Microsoft made a bold decision with the Xbox One, to include Kinect as standard with every console sold. While it didn't really work out for them, resulting in a version of the system without it, the announcement of Xbox 2, currently known as Project Scorpio, at E3 2016 gave us a glimpse into the future of gaming.
For now, until we hear otherwise, controllers are still here. Let's take a look at what the Xbox 2/Project Scorpio controller could be like, and whether or not we'll see Kinect make a comeback.
So what does that mean when it comes to the control of the Xbox Two? Will we still have a classic controller? Since Project Scorpio (Xbox 2) is VR compatible, could we see a new type of hand controllers for the new console, similar to the ones used with the HTC Vive?
We aren’t entirely sure yet what the future holds when it comes to controlling video games, and yet we can certainly have a think about the different technologies that could have an impact on this industry.
The Ongoing Evolution of Gaming Controllers
Game controllers haven't drastically changed since the dawn of consoles, but they have become far more refined. What began as a clunky black controller on the original Xbox has evolved into a technical powerhouse with ultimate user-friendliness.
I remember my first experience with the Xbox One controller and the shock I saw when it said my controller had an update. My console was good, but my controller needed an update? Whoa.
With the ability to tweak the controller's sensitivity with an update, Microsoft opened the door to the most powerful controllers gaming has ever seen. Combine this pursuit with the rising eSports industry, and you have a future where competitive gaming demands competitive controllers.
Enter Microsoft's Elite line of Xbox One controllers. This premium option retails for over double the price of a normal controller, but the level of customization is insane. Here are some of the features you can get from today's elite controllers:
- Swap between multiple types of thumbsticks for different ergonomic and sensitivity play styles
- Multiple D-pad options for speed or precision
- Programmable paddles on the back for quick commands
- Hair trigger locks
- Every aspect of the controller's performance is customizable through the official app
The ability to swap out parts, modifying the controller's inputs, and complete control over its functionality via an app sounds like something out a science fiction game. If this kind of technology is at our fingertips, what can expect from the Xbox 2/Project Scorpio?
The Xbox Elite Controller 2.0
As Xbox Live continues to grow and competitive gaming continues to rise, we're looking at a future where a fully modifiable controller makes total sense. Even if simply changing out the analogue stick offers more control, people will want it.
The current Xbox One Elite controller is fairly rich in its options, but the next step from here would be a fully modifiable controller. For this inspiration, we need to look at Valve's Steam Controller. This controller was built from the ground up to to support new mods and designs created by the community.
Valve released the CAD geometry for their controller which gives people with design skills or 3D printers the ability to create and utilize their own mods for the Steam Controller. The first of these mods was actually a new back piece that includes a storage compartment for the USB dongle the controller uses.
Just like that, a problem is solved! The next step for Microsoft when it comes to Xbox 2's (Project Scorpio) premium controller will be one that can support both proprietary and community made mods like the Steam Controller. This will be the final frontier for a truly perfect controller that can adapt to literally any playstyle.
Perhaps a future controller will be able to sense when we hold it more tightly in a tense moment, or when our fingers start to sweat during a survival horror game. Perhaps the controller could react with subtle vibrations that enhance the overall experience.
The gaming industry has long had a fascination with providing feedback via the controller. Take the Wii Remote and the DualShock 4 for example. Both of these controllers have speakers in them that play messages, voice recordings, or in some cases sound effects to heighten the experience. Another example are the force-feedback triggers on the Xbox One controller, which gives you feedback based on what you're doing like firing a gun or a missile launcher.
One of our Xbox Two controller concepts features a screen on the controller itself. Gamers who played on the Sega Dreamcast will remember this is as a feature of the controller. A screen on the Xbox Two could be used for a number of innovative options. It could be touch-enabled like the touchpad on the DualShock 4, or it could simply be a screen that displays things like in-games maps, health, or even inventory items. Think of it like a smaller, more intuitive version of the Wii U's gamepad.
Controllers have always been how we play games. Attempts to change that (I'm looking at you Kinect) haven't worked all that well thus far. Does that mean we'll always use controllers? It's hard to say. Kind of like the mouse and keyboard, controllers have always had a kind of expected structure and setup. That being said, it all depends on how the console's content is delivered to us. Controllers aren't portable, but a headset like the HoloLens would be.
We also have to acknowledge the fact that Project Scorpio (Xbox 2) is going to be VR compatible. Will Microsoft try to push for a VR controller that is more intuitive for those types of games? There's always the chance that the controller will share the limelight with other devices. Let's see what else is competing with our current favorite.
Kinect? Are You There?
The motion sensing technology of the Kinect has improved massively since first being brought to the marketplace, with the model bundled with the Xbox One sensitive enough to monitor your heartbeat. Not to mention being able to see you in the dark and distinguish between two people talking at the same time. Microsoft has invested a lot into this technology. Even with all of these enhancements though, the Kinect still doesn't have a strong lineup of titles.
Microsoft insists that they haven't given up on the device, but is it realistic to expect another Kinect when the Xbox 2 releases? It's hard to say. Unless the device is massively improved, or used in conjunction with augmented/virtual reality and the new controller, it may not be able to stand on its own.
The question is how Kinect technology will be used to control the games console of the future. We doubt that you’ll ever need to crawl around the floor in a simulation of a real warzone (unless you really want to in some strange sort of fitness program), but voice control and the occasional motion could definitely help to enhance the gaming experience.
Eye Tracking and Augmented Reality
One technology that has seen great improvements in recent years is that of eye tracking. Simply look where you want to go, blink, and see your character move to the correct location. It might be something more useful for point and click adventure games, but as improvements to eye tracking do continue we may see this appear more and more in the gaming world, particularly if the Kinect is sensitive enough to incorporate it. As companies such as The Eye Tribe have shown, eye tracking can now be done affordably.
Then you have Microsoft's new augmented reality headset, The HoloLens. This device is still in the early phases, but we've seen it used to bring Minecraft into the real world. What does this mean for gaming as a whole? Will we even need a television anymore? Since augmented reality uses the world around you, it's more likely that the controller will work in tandem with the headset, thus giving you the ability to move around in the game without having to move too much in the real world.
The HoloLens may still be an option, but Microsoft has said that the device is indefinitely delayed, and they also confirmed that Project Scorpio/Xbox 2 will be virtual reality compatible. It's very likely that we'll see a VR bundle for Scorpio that includes the new console, along with Microsoft's headset of choice.
How do you think the Xbox Two will be controlled? Are you holding out for a classic controller or hoping that we make a move toward augmented reality? Let us know in the comments below.