[As part of a usability course at Full Sail University, students Dewayne Cameron, Scott Glendinnning, and Steven C. Lindsey designed the Blue Falcon, a unique cross-platform controller that offers keyboard input without reducing gameplay functionality. Game Career Guide presents their design document here.]
Not all human interface devices are created equal. With the Blue Falcon, gamers will enjoy the freedom to use keyboard and mouse input capabilities, all while maintaining full gameplay functionality. Flux Gaming has reinvented the current Human Interface Device for console and PC gaming with the introduction of the Blue Falcon controller. By melding current console gamepad technology with a keyboard as well as other intuitive design features, Flux Gaming has leapt into the future of cutting edge gaming with the Blue Falcon.
The Blue Falcon Will:
"Blue Falcon, Witness the evolution of gaming!"
In April 2012, three students of the BS Video Game Design degree program at Full Sail University Online enrolled in a course in Usability. Together, the students collaborated online to build a new controller for gaming, as part of their final project. This article describes how they were able to apply the Usability Theory they learned in building a radical new controller that bridges the gap between hardcore gamers and casual gamers on a multiplatform scale.
The Blue Falcon Controller is a redesign of the current Human Interface Controllers that will give users a new interactive gaming experience. By combining the strengths of the current Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC peripheral interface devices, a revolutionary new design was conceived.
The Blue Falcon includes a QWERTY keyboard; accelerometers, gyroscopes and magnetometers for free motion gaming; USB 3.0 for additional peripherals; OLED Smart Actions Buttons (S.A.B.) for multiplatform usability; a Bluetooth headset, a built-in charging station, and two additional rear action buttons. The controller has over 90 buttons in all, allowing for completely unique button mapping for both developers and game users.
The original purpose behind the Blue Falcon was to eliminate user communication issues. Current controllers require the use of add-on peripheral keyboards or on-screen virtual keyboards. By incorporating a full built-in QWERTY keyboard, the user will be better equipped to perform written communication and enter game information on the same level as PC users.
In addition to the keyboard, a Bluetooth headset was incorporated so that the user can maintain verbal communication. The design team focused on incorporating a docking station on the underside of the keyboard; this acts as easy storage and charging for the device. The docking station will eliminate excess cords, as well as reduce the possibility of headset loss.
The next concept the design team wanted to focus on was combining the functionality of current gaming peripherals with the functionality of a keyboard and mouse setup. In addition to including a keyboard, the design team felt the inclusion of a standard console-style control layout would aid user recognition. The design team also has incorporated a USB 3.0 port, which will allow users the flexibility to use additional devices (i.e. a mouse) if they desire. In addition, having a USB 3.0 port is better for increased data transfer speed if a user adds additional peripherals.
The final concept the design team wished to incorporate was multiplatform usability. This was accomplished by allowing the device to sync with the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC. This concept was further developed by adding OLED Smart Action Buttons (S.A.B.). The icons on these smart buttons will change to match the configuration of the specific platform the Blue Falcon is connected to. This aids in recognition by making the device more familiar to users who have experience with console-specific controllers.
The design team contemplated a way to incorporate each component into one cohesive design; the Blue Falcon's shape was mainly inspiredby the design of Razer's Project Fiona. With this design, every component can be interconnected without sacrificing user comfort or performance.
The OLED smart action buttons were inspired by Razer's concept device, the Switchblade. The Switchblade uses a dynamic tactile keyboard; the keys on this device have displays that change depending on what program the user is running. To the design team, this concept was a key element in aiding user recognition and cross-platform compatibility.
The design team wanted to incorporate a keyboard, since it is an active part of PC gaming. Inspiration for this component came from the Apple Wireless Keyboard. Apple's product was chosen for its space saving design; it takes 24% less space than the average keyboard. The design team also felt that the ergonomic incline in the keyboard was an important design feature.
The design team wanted to incorporate into the controller the successful free motion control of smart phone technology. By adding accelerometers, gyroscopes and magnetometers, the user can tilt the controller in different directions to input specific actions, instead of using the standard controller interface.
To ensure multiplatform connectivity, it was a must for our device to have both Bluetooth and 2.4GHz wireless. This will enable connectivity with the PlayStation 3 and PC via Bluetooth, and Xbox 360 via 2.4GHz wireless.
"Input is the player's organ of expression in the game world, the only way a player can speak to the game. This is an overlooked aspect of game feel: the tactile feel of the input device. Games played with a good-feeling controller feel better. The Xbox 360 controller feels good to hold; it's solid, has the proper weight, and is pleasingly smooth to the touch. By contrast, the PS3 controller has been lamented as being light and cheap, like one of those third party knockoffs."
- (Isbister & Schaffer, 2008)
A QWERTY-style keyboard gives the console user a level of communication on par with that of PC users. The current console market limits the user to add-on peripheral devices, which makes for awkward and heavy controllers. Consoles support virtual keyboards, but these can be time consuming and a hassle to interact with.
It is possible that future-generation game consoles will have dedicated web browsing capabilities which would make full use of the keyboard on the Blue Falcon. Our solution provides the much-needed communication users deserve without forgoing functionality. This design also eliminates the need for most peripheral devices. The design has achieved the team's goal of increasing the user's input expression for gameplay across multiple platforms.
While communication is important, we also wanted to maintain a compact controller that feels good to use. Incorporating a keyboard into a console gaming pad while also reaching the perfect amalgamation of compactness, weight, feel, and performance was the ultimate goal of the Blue Falcon's design. The team's choice to use the Apple Wireless Keyboard was because of its sleek, compact, and full featured design -- a design that could be placed at the core of a controller built for casual and hardcore gamers alike.
As both future game designers and avid gamers, we wanted to design a controller that was capable of being used by Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC users. The first challenge that Flux Gaming encountered was making a wireless controller that would be able to seamlessly communicate with multiple platforms.
To solve this problem, the Blue Falcon had to use both Bluetooth and 2.4GHz wireless technology. While Bluetooth was essential to achieve this goal, it also carried a few issues of its own. The maximum device load on any given piconet is seven, so a group of four users would be unable to use four Blue Falcons along with their included headsets without causing problems. To counter this, the controller will need to have a receiver built into its design that routes both the headset data and controller data into one Bluetooth signal. This eliminates the number of wireless devices a system has synced to it, and decreases confusion and feedback on the platform.
The Blue Falcon also needs to be able to overcome other issues surrounding a multi-platform controller: user recognition and error prevention. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 have different symbols and colors coding for their action buttons; to quickly change between these different systems, localizations had to be devised. The user recognition issue was solved via the incorporation of the OLED S.A.B. Other benefits OLED offers are flexibility and energy conservation, allowing for longer battery life.
The buttons can quickly change based on which platform or game the controller is currently being synced with. Due to the addition of the OLED S.A.B., the user has the ability to tell the Blue Falcon which platform it will be synchronizing with. This task is completed by selecting the action button that corresponds to the platform the user wishes to use during the Blue Falcon's power-up sequence.
Finally, it was deemed necessary to include a USB 3.0 port to allow gamers the ability to add any number of USB gaming peripherals. USB 3.0 also allows for faster charging and faster data transfer.
World of Warcraft
Users will be able to interact with the game's UI action bar system with the Blue Falcon's OLED S.A.B. The ability of these buttons to display an icon from the game will support user recognition and the controller's design for flexibility of use.
The Analog Joysticks on the controller will reduce the need for a mouse peripheral. This is very beneficial, as it will allow the user to perform certain actions easier (i.e. kiting enemies). For users who already make use of console controllers for WoW, the Blue Falcon will still be superior, due to the Rear Action Buttons; in all, the controller's buttons can support 20 UI macro actions instead of 12. The controller gives users access to nearly twice as many actions, and supports the large action rotations of characters like Warlocks, Shamans, Mages and Hunters.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
The Blue Falcon being compatible with Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC makes it the perfect choice for a game like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. Having a controller that allows users to have actions mapped to the keyboard as well as the controller will give them faster reaction times. This will provide a more fluid transition in the user's gameplay.
The addition of the two rear action buttons will allow users to map actions that usually require them to move their thumbs from the left and right joysticks. This is an ideal controller for a game in which timing and player reaction is critical. The user needs to have a high performance interface that allows them to take full advantage of every action the game offers without sacrificing loss of control.
Blue Falcon's integration of motion control will add a sense of realism to racing games that will appeal to both casual and hardcore gamers. Adapting real-world motions with this technology will allow for actual steering motions to be used during gameplay. Just a simple tilt or turn of the controller will ensure that the match between system and real world experience is achieved for the user.
In addition, the Rear Action Buttons will increase reaction time in a way that current controllers cannot; the Blue Falcon facilitates moment-to-moment gameplay and split-second decision-making.
Flux Gaming wants to give users a better tactile feel with the Blue Falcon's design. Free Motion Control, along with the tangible feel of the controller's grips, will add immersion to many simulation-oriented gaming genres. The controller's intuitive button-mapping enriches the user's overall gameplay experience by giving a sense of control over a real vehicle.
Blue Falcon Prototype
A scale model prototype of the Blue Falcon was constructed using Styrofoam. Flux Gaming was able to use Heuristics design testing to see how the actual controller would feel in the hands of a user to help influence needed modifications and improvements. Using the known weights of different devices that the team wanted to incorporate into the design, the estimated weight of the controller was determined to be approximately 41.3 ounces. The dimensions of the controller are 13" x 7". The size/weight ratio of the controller is within acceptable performance standards for the user.
More testing for the controller needs to be conducted once a fully operational prototype has been built. These tests will help to determine the usability and compatibility across multiple platforms and genres. The following questions still need to be answered:
These tests will help the design team to ensure that the controller meets the two elements and four principles of Gamenics by following Nielson's 10 Heuristics for the engineering of a multiplatform controller. Testing will need to be broken up into three phases:
Technology Testing Phase:
Since the Blue Falcon is incorporating a multitude of different types of technology in its design, each individual component as well as the combination of all components must be tested. This will reveal any potential hardware compatibility issues that may present themselves.
A continued Heuristics evaluation of a working prototype will help Flux Gaming fix any issues that may have been overlooked during the concept phase of the design process.
Upon completion of a working prototype, Flux Gaming will be able to begin incorporating a wide range of PC, console, hardcore and casual users to further test the Blue Falcon. These tests will provide insight as to where the Blue Falcon may fall short in its intended design. The results of the testing will compile data for Flux Gaming that can then be used to shape the Blue Falcon to meet its intended design goal: to provide an unparalleled gaming experience.
Discussion of Findings and Results
The Blue Falcon uses a combination of technology to make it desirable for casual and hardcore gamers alike. The addition of the OLED S.A.B. will allow dedicated single-platform enthusiasts to migrate to other gaming platforms; such users will experience all levels of gameplay on any platform they desire. A controller such as the Blue Falcon may help PC-specific game genres such as real-time strategy games and MMORPGs move into the console market, due to its design being so adaptable for different platforms.
Further testing on a working prototype is still needed to determine reliability, durability and hardware compatibility for its overall functionality. Tests will help to explore the design until all bugs and flaws are identified and eliminated. The need to conduct user playtests in an open forum is critical in helping to define the user attitudinal data for the use of such a controller. Further usability testing needs to be conducted within the target audience of 15-40 year-old male and female users who have Xbox 360, PlayStation, 3 and PC gaming experience. The use of aluminum for the frame and body of the Blue Falcon will maintain a great tactile feel while also producing a durable product.
As the gaming industry has evolved, there have been many innovations in the hardware used for PCs and Consoles. Input devices, however, have remained relatively unchanged throughout the years. A controller like the Blue Falcon is the next step in development of user interface devices for cross-platform gaming.
The Blue Falcon emphasizes communication, user recognition, and flexibility by combining the functionality of current controllers with the tried-and-true keyboard and mouse setup avid PC users love. The Blue Falcon is superior to current controllers on the market today because of its integrated keyboard and cross-platform compatibility. The Blue Falcon also offers extreme flexibility in button mapping for game developers and users, allowing them to dominate all aspects of gaming.
Isbister, K., & Schaffer, N. (2008). Game Usability. (p. 273). Burlington: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers.
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