinpoint haptics are the result of sound waveform data, which is translated to vibration. That’s very different from how rumble has been handled historically.

“In classic game controllers, you have motors that spin. And as they spin, they need time to start and stop spinning. So what you get is an increase, and a buzz, and then it comes down,” Doucet explains. “With waveforms, you’re able to have really pinpoint spikes. That’s the part that gameplay programmers will open their eyes to.”

Those “spikes” explain why haptic sensations in Astro’s Playroom feel especially sharp. When raindrops hit Astro’s umbrella, players can feel each individual drop plopping around the controller rather than a steady rattle that washes over their hands. It’s easy to visualize how that works when thinking of what an individual raindrop looks like in soundwave form. It’s a quick blip with no real buildup or decay time.

Even beyond the physical feedback, sound design plays an instrumental role in achieving Astro’s tricks. The team uses the DualSense’s speaker to further amplify the game’s feedback. The sound that players hear while playing isn’t the exact same waveform used for the haptic vibration, as the use of sound from the controller itself is part of what makes the sensations feel so oddly specific.

“The reason it feels good isn’t just the haptic feedback — it’s a combination of what you see, what you hear, and what you feel,” Doucet says. “This is why we make quite a big use of the controller’s speaker, because having the sound and what you feel coming from the same location adds something to the experience.”

Doucet admits that Astro’s Playroom was in a unique position as it was specifically designed for the DualSense. That allowed the team to make decisions, like what weather or surfaces to include in the game, based on what felt best for haptics. Games that weren’t created as a tech-first experience don’t have that same advantage, which has resulted in some mixed implementation among the PlayStation 5’s early games. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War makes the most of the DualSense’s adaptive triggers to give each gun a different feeling based on how it fires, while Assassin’s Creed Valhalla doesn’t appear to use feedback at all.


Tricky proposition

Console-specific features are always a tricky prospect for third-party developers who produce games for multiple platforms. Is Ubisoft going to shuffle its development process for an Assassin’s Creed game to optimize for one console’s controller? It’s unlikely, though that doesn’t mean developers won’t utilize the DualSense at all. Studios can still turn plenty of ideas into tactile experiences without changing when audio design comes into the process. Doucet sees shooters and racing games as especially natural fits for retrofitting the DualSense technology, as both genres contain distinct sounds and surfaces that easily map to haptics.

But there’s no doubt that a big part of Astro’s successful implementation of the DualSense boils down to how the process shifted around it. Haptic feedback wasn’t added after the fact to enhance preexisting gameplay. Design decisions and the actual way the game was made were shaped by a drive to get the most out of the controller. Structure is more set in stone for a game like Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, which uses the DualSense sparingly by comparison. It wouldn’t necessarily make sense to have Miles run around on a beach just for the love of the tech.

The DualSense is in its infancy and developers will have plenty of time to naturally adopt it into their design process. Astro’s Playroom might be the most fully realized vision of its power players will see for a while, but Doucet believes it’s just a matter of time as studios learn to adjust. Taking the initial plunge is the most important step.

“The first time, it’s a little bit of a black box. Having gone through the project now, I’m much more relaxed. It’s a process the team got used to, and it’s not going to be a massive headache for the future.”

Editors' Recommendations

Giovanni Colantonio
Giovanni is a writer and video producer focusing on happenings in the video game industry. He has contributed stories to…
PS4 vs. PS5: which console should you buy in 2024?
PlayStation 5 controller and PS5.

PlayStation 5 has been available for several years now, and it's easier than ever to find it in stock at retailers. The new-gen hardware makes big upgrades over its predecessor, letting gamers enjoy better graphics, shorter loading times, and support for the fancy DualSense controller. It's also much more expensive than PS4, so while PS5 is better than PS4 in most regards, it might not be ideal for frugal shoppers.

But is PS4 or PS5 the better choice in 2024? Does the aging PS4 really make sense to purchase right now, or should you opt for the PS5? From pricing and available games to storage and resolution, here's a closer look at these two popular consoles.
PS5 vs. PS4 vs. PS4 Pro specs
Even a cursory glance at the specs of the PS5 shows that it’s in a different league than the PS4 (and even the PS4 Pro). Sony has improved the capabilities of its platform in every way, adding more efficient storage, faster compute parts, support for larger capacity disks, and support for higher resolutions. We know there are two versions of the PS5 -- the Standard Edition and Digital Edition -- both of which will offer the same specs (with the exception of the omission of a disc drive with the Digital Edition).

Read more
You need to try PlayStation VR2’s most psychedelic game yet
Key art for Akka Arrh shows psychedelic images.

You know that it's a busy year for gaming when a project by an industry legend launches with hardly any fanfare. That's exactly what happened in February 2023 with Akka Arrh. Created by Jeff Minter and his eccentric studio Llamasoft, the neon-tinted shooter is a remake of a 1982 Atari game that never saw the light of day after being deemed too difficult. Minter got the greenlight to revive the project, bringing it to life as a retro arcade shooter built in his unmistakable style.

While the project was exciting for game historians, it didn't exactly crack into the mainstream (it only has 37 user reviews on Steam). Thankfully, Akka Arrh getting a second chance to shine this week as its new PlayStation 5 version adds PlayStation VR2 support. While that might not be enough to make it a commercial hit, it does give PSVR2 owners a good reason to dust off their headset and check out a delightfully oddball project from one of gaming's true visionaries.
It's a trip
Akka Arrh is the rare example of a game that might be easier to explain on paper than in practice. In this throwback arcade shooter, players control a stationary ship that's tasked with protecting pods from attacking aliens. To fend off foes, players drop bombs that blow up in a different geometric pattern on each level's map. Every time an enemy touches that blast radius, it blows up in the same pattern, chaining to other enemies. The goal is to keep an uninterrupted chain going as long as possible by using a limited number of bullets to knock out foes that can't be destroyed by bombs and grabbing power-ups by hovering the cursor over them.

Read more
PS5 themes: Can you customize your homescreen?
A person plays Crash Bandicoot using a PS5 DualSense controller.

There's a lot to love about PS5, but it's missing one key feature from the old PS4 -- themes. On the old console, themes were used as a way to customize your homescreen and were often inspired by iconic games or beloved characters. Unfortunately, themes aren't available on PS5, though Sony has implemented a cool new feature that modifies the background as you browse your collection of games.

Here's a comprehensive look at how you can customize your PS5 homescreen and whether you can change its background.
Does the PS5 have themes?

Read more