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What the Xbox One Controller Says About Microsoft... and Nintendo

What the Xbox One Controller Says About Microsoft... and Nintendo

Thu 23 May 2013 2:42pm GMT / 10:42am EDT / 7:42am PDT
HardwareDesign

Jeremy Parish can't help but notice philosophical differences between Microsoft and Nintendo

Even though Microsoft's mantra for its Kinect motion-tracking peripheral has always been, "You are the controller," and even though Kinect is a mandatory feature of the newly revealed Xbox One, the old-fashioned buttons-and-thumbsticks gamepad won't be falling by the wayside in the coming generation. Quite the contrary. While the company only briefly touched on the new system's controller in its hour-long console unveiling yesterday, the latest iteration of the Xbox gamepad dominated its behind-the-scenes follow-up demonstrations for assembled members of the press.

While some view the presence of both Kinect and a traditional controller in the same package as a symptom of Xbox One's uncertain focus -- is it for hardcore gamers? Casual players? Both? Neither? -- for dedicated fans the new pad offered one of the few concessions Microsoft seemed willing to make toward its core audience. Amidst exhaustive talk of instant-on television and fantasy football, the Xbox One controller offered reassuring familiarity. Microsoft may not have had much to say about gaming yesterday, but with an interface like this in the works, video games clearly remain a basic pillar of the Xbox brand.

"Where Microsoft prides itself on its cutting-edge design and testing systems, Nintendo happily shows off a comically primitive starting point instead"

Xbox One's gamepad also neatly embodies Microsoft's philosophy of perfection through refinement... usually from a starting point that's anything but perfect. As with so many of the company's ventures, their first controller was a mess: The original Xbox shipped with a massive slab of plastic that most gamers found nearly unusable due to its girth and bulk. While that oversized design has its fans (they affectionately refer to it as "The Duke"), Xbox One's gamepad follows a line of evolution from the downscaled Xbox Controller S and through the Xbox 360's wireless controller.

In fact, Xbox One's gamepad resembles nothing so much as a sleeker, slightly more angular take on its predecessor. They're almost exactly the same size, have incredibly similar contours, and use nearly identical button layouts. The fine details make the difference: The seams of the plastic shell have been relocated to the angular joint between front and back, the trigger buttons feature moderate force-feedback (potentially an interesting feature, though mostly just distracting in the barely interactive PC-based demos Microsoft had on display), and the battery bulge has been integrated cleanly into the case. The biggest improvement definitely comes in the D-pad, which was notoriously terrible on 360. Now, the internal mount for the D-pad has been moved closer to the surface, so it handles tightly and -- one assumes -- more responsively.

5

What I found most interesting about the Xbox One gamepad, however, wasn't a feature of the system itself but rather the process through which it's been designed. Microsoft has developed a rapid iteration process for the controller design (and the case as well) with the use of CAD software and 3D printers. Rather than taking the old approach of carving pieces meticulously and slowly revising their design, the hardware team can throw together several concepts on the computer and send them immediately to their 3D printer to test. Daily iteration and prototyping is now a part of the Xbox design process. It's an impressive process to behold, and it's borne obvious fruit in the form of a genuinely excellent controller.

This high-tech development process makes a particularly fascinating counterpoint to Nintendo's prototyping process for their Wii U controller. In an Iwata Asks roundtable published last fall, the company's president had a good laugh with his hardware team about their own process. Rather than making use of high-end plastic fabrication, the Wii U controller prototype involved cardboard mockups:

1
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Now, given the disparity in the hardware power of Wii U and Xbox One, this might seem like an invitation to make unkind remarks about Nintendo's machine. But let's keep things in perspective. The glimpses both parties have offered of their in-development controllers surely don't represent the sum total of their prototyping systems. Microsoft probably used primitive roughs at the start, just as Nintendo surely must have fabricated working plastic models of the Wii U gamepad. After all, an earlier Iwata Asks featured a work-in-progress version of the 3DS hardware that was actually more sophisticated than the finished product, allowing players to reconfigure controller input layouts.

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No, the real story here is in the fact that these are the parts each company elected to reveal of their respective processes. Where Microsoft prides itself on its cutting-edge design and testing systems, Nintendo happily shows off a comically primitive starting point instead. It's an apt metaphor for the companies themselves: Microsoft, the American sci-fi goliath straddling dozens of acres of Redmond real estate as it strives ever for the future, and Nintendo, the little Japanese playing card company that revels in nostalgia and family-friendly play. There's a reason many people see them as complementary rather than competitive (hence the "Wii60" meme of a few years back). The result? A strange world where Nintendo offers a controller that's practically a game system in and of itself, yet Microsoft's is the one that's somehow more futuristic.

Jeremy Parish is Games Editor at USgamer. USgamer is an upcoming consumer website published by Gamer Network and launching in early June, and will be located at http://www.usgamer.net.

33 Comments

Shawn Clapper
Programmer

26 42 1.6
Popular Comment
I was waiting to see how this site would spin Microsofts self titled "innovation" vs Nintendoes real "innovation". How are they going to make XBOX look better this time when it clearly isn't?
and here it is.
Show cardboard prototypes to try and poke fun at the company and use comparisons like "straddling dozens of acres of Redmond real estate as it strives ever for the future" vs "the little Japanese playing card company ". The bias here is so thick it's choking me.

Posted:11 months ago

#1

James Brightman
Editor in Chief

193 176 0.9
This is just an observation that Jeremy had independently. There's no bias, but you're free to think what you'd like.

Posted:11 months ago

#2

David Spender
Lead Programmer

127 51 0.4
Sure there are philosophical differences but that's no reason to mock one vs. the other.

I would hardly label the Xbox One's controller as futuristic. Iterative maybe.

Posted:11 months ago

#3

Shawn Clapper
Programmer

26 42 1.6
"Goliath" vs "tiny card company" is laying it on a bit thick though.

Posted:11 months ago

#4

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,374 1,024 0.7
Popular Comment
Urgh. I have to agree, the bias is pretty bad.
Where Microsoft prides itself on its cutting-edge design and testing systems, Nintendo happily shows off a comically primitive starting point instead.
Yet the cardboard version was cheaper to manufacture. Why spend investor's money on 3D printer versions, if something less than 1 tenth the cost can give just as much tactile feedback? How many inventions have had "comically primitive starting points", yet proved their worth?

Also, I must say I was hoping for something more from this article. From the headline "What the Xbox One Controller Says About Microsoft... and Nintendo" , I was expecting something more about design choices and innovation in UI and controller systems (something that Nintendo continuously innovates in).

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 23rd May 2013 4:59pm

Posted:11 months ago

#5

Felix Leyendecker
Senior 3D Artist

184 196 1.1
Popular Comment
Nintendo used 3d printed prototypes as well. They mention it right there in the ask iwata feature. Do you think they sell their consoles from a lemonade stand?

Posted:11 months ago

#6

Gerasimos Balis
Games Writer

2 2 1.0
I am not sure Nintendo has been portrayed as "a little Japanese playing card company" for a while now...

Posted:11 months ago

#7

Jim Webb
Executive Editor/Community Director

2,210 2,051 0.9
Popular Comment
Shawn, I think those 2 descriptors where more to display the dichotomous nature of the 2 companies rather than as a means to disparage one or show bias.

By comparison, Nintendo is a tiny company of just 5,000 employees compared to nearly 100,000 at MS.

Posted:11 months ago

#8

Yiannis Koumoutzelis
Founder & Creative Director

357 181 0.5
Popular Comment
Uhm.. shouldn't we compare apples with apples?
i mean shouldn't the Nintendo controller in comparison be this one?

I am a huge fan of both companies and while i certainly see WiiU's shortcomings compared to Xbox One, innovation in terms of controls certainly ain't one of them. While Nintendo boldly transforms the controller while also offering several other types of control Xbox only updates (significantly but still in the same direction) the previous control scheme.

That article above is not helping anyone (especially consumers who may read this in a professional developer website) and is outright misleading, not to mention that is appears uninformed.

Posted:11 months ago

#9

Yiannis Koumoutzelis
Founder & Creative Director

357 181 0.5
Jim you may be right about the purpose of that phrase, (i will choose to give it the benefit of doubt) but i on the other hand not all 100k people work on Xbox! ;)

Posted:11 months ago

#10

Dwayne Wright
Studying Physics

5 8 1.6
While I dislike the Wii U tablet controller, Nintendo's 'comical' design processes have come up with some of the greatest controller innovations in history! To mock them is absurd.

Posted:11 months ago

#11

Murray Lorden
Game Designer & Developer

199 71 0.4
This is really hardly an article at all.

It seemed to be going somewhere, but it turned out just to be a writing exercise.

Torbin Ulrich would know what to do with this one.

Posted:11 months ago

#12

Charles Herold
Wii Games Guide

33 67 2.0
I think there's a point to the idea that what the two company's feature reveals how they like to portray themselves. When the Xbox came out, the controller said, this is a big, serious piece of technology you could brain someone with! Meanwhile, the Game Cube was a colorful box with a controller that could have been made by Hasbro. This theme is echoed by the games they are most famous for, Halo versus Mario.

I didn't take the article as a biased attack on Nintendo, as others here have, but simply as a little observation. The only thing that feels jarring is the last line; in what world does any Xbox controller seem futuristic? Just because something is well designed does not make it sci-fi.

My only real issue with this article is that it's worth about 300 words and was overwritten to be a full article. You either needed to draw more conclusions from your one example, or have more examples.

Posted:11 months ago

#13

Rick Cody
PBnGames-Board Member

144 14 0.1
At the same time, Microsoft's controller is it's biggest obstacle. What controller is at the center of every living room? A TV remote. If Microsoft wants to be everything to everyone they need to find a way to make an excellent TV remote first and an excellent game pad second.

Posted:11 months ago

#14

Dalibor Dimovski
Editor-in-Chief

1 8 8.0
I come from a heavy Industrial Design background and daily work on prototypes for products from materials as simple as paper mock-ups to full-on 3D rapid prototyping. This article unfortunately paints the picture that one company is "comical" in their approach to physical product development over the other. Where Microsoft chose to show more lavish technologies as a part of its process, Nintendo chose to focus on the user interface, the human factors. I can almost guarantee that both companies did the others' kind of prototypes as well.

The article may not be biased, but it does portray a misunderstanding of the product design process, and why companies show the things they show. Automotive companies, for instance, sometimes show early clay models and other times 3D printing. It may have been better for the editor to discuss the two positions with someone familiar with the process first, rather than just jumping into an article.

Posted:11 months ago

#15

Francis Cermak
Website Administrator

17 3 0.2
Jeremy Parish's encyclopedic knowledge of the history of video games going back to the Odyssey would embarrase 99% of the people in this thread. He has a lot of integrity and is has earned his respect and credibility through years of responsible reporting. You people attacking him for his "bias" are out of line and have no idea who's reputation you're trying to attack. Go listen to any of the 100+ epsisodes of his Retonaughts podcast and you will come away impressed with the love and knowledge of the industry this man has.

Posted:11 months ago

#16

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,374 1,024 0.7
People can have knowledge of, and love for, an industry and still write bad articles. Dalibor's comment above says more than the article possibly could and shows respect for designers and prototype manufacturers.

That people (myself included) are saying Jeremy is biased is more due to the lack-of-depth in the article, than anything else, I think. His sentence about the little Japanese playing card company is more sound-bite than striking insight.

(And apologies for sounding harsh, but it's true).

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 23rd May 2013 9:13pm

Posted:11 months ago

#17

Christopher Bowen
Editor in Chief

393 503 1.3
Are we really screaming bias? Here? I thought we were better than that.

Posted:11 months ago

#18

Ashley Gutierrez
Animator

21 13 0.6
I think what he's trying to say is that Microsoft has money to spit at anything it feels like, while Nintendo can't do that as much anymore...which is true.
Microsoft has become a giant in almost everything now.
Nintendo hasn't branched out much over the years.

Come on people, don't be vicious over something that's not really meant to be imflammatory.

Posted:11 months ago

#19

Christopher Bowen
Editor in Chief

393 503 1.3
Especially in regards to Jeremy Parish. this is the former EIC of 1UP, for God's sake. Show some respect.

Posted:11 months ago

#20

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,374 1,024 0.7
Show some respect
Not trying to start anything here, okay? :)

But...

Are we not allowed to critique articles? Are we not allowed to question how something appears? No doubt he didn't mean for it to appear biased, but it did/does. That doesn't mean we don't respect the guy, it just means that we're engaged in questioning his stand-point, and how that (perceived) stand-point affects the article.

Peace, yo. :)

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 23rd May 2013 9:42pm

Posted:11 months ago

#21

Robert Oelenschlager
Independent Game Developer

20 18 0.9
Either the people here calling bias aren't finishing the article or they're reading only every other word. It's a fluff piece about design and image philosophies between companies with wildly different starting points in the game industry. It's right there in the article that he's sure that Microsoft used primitive prototyping, and he even gave proof that Nintendo isn't a stranger to advanced level prototyping. It's about what the companies chose to show of their design processes, and how their origins likely informed this. If the line about the "little Japanese card company" set off your biasometer, the sensitivity might be set too high on it.

Posted:11 months ago

#22

Simon Slee
VP of Publishing

1 1 1.0
I wonder if they will address the issue for left-handed players correctly this time and produce a fully reversed left handed controller, rather then the poor attempts on the first generation to swap the analog sticks. Sony still do a better job on that point.

Posted:11 months ago

#23

Christopher Bowen
Editor in Chief

393 503 1.3
@Morville - You do the same job as I do. I've always struggled with the concept that saying X looks better than Y means "bias", which really, when we use it in that context, means "this person is in the tank for Y, and is secretly bashing X in order to bring up Y the way a political columnist would". Haven't you ever been accused of that? Does it tweak you as badly as it tweaks me?

I just wonder why we're eating our own on this one.

Posted:11 months ago

#24

Rick Lopez
Illustrator, Graphic Designer

1,205 817 0.7
I find nintendo's design approach, more practical, cost effective and easy. Im a designer I do mock ups, dunnies and stuff all the time and when the idea becomes solid enough I approach methods that closer resemble the final product. But these card board and paper mock ups are easier to produce and you can gain significant amounts of data that will serve the overall objective of the design, such as measurements, size, and when you get those right you may approach other methods to feel weight, form and feel, different materials and finally make up a functional roto type.

Honestly the approaches maybe different, but I dont think a 3D printaed version of a design is needed in the early stages of design. Or having to make a 3D model on screen, print it in 3D and find it its not what you want and do that hundreds of time, when papers scissors and markers provide just as much feedback in less time and more cost effective manner.

Im not bashing either companies methods, I just think its a matter of, taste.

Posted:11 months ago

#25

Yiannis Koumoutzelis
Founder & Creative Director

357 181 0.5
I think we all understood that the article is about design philosophies. This is not what all who objected with the article are talking about. What we are saying here is that either willingly or not, it shows that someone doesn't understand how hardware is designed. Since i also have a little background in I ndustrial Design, i will confirm what was mentioned above that the Paper and 3D print are not different methods, old and new, poor and rich, or highand low tech, but different stages of the process.

Also, referring to the #1 gaming company in the world as a "little company" if not biased, it is disrespectful towards the gaming Giant called Nintendo. If the writer has a history that readers should respect, what could we say about Nintendo?

Posted:11 months ago

#26

Greg Wilcox
Creator, Destroy All Fanboys!

1,993 902 0.5
Hmmmm... tempest, meet teapot? Car companies sculpt prototypes in clay, James Cameron prototyped the Alien Queen with garbage bags, a crane arm and a bunch of stuntmen on top of each other. Microsoft possibly spent more money 3D printers and the material to make their prototypes than Nintendo did cutting apart some shipping boxes and maybe glue-sticking a controller layout on it to make theirs. As long as the end result works, what's the real difference?

Posted:11 months ago

#27

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,374 1,024 0.7
@ Christopher

Speaking personally, it's because there's so much wasted opportunity in this article. "Design philosophy" could mean anything; it ranges from why Nintendo always think of UI innovations first, to why the One design team felt it was necessary to rename the Start/Back buttons, but leave the placement of the pads/sticks the same. It can cover production materials, weight, flexibility for how people hold the controllers, the implications for left-handed players... It goes on and on. Instead, it's an article that flatters the One's prototyping methods. I fully agree with Robert's take on the artticle that
It's about what the companies chose to show of their design processes, and how their origins likely informed this
But there's lack of depth in the article about this. As such (again, speaking personally) it seems more like "those wacky Japanese" vs "those serious futuristic MS guys". Again, it's not that he meant it this way, but it's how it comes across. I would rather have said that Nintendo's use of a cardboard prototype humanises the company, and it's design process, whilst Microsoft places technology before emotion. It belittles neither company and (I feel) is a more thought-provoking sentence.

Posted:11 months ago

#28
The article is a bit hollow as a marketing strategy analysis . Shown on the picture is a 3D milling process and not 3D printing which is quoted in the article many times. Rapid prototyping via 3D milling CAD/CAM is as normal as breathing in the industry since 2000 and even earlier.

Posted:11 months ago

#29

Gwyn Howell
Developer

6 5 0.8
The biggest improvement definitely comes in the D-pad, which was notoriously terrible on 360. Now, the internal mount for the D-pad has been moved closer to the surface, so it handles tightly and -- one assumes -- more responsively.
If I'm not mistaken, the D-pad was Nintendo's invention some 25 years ago, and only now the patents have expired to allow M$ (and others) to use it.

Posted:11 months ago

#30

David Radd
Senior Editor

360 77 0.2
If the line about the "little Japanese card company" set off your biasometer, the sensitivity might be set too high on it.
This. I realize people probably looked at this article and wanted to see it as an "up for this company, down for this company" but it is most certainly not that. It is indeed about the design philosophies, Microsoft proud of their high-tech iterations while Nintendo revels in its simple design origins. It's telling and neither is inherently better than the other.

Posted:11 months ago

#31

Nick Parker
Consultant

264 124 0.5
Bruce has been very quiet over all of this.

Posted:11 months ago

#32

Andrew Ihegbu
Studying Bsc Commercial Music

416 112 0.3
On a deeper level, a few slabs of Cardboard for a controller offers very limited design options, so working on the casings curvature to make sure it fits into one's hand is pretty hard. The end result is always quite boxy though, and therefore cheap to make when it's actually put into production.

Posted:8 months ago

#33

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