Trackball Controllers for Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo

In 2003 I wrote this preachy little rant about how gamers and developers could benefit from adding trackballs to their controllers. Enjoy!

Xbox Trackball Controller
Xbox Trackball Controller
PlayStation Trackball Controller
PlayStation Trackball Controller
Nintendo Revolution Trackball Controller
Nintendo (Revolution?) Trackball Controller

 

The trackball is a better control mechanism for console first-person shooters

I’ve occasionally heard people say "thumbsticks are just different – Once you get used to them, they work as well as a mouse". But those who have used both extensively will tell you that there are major differences. Here is what we know:

With joysticks, you do not directly control the position of your cross hairs. You control the rate and direction at which it moves across the screen. For example, if you move the joystick slightly to the left and hold it, the cross hairs will move slowly until you bring the joystick back to center. That means that every movement of your cross hairs actually involves two small movements in the joystick. This is a subtle difference, but it is multiplied thousands of times when a game is played.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, cross hair movement speed is capped with joysticks. "Twitch" movement is all but impossible when using a joystick to control your view. In fact, the higher the maximum speed allowed with joystick control, the more imprecise the joystick becomes. Theoretically, the same is true with mouse or trackball control (ever maxed-out the sensitivity of your PC mouse?), but to a much lesser degree.

With a mouse or trackball, you control the rate and position directly. If you roll the mouse to the left and hold it, the cross hairs will do the same. This is a fundamental advantage in usability, as there are less movement decisions to make and less potential mistakes overall.

Although there is a theoretical limit to cross hair speed/sensitivity with mouse and trackball input, accomplished users can achieve near-instantaneous "twitch" movement with them. Obviously, this is not desirable in every game, but the speed can easily be limited by game developers, when appropriate. Good things happen when game developers are given more freedom.

A trackball controller will allow for other game genres on consoles

Real-time strategy games like Warcraft would benefit greatly from a trackball gamepad. These types of games were originally designed for PC’s with mouse input, and that is still the best platform for them. Click-and-drag, multiple-selects, and clicking way points are fundamental to RTS games, and mouse-style input is the simplest way to do it.

Adding a trackball to controllers and gamepads opens up new possibilities in game design. Imagine being able to play classic trackball-based arcade games like Centipede and Golden Tee the way they were meant to be played. Developers would be able to create new golf, bowling, and other types of games well-suited for trackball input.

Trackball controllers would be better for the console maker

By now, just about everybody you know has used the internet. If you’ve ever used an internet browser, you’ve used a point-and-click interface. Game and console developers could decrease the learning curve for their software by taking advantage of pointer-driven interfaces. This is primarily a benefit to the console maker, because a shorter learning curve ultimately opens the doors to a wider market, and creates a competitive advantage.

A neat additional benefit of implementing pointer-driven interfaces in console games is that user interfaces could be standardized between PC and console software. This would naturally decrease development time for games developed for both platforms.

Feel free to comment below with questions or suggestions

 

15 thoughts on “Trackball Controllers for Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo”

  1. yes I agree it is a very good idea but i still have a few questions about the controller. I am very curious as to what date it will be released in Australia and what price range. Also with one of the concept designs by BodieLobus he has the R3 button separate from the trackball where it may become difficult to reach, but on your design there is no visible R3 button. if you have it on the trackball in the same way as the analog stick you would need a high threshold to prevent pressing it by accident but not so high that it’s difficult to press. Another thing: with the trackball design it works like a mouse so it would be a lot more twitchy and the cursor would be pausing every time you make a long turn (ie. turning around) and that might affect gameplay but other than that it is an excellent idea and I’m looking forward to it’s release.

  2. I’ve just briefly looked at your design and the Bodielobus design and I noticed you both have the trackball in the right stick position. I was wondering if it was possible to order a controller with the trackball in the left stick position? I seems it would be simpler to operate games when you have to use your left hand for moving and your right hand for shooting. In addition, you mentioned being able to play games like centipede which you really need a trackball to adequately play. Well, Centipede consoles had the trackball on the left side.

  3. I’ve just briefly looked at your design and the Bodielobus design and I noticed you both have the trackball in the right stick position. I was wondering if it was possible to order a controller with the trackball in the left stick position? I seems it would be simpler to operate games when you have to use your left hand for moving and your right hand for shooting. In addition, you mentioned being able to play games like centipede which you really need a trackball to adequately play. Well, Centipede consoles had the trackball on the left side.

  4. Dennis, With the trackball on the right, you manipulate your viewing direction and “shoot” with the right hand (using the trigger or shoulder buttons). You would still “move” your character with the thumbstick on the left.

    This is how it works with a mouse (assuming you use the mouse with your right hand) and in other thumbstick console FPS games.

    As for Centipede, I think there were different versions. This picture at http://www.videogamecritic.net/arcade.htm shows the trackball on the right.

    Ultimately, it would be great to have different options for different people, but I believe the Bodielobus model will feel right to most individuals.

  5. I am just a fan and had a wuick question. I was hoping that it is in the works already but if you have plans to or have already made a controller for the PS3 or the Xbox 360? Thanks alot Robert

  6. Im in Australia and i saw a cheap version of the trackball controller for ps2/pc in an ALDI supermarket and it was sold out. Thats the only one i have found so far and it was $20. I was wondering if there are any of them in stores like EB games, game traders etc. in Australia.

  7. Robert, the latest press release form Bodielobus announces official support for PC, and also hints at future adapters for other platforms like Xbox360 and PS3.

  8. I love the ignorant response from Sony, I quote from WhiteFusion.com about
    Sony’s response to the idea of a good tracball controller: —-Fusion says “We do have working prototypes for current generation consoles that, as Sony has
    told us, provide an unfair advantage over standard controllers”
    –UNFAIR??!! I ask ….
    MY reply to Sony is – Just because you have grandfathered in a lousy
    controller system ,should we all refuse better?. If that were true , we
    would still be fighting wars with rocks and sticks . Or . riding in horse and buggy because a car is an unfair advantage.
    Right now . I understand Sony, because if you were to equip one player
    with the new controller concept and the other player with the old, In a
    Shooter ‘ in effect it will be like giving one guy a five foot long rubber
    rifle and the other guy gets a high precision gun. So … who wants to be
    fair??? I will get the new one and kick the crap out of the guy dumb enough
    to stick with the old , just because it is there.
    Anyway…NOTE to all: please go to these sites and support the developers.
    I can’t wait for them to succeed! GAME ON!!

  9. I do not think bodielobus is even in business anymore. I have written numerous emails, sent letters by mail (yes, REAL mail) and got crap. I really wanted this controller to happen, but it appears they went away. You cannot even pre order the controller anylong (site is down and now appears to be for sale).

    Yes, this dream of a FPS controller has NO existence ANYWHERE on the net. I have looked 20 pages deep into google, ask.com, dogpile.com, hotbot.com I have called IGN I have called gamespot, I have called Microsoft, I have called ALL 3rd party MFG’s (ie madcatz, pelican etc) and NO ONE has ANYTHING to offer on this.

    I believe this is most annoying (I am actually VERY pissed off at this fact).

    grrrr im so mad.

  10. I am totally with you Nick G, and i understand your feelings right now. Well i am playing Quake 4 on Xbox 360 and going to play UT3 for the xbox360, i would also like to play with custom pads, but its not allowed on Lan tournament. Its completely different in online leagues, because they cant see on what you are playing.
    I would totally support that idea. Some Q4 mates are trying to solve this problem either. We want to play UT3 competitive, i prey for some big tourneys. Anyway i personally think that the console scene is new and there for there are still many distrustful people. I mean console esports is growing slowly, its at its beginning, right, but if some people would like to have more sense, why bothering them with such stupid arguments that they have got a big advantage. Just to remind you, consoles big brother PC, has also got adjustable input devices. My point is why cant someone play with the Trackball when he feels more comfortable with it. We are allready locked in a box, and cant change shit, so why not customizing the devices. I personally think that its nonsense and totally agree with all of you. Or can anyone in any other sports type, Football, for example say, oh dear… my opponent is wearing other shoes, he might have a little advantage, he could be faster. In Rally they even live with the differences its competitive. I just cant understand that way of thinking, the console community has. It will remain equal on the fairness.
    It is totally a market gap, no doubt.
    So if i or anyone of my quake 4 mates could help you with that, just let me know and catch me on MSN: se1z@gmx.at. or visit our clanwebsite: http://www.qualitygaming.eu

  11. I use both the game pad controller and a PC track ball mouse equally. There is no question in my mind that the trackball mouse controller has an advantage. My question is simple this. How hard would it be for someone to creat an interface/adapter for the game consoles that would allow a person to plug in a PC keyboard in and (Trackball) mouse to use in place of a game pad? I would rather not have to buy another accessory (i.e. Console Trackball) that doesn’t work as well and is more expensive than something I’m already using. Just something to think about. Peace Out!

  12. Aside from the hardware, all it would require is circuitry that detected the trackball’s acceleration and mapped it to joystick controls. Most track ball circuitry detects absolute position rather than acceleration. By tracking acceleration and mapping it to relative joystick motions it would be able to work with existing games.

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