The Haptics of Uncharted

Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection and the art of the remaster with Naughty Dog’s experts by Rachel Weber for GamesRadar

“The boat in the opening of the game was the very first thing people experienced so we were like, ‘OK is a big deal, we want to make sure that this feels good,'” says [Kurt] Margenau.

“We know where the body of the boat is scraping against the water, so we’re actually modeling that in stereo. When the boat turns to the right, you’ll not only feel that on the right side of the controller but also through two other layers of feedback. There’s a g-force meter, so any impact to the boat is being reflected on a pulse, which is based on the physics of what’s happening. And there’s a ‘propeller chop value’ in the simulation of the boat, which is like the propeller getting out of the water and skipping; we have a special haptic just for that. All these layers of those things are all running at once.”

I haven’t bought the Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves collection yet, but man oh man, the stuff I am reading that they did for the remaster has me beyond jazzed to replay these games on PS5. They modeled the boat’s propeller movement for Nate’s sake! The DualSense is a real selling point for me. I can only imagine the impact the haptics will have in PS VR2.

“We had to build a new pipeline to author them because it’s such a higher fidelity haptic experience than the old controller rumble. So we had to think about it in a different way and involve audio programmers, because the fidelity of the haptics is so high that it’s an audio signal that we’re sending to the controller,” says Margenau, with the saintly patience of a man explaining a very technical system to a total layperson. “So when you get shot, you can feel it only on the side of the controller where you got shot.

It’s fascinating to think of haptic feedback being sent as an audio signal to the controller. You could think of it like the vibration creating different frequencies, like a song, but the sensation creates texture instead of a tune. Neat to see this applied to remastering a PS4 game.

This implementation actually reminded me of a Twitter thread that Kurt Margenau wrote back when The Last of Us Part II received a PS5 patch. I found the thread and wouldn’t you know, sound was mentioned.

As many of you are jumping back into TLOU2 on PS5, you may notice the haptics feel better. This is actually thanks to a firmware update to the DualSense controller back in April. THREAD:

A few months ago, I got to give feedback to the Sony DualSense team to help improve certain timing, intensity, and “texture” of haptics when in backwards compatibility (BC) mode to closer achieve the feeling we authored for the original DualShock 4 for our games.

Which is pretty wild considering the physical mechanisms for achieving the haptics in the two controllers is quite different. How can a backwards compatibility mode even work in the first place?

The DS4 has two different-sized rotating weights inside, and the DualSense has two weights that move forward and back and can express frequency and amplitude at extremely high fidelity and low latency (almost like a speaker).

So the controller firmware in the DualSense has to receive the “old” signals that are meant to spin up a motor (which has much higher latency), and emulate the resulting FEELING in the controller using a completely different mechanical method.

This includes accounting for all the timing differences in the authored rumble that’s built-in when designing for the DS4, and emulating the inherent variation and “rumbly” feeling that comes with a rotating motor.

This is all done inside the controller without the game code changing at all.

So hat’s off to @toshimasa_aoki and the entire DualSense team for making this incredible controller in the first place, and to the firmware team that works so hard to create and improve features like BC mode!

The DualSense controller’s weights moving forward and back and frequency and amplitude must be a part of the secret sauce that creates the texture PS5 games can create. According to iFixIt, the DualSense uses a voice coil actuator to make the haptic magic happen. The power of magnets moving forward and back inside of a coil.

Imagine what Naughty Dog and the rest of PlayStation Studios will do with PS5 games developed from the ground up.