How Sonys PS5 designers turned PlayStation into something you can feel

 theverge.com  02/07/2021 15:00:00   Sean Hollister

When my colleague Andrew Webster reviewed the PlayStation 5, he explained how Sonys next-generation of video games is something you cant see  you have to touch. Part of that is how the amazing DualSense controllers clever motorized triggers and intensely precise vibrations can recreate the crunching sensation of strutting across a sandy beach or the pitter-patter of rain.

Another part: the 40,000 tiny PlayStation symbols youll feel when you pick up the PS5s new gamepad. As an Easter egg for its fans, the company decided to apply a microtexture to the DualSense controllers entire lower shell that makes it Sonys most grippable gamepad yet, because of the thousands upon thousands of tiny squares, triangles, circles and crosses literally at your fingertips.

The same photo, zoomed in. Slide the divider to the left to see more of the PlayStation symbols close up.
Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

Sony hasnt previously spoken about how it did this, how many there are, or how large the symbols actually get, but we have those answers today  including behind-the-scenes photos and details from Sonys Yujin Morisawa and Takeshi Igarashi, the chief designers behind the PS5 and the DualSense respectively. (We even borrowed a fancy industrial microscope so you can see how the symbols look up close.)

Perhaps the most striking part, as youll see in images above and below: these tiny symbols are stacked on top of each other, jutting out in three dimensions. Theyre not a single, evenly-spaced layer at all, like the tiny dots you might remember on Sonys DualShock 4 from 2013. They look random, almost organic  which might be because the entire design was sketched out by hand.

A study of various microtexture sketches.
Image by Sony Interactive Entertainment

And not just one sketch. Morisawa, the Senior Art Director of Sonys Design Center Product Design Group, explains that a variety of designs were hand-crafted, digitized, mocked up, applied to actual prototype gamepads, and tested over and over again until the teams found the balance they wanted: good-looking, textured enough to be comfortable and non-slip, but not so sandpaper-rough that itd hurt your hands over a lengthy gaming session.

While designers could easily place the digital version of the texture wherever they wanted in Sonys CAD programs, Morisawa says that physically comparing and testing different prototypes was key: While it takes a considerable amount of time to create a prototype, the go/no-go judgment of a product is determined the moment you see it and touch it, he told us by email.

A comparison of different microtexture variations for molding  including the PS4s stipple texture at lower right.
Image by Sony Interactive Entertainment
Testing four different height variations of the same pattern.
Image by Sony Interactive Entertainment
An actual molded plate, to confirm the texture works and stays consistent.
Image by Sony Interactive Entertainment
The layers coming together, digitally, as theyll appear on the inner lip of the PS5 console.
Image by Sony Interactive Entertainment

Figuring out the proper heights of the symbols was a lot of work all by itself, as you can see in some of Sonys behind-the-scenes photos. In the end, they settled on two layers  one roughly 15 microns tall, and another 30 microns tall, according to measurements we made with a Nikon LV100 microscope.

A microscope photo of the DualShock 4s texture shows overlapping square, triangle, circle and cross symbols
The larger symbols are roughly half a millimeter wide, and the upper layer are just 30 microns (three hundredths of a millimeter) tall.
Photo by The Verge
One downside of the texture: it picks up dirt extremely easily and doesnt want to let go.
Photo by The Verge

Actually applying the symbols to the DualSense gamepad was the easy part  because theyre not applied at all. Each and every one of those 40,000 symbols is part of the controllers shell, created when beads of molten ABS plastic are squeezed into tiny laser-cut crevices during the standard injection-molding process. The design is optimized to keep the symbols intact as they're popped out of the mold.

The trick is having the right equipment to make that mold to start. To create such precise shapes across an entire three-dimensional curved surface, meant to fit into your palms, lasers came in handy. Specifically, a high-end, multi-axis laser engraving machine that Igarashi says is hard to come by. The upshot? Because its part of the mold, the texture youll feel on the PS5s controller is the same exact one every other owner will.

A final CAD render check for the PS5 Media Remotes grip.
Image by Sony Interactive Entertainment
A texture placement check for the Pulse 3D wireless headset.
Image by Sony Interactive Entertainment

Sonys PlayStation controller has arguably defined decades of gamepads, so it was no surprise when, for instance, Googles Stadia Controller came with the same kind of stippled texture that Sony introduced with the DualShock 4 in 2013. But this time around, Sonys microtexture isnt just for your hands; the barely-there PlayStation symbols are part of the PS5 experience wherever youd think to look. Youll find them on both of the PS5 consoles side panels, on the inner lip. They adorn the grips of the PS5s optional media remote, the DualSense charging station, the PS5 camera, and Sonys Pulse 3D wireless headset, too.

They even appear inside at least one game: Astros Playroom, the must-play PS5 pack-in, prominently uses the texture on a number of floors and walls. It makes sense. Not only is Astro a celebration of the companys history in gaming, its chock-full of PlayStation easter eggs including a few that poke good-natured fun at Sony itself.

Poking fun at Sonys use of the Spider-Man font for its original PS3.
The serial numbers of Astros gadgets pay homage to key Sony figures like Shuhei Yoshida.

In the PS3 era, Sony often felt arrogant, a little too sure fans would lap up whatever it had to offer  $599 consoles featuring giant enemy crabs, proprietary discs and memory sticks for its ambitious portables, a Smash Bros. competitor without enough beloved video game franchises to back it up  but PlayStation has not only earned loads of goodwill since then, its become more self-aware. If the company can stay that way throughout the PS5s lifecycle (and, you know, let people actually buy one), I have little doubt itll be a winner.

Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge
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