A post on Sony’s PlayStation blog last night offered details of an upcoming software update to the PlayStation 4, and while the post focuses on “suspend/resume” capabilities, there’s a nugget hidden in the feature list: Version 2.50 of the PS4 system software will finally let players configure controls however they want, for any game. In other words, if you want your circle button to mean “jump” and your L1 button to mean “slide,” you can make that happen, even if the game’s creator didn’t want you to. It’s a privilege that PC players have enjoyed since time immemorial while console players have been forced to hope that developers would include it on a game-by-game basis (which they usually don’t).
First, the suspend/resume business: The idea here is that you can pause your game, turn the console off—or, more accurately, put it into electricity-consuming standby mode—and quickly pick up later where you left off. Sony announced this feature two years ago when the PS4 was unveiled, but it was left out of the shipping product, with little explanation from the company other than “We’re working on it.” (Suspend/resume had already done its primary job of encouraging PS4 pre-orders, so the actual implementation of the feature was apparently considered an afterthought.) In characteristic Pravda-esque fashion, Sony’s blog post casts this belated innovation as a Victory for The People:
While developing the PlayStation 4 system, our hardware and software teams relied on feedback from our community of developers. The result is the most innovative and forward-thinking gaming console in the market today. Since launch, PlayStation has continued that trend of listening to feedback by bringing some of the most highly requested features from the PlayStation Nation to PS4 with each of our system software updates. When we unveiled PS4 two years ago, we announced Suspend/Resume, a feature that would enable PS4 users to jump in and out of their games faster than ever. This has been a feature gamers have been excited about since then, and today I am honored to officially confirm that system software update 2.50, “Yukimura,” will soon deliver Suspend/Resume, as well as a number of other requested features to PS4.
The real point of interest here is hidden in a list at the bottom of the post, which details the other tiny enhancements that will come to the PS4 in the 2.50 firmware. One bullet point highlights Sony’s admirable efforts to make the PlayStation more usable for disabled players:
Accessibility Options: “Yukimura” introduces a wide variety of options to make their PS4 entertainment experience even more accessible. Options include text to speech, enlarged text, bolder fonts, higher contrast UI, zoom for displayed pictures, invert colors on screen and more. Users will also be able to reassign buttons for DualShock 4, making it easier for users with limited manual dexterity or limited reach and strength to play. [Emphasis added.]
In the comments on the post, a user writes, “Does this mean we can actually force custom control settings into any game? That would be cool.” In response, the Sony executive who wrote the post confirms, “Not the primary intended purpose, but yes, you are correct!”
If you play a lot of video games, you do acquire a knack for adapting yourself to different control schemes, but it’s still a pain. Yes, developers have settled on some standards—the right trigger to accelerate in racing games, for instance, or the X button to jump—but other common functions jump around the controller from game to game. More to the point, there’s little practical reason that players shouldn’t be able to “rewire” a controller to fit their preferences. (You could argue that a control scheme constitutes an aesthetic choice by the game’s creator, but if so, it’s usually a minor one.)
Even if the feature will arrive on the PS4 in sort of a backdoor way—and could be cumbersome in practice, given that convenience is not its primary aim—the addition of system-wide custom button configurations is a welcome upgrade. Here’s hoping that other console makers follow Sony’s lead.