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Pre-E3 06: Hands on with the new PlayStation 3 controller

It was the moment all of video gaming-dom has been waiting for since last E3: Sony's grand high mucky-muck Ken Kutaragi, on the stage of Sony's pre-E3 press conference, officially announced that the boomerang-shaped PS3 controller revealed last year was officially dead.

Not only that, but the new controller design wasn't actually very new at all. When he trotted it out and said, "This is the final PlayStation 3 controller," the audience actually laughed. It turns out the PS3 controller looks incredibly like the same Dual Shock controller we've known and loved for years, only painted silver and with a big PlayStation-logo button in the middle.

Granted, it packs in some new tricks. To demonstrate, Sony Computer Entertainment chief Phil Harrison took the stage and started up a demo. Onscreen, a box labeled "Do not open until E3" shook and fell apart, revealing a 3D version of the controller. Harrison lifted up the real one, and the onscreen one rose as well. Harrison tilted his controller, and the one onscreen tilted. That's right: thanks to a six-axis internal gyroscope, the Dual Shock 3 (or whatever Sony decides to call it) is motion-sensitive, not entirely unlike the two-piece wand that makes Nintendo's Wii such an unusual duck. It also boasts a USB port on top, which we're guessing is used to recharge the internal batteries that power the Bluetooth-powered wireless connectivity. While we're guessing, we're also thinking that the round, black button in the center of the controller is probably similar to the jewel button on the 360, providing access to Sony's planned online service.

The lower shoulder buttons, R2 and L2, look almost as if they've been turned into triggers - they clearly have a bit more give. Sony didn't address this during the conference, and we actually didn't notice much of a difference when we held it ourselves. We're hoping for at least some analog sensitivity, though we would definitely have preferred a full-blown trigger.



Sony also touted the light weight of the new controller, though it comes at a cost - the vibration motors have been removed. This actually sucks, because when we finally got the chance to hold the thing in our hands and play the demo of Warhawk, we wished we had some kind of feedback (other than our aircraft careening all over) to tell us how far we'd tilted. It didn't help that the controller felt kind of light and insubstantial.

Not that we're complaining; using the controller to guide the path of our hoverplane was slightly awkward, but held undeniable appeal.

We're slightly disappointed that we never got the chance to at least try the boomerang - despite the fact that it looked terrible, with a strange contour and too-tiny analog sticks, we'd like to prove that we were right to fear it - but in the end, we're thrilled to have our old friend back. We'll just have to remember that this controller won't come back to us if we throw it.

May 08, 2006

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