One of the coolest features of Stadia will be the way Google’s own controller will handle communications with the game server. Instead of plugging the controller directly into your gaming device – be it your Chromebook, phone or tablet – users will be able to set the controller up to communicate directly with the same server your gaming device is connected to via Wi-Fi. This small change will greatly reduce input lag and make for a better experience all around.
You’d think with that sort of tech in place, Google would almost force players to conform to their controller in order to even consider Stadia gameplay. After all, I can’t use my XBOX controller on my Nintendo Switch and I wouldn’t expect to be able to. Part of buying into a particular platform is the inherent cost and investment required to buy all the needed peripherals for that console.
In a move that is a bit surprising to me, Google has opted not to force this sort of lock-in for Stadia. Instead, they have made it quite clear that users will be allowed to not only leverage a mouse and keyboard if available, but also many Bluetooth and USB controllers. Have a DualShock 4 or XBOX controller lying around? Get them connected via Bluetooth or USB to the device you are streaming your game from and you’ll be able to utilize it for all your games just like the official Stadia controller.
One thing is still missing
One part of the experience is still technically missing, however, and it is a pretty important one: vibration. Reaching all the way back to 1997, Nintendo pioneered the idea of a vibration motor in the controller to bring a bit more realism to the gaming experience. Rumble in controllers has come a long way since then and in the 20+ years its been a feature, it has become central to the controller-based gaming experience. Both as a method of feedback and an experience enhancer, vibration in controllers feels like a forgone conclusion at this point.
As it currently sits, both the XBOX One S controller and PS4 DualShock controller aren’t fully supported when it comes to vibration. The two behave differently, registering themselves as either a “gamepad” or “HID” when paired up via Bluetooth or USB and the way that each registers varies depending on your type of connection. Check out the language in this commit and in this additional one for a bit of clarity on what is being added.
[gamepad] Support Xbox One S Bluetooth vibration
The Xbox Wireless Controller behaves like an XInput gamepad over USB but like a HID gamepad over Bluetooth. Chrome supports this gamepad in both modes, but previously vibration was only available in USB mode. This CL adds support for vibration in Bluetooth mode.
[gamepad] Enable Dualshock4 vibration over Bluetooth
Dualshock4 devices expect a different output report when connected over Bluetooth than when connected over USB. Additionally, DS4 can switch between a PC-friendly mode that only sends button and axis reports and a full-feature mode that includes the touchpad, motion sensors, and other inputs. DS4 will switch into the full-feature mode after receiving an output report or feature report. When connected over Bluetooth, full-feature mode stops sending the PC-friendly input reports (ID 0x01) and only sends full-feature input reports (ID 0x11).
This CL modifies the DS4 driver logic to detect the bus type in use and send the correct version of the output report. It also adds support for the full-feature input report over Bluetooth on Mac and Windows. Linux does not require special handling of this report because it is already handled correctly by the hid-sony kernel module.
In general, it looks like the Chromium devs are adding full support to both of these controllers so that you have access to vibration functions regardless of your connection type. Whether attached with a USB cable or paired up with Bluetooth to your streaming device, your XBOX One S and/or DualShock 4 controller should be capable of handling all the rumbles you would expect from their respective consoles when playing games on Stadia.
I can’t overstate how awesome this is. In a climate where tech is generally cordoned off into ecosystems that don’t talk to one another, this feels like a genuine breath of fresh air. Again, Google has a fully-functioning controller that is priced competitively with other great controllers on the market and the hands-on videos are universally praising it across the board and a fantasic piece of hardware through and through. They could easily launch Stadia and simply demand that users buy their controller to work with the system. The fact that they are instead greeting future player with open arms simply feels like the most Google thing Stadia could do, and I love it.