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Ready to rumble: Hands-on with Xbox One's impressive controller

By Andy Robinson on Monday 27th May 2013 at 8:46 AM UTC

Beyond the bafflingly mixed messaging and emphatically divided reaction to the press conference, there were positives to take from the way Microsoft decided to unveil the Xbox One, and specifically, where it decided to do it.

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As a gigantic corporation increasingly obsessed with flaunting its clout as an entertainment monolith, it would've been tempting for the Windows firm to chuck money at Kanye West's favourite Hollywood-based super stadium and put on a light show. But it didn't.

Instead the Xbox firm opted for a refreshingly intimate event at the place where its new machine was conceptualised: the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington.

Once the infamous reveal tent had finally emptied, press were granted unprecedented access and insight into the Microsoft departments responsible for Xbox One's creation.

We spoke to the designers, visited the NASA-like monitoring room for Xbox Live, met the man responsible for ensuring the controller would survive 3 million button presses, and got a bit scared inside the eerie, million-dollar anechoic chamber used to test Kinect.

We were also offered to try out the Xbox One's new controller, using a prototype and a series of demos running on PC.

Two months after Sony was criticised for keeping the aesthetics of its box under wraps, Microsoft deserves recognition for not only showing press the Xbox One console, but putting a controller in their hands and letting them experience it first-hand.

Taking the popular form factor of the original Xbox 360 pad, Microsoft's designers claim they've made more than 40 design innovations to the new controller, with the aim of delivering a peripheral that's not only more comfortable but enables 'immersive' gaming experiences.

During the press conference we admit this sounded like complete marketing guff, especially when combined with the phrase "dynamic impulse triggers". But in truth when we tried this particular feature for ourselves we found it to be one of the most exciting aspects of Xbox One from a gamer's point of view.

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Essentially, Microsoft has increased the number of force feedback motors in the Xbox One controller, allowing for more subtle rumble in localised parts of the pad. In one FPS-style demo we played, a virtual hand held out a pistol. Firing the pistol with the controller's right trigger resulted in simulated recoil occurring on just that part of the controller.

In another demo, which had the same virtual hand magically spawn a fire ball, we could 'feel' the explosive projectile explode from the centre of the controller and out towards your fingers. It was an impressive effect.

Other demos better showed off the feature's application as a gameplay enhancement. One allowed us to start the engine of a supercar with the Y button, causing the Xbox One controller to cough and splutter realistically as the virtual engine sparked to life

In another section showing a close up of the vehicle's wheels, the controller pulsed to simulated bumps in the road surface, and then violently clanged as the anti-lock breaks kicked in.

Every journalist we spoke to at Microsoft's Redmond event agreed; the Xbox One controller feels like a big improvement over its 360 predecessor.

Finally, a simple demo featuring a human figure caused the controller to simulate a heartbeat, directly on the corresponding spot of the pad on the top right hand corner. It's been suggested the subtlety of Xbox One's force feedback could be used to find secrets of even indicate the direction of enemy fire in next-gen games.

Every journalist we spoke to at Microsoft's Redmond event agreed; the Xbox One controller feels like a big improvement over its 360 predecessor.

In comfort, the pad's handles feel more angular and better defined, screw holes and seam lines have been removed and the 360's bulky battery pack has been rotated 90 degrees and absorbed inside the controller. The latter means the Xbox One pad feels lighter, with weight better distributed across the peripheral.

From a functionality perspective, fans will be pleased to hear that the much-criticised d-pad of the current console has been redesigned and now feels tighter and more accurate with buttons presses rewarded with a satisfying click. The analogue sticks too have had their dead zones minimised significantly, says Microsoft.

But it's that improved force feedback that makes the Xbox One pad a fantastic prospect. We're looking forward to discovering its implications on genuine next-gen gameplay at E3 in a few weeks' time, along with a clearer overview of what Xbox One will really have to offer core gamers.

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