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cleverpun


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More Blog Posts222

Aug
25th
2016

Speculation and Worldbuilding: Pony Biomechanics and Video Game Controllers · 12:57am Aug 25th, 2016

Those who have been following me for a while know that I find pony kinesiology and biomechanics to be an interesting topic for musing. Because ponies are so physically different from humans, any and all of their technology and day-to-day objects would have to be fundamentally different to work for them. Designing something as simple as a door handle or pair of scissors requires a completely new approach and mindset when dealing with ponies.

The show itself takes the approach of just importing IRL devices. Most fanfiction authors do the same. I even wrote a prolonged rant in this context about pony firearms. But I think one of the great things about fiction is its ability to explore alternatives. It takes more effort, yes, and there is some element of instant recognition lost by inventing devices, but it also gives a world more texture and prevents fridge logic.

Today I'd like to discuss another nonsensical import: video game controllers. We know that ponies do play video games: the show includes an arcade cabinet in one episode. So let's discuss how a video game controller might look. One that is designed just for ponies. We'll leave the discussion of gamer!Luna and such for another time.

The first thing to consider about a pony controller is ergonomics. A video game controller needs to require minimal effort to use, and to be usable for long periods of time without much muscle strain (carpal tunnel notwithstanding). Obviously there are some exception in real life video game history: the brick-shaped NES controller comes to mind. But let's imagine this is an entirely modern pony controller, on par with current human tech.

One way to do this might be to place the buttons very close together, and/or to reduce the number of buttons available. "Button's Adventures" took this approach: their iteration of a pony Game Boy had a rocker-style button on either side. And while this might have been reasonable in the olden days, again, we're trying for modern technology.

Another thing to consider is the number of contact surfaces. Ponies only have four hooves. Presumably they only want to use the forehooves when playing a game, and they cannot rapidly switch positions with their hooves in the same way a human can move their fingers between buttons. A chorded keyboard or something similar might be a way to increase the number of inputs with less points of contact. This doesn't greatly increase the options, however, without running into the problem of "too much movement" again.

The last things to consider are durability and usability. Like any piece of IRL technology, the controller needs to stand up to reasonable use over a reasonable period of time. It also needs to be mechanically feasible. You can make cases about pony capitalism not following planned obsolescence or magic making things more durable or whatever other headcanon you please, of course. But the bottom line is that really advanced/unreliable/inaccurate technology--things like virtual reality, motion controls, or trackpads--probably aren't worth the effort.

So what does that leave us with?

I think that a pony video controller might look like a large, flat pad: it's designed to rest on the floor or a table. On the pad are two large analog sticks that sit flush with the controller. Think of the PSP's analog "nub", only larger. Moving the sticks doesn't change their angle, meaning hooves can rest on it more comfortably despite their position.

Like human controllers the left stick is generally for movement, and so has a circular base. The right stick, however, takes the place of buttons. Like a gamecube controller's analog stick, there are indents along the sides, marking 8 positions. Each position is marked with a decal denoting which button it is.

This gives it 8 "buttons" and an analog stick. (More than the Gamecube controller), with the obvious caveat that two "buttons" can't be pressed simultaneously. While this limits design somewhat, I think that the controller still presents a fairly robust set of options. One could even increase the number of indents on the controller, and make it so that the positions between the current 8 act as simultaneous presses or new buttons (but this might be overkill).

So there you have it: one possible interpretation of how pony video controllers might look. Obviously this makes some concessions to verisimilitude. It follows the general pattern of human video game controllers, and treats hooves as larger, less flexible thumbs--an oversimplification to say the least. I think it is better than the alternative of just using a human controller, however, and all the questions that raises.

So there you have it, one possible interpretation about how a video game controller may look in the world of ponies. Thanks for reading. As always, comments, criticism, and counter-speculations are welcome!


The latest in a series of blog posts about meandering mental exercises. If you found this passingly interesting, feel free to check out the others:


Two: Earth Pony Spearfighting
Three: Pegasus Combat and Weapons
Four: What Do the Main Six Drink?
Five: Magical Pony Sports
Six: What Do the Main Six Read?
Seven: Unicorn Combat and Weapons
Eight: Pony Playing Cards—Construction and Symbology
Nine: Pony Cultural Foods

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Comments ( 15 )

Actually the way a pony's eyes are set, they might do quite well with something similar to a dance pad. Why should they use a controller that requires them to have their weight on two hooves? Standing on all 4s is far more natural.

I could certainly see different peripherals being made for the different tribes. While this model could work well for all comers, a smaller controller intended for use with telekinesis could make sense for unicorns. And pegasi...

derpicdn.net/img/view/2012/6/18/6847__safe_solo_fluttershy_animated_simple+background_wat_artist-colon-terry_controller_wing+hands_gamershy.gif
Well, wing fingers have been demonstrated in canon.

With two joysticks/directional pads, you could actually have three buttons plus a directional stick - in real controllers, like the XBox360 controller, you can actually press on the joysticks as an additional button. This would allow them to press up to three buttons simultaneously, though two of them would (obviously) be the controller buttons themselves, so there isn't as much flexibility there. Still, it would be possible to, for instance, have the movement joystick also cause you to jump when you click on it, while the other joystick could do some other default function while pressed. This would allow most of a RL gamepad's functionality, as well as allow for two-stick shooters.

4169886 I considered that: it would be easy enough to have one pad for the back legs and one for the front (or even individual ones for each hoof). But it also has several problems. Doing separate actions with each of your limbs would be very difficult. It might even be physiologically impossible. Humans have enough trouble parallel processing two things at once (there's the cliche example of rubbing your stomach and patting your head at the same time). Multiply that by two and I don't think it's reasonable to expect accuracy or reliability from those actions.

There's also the matter of anchoring one's body. If the pony is standing up and all their hooves are acting on analog sticks/buttons, then there isn't anything to anchor themselves on. Fast DDR players anchor themselves on the metal bars on DDR cabinets, so they are still only using two limbs at a time, really.

We've seen ponies laying down and using tables in the show, so I don't think resting on two legs and using the other two is that foreign to them. Of course, they could certainly stand while using this hypothetical controller if they wanted to. Though again, it might need more/better anchoring.


4169902 The issue I see with unicorn-only controllers is that telekinesis can only act on one object at a time. Fanart often depicts unicorns holding a human controller in their magical aura, but it would be more accurate for each individual point of contact to have its own aura acting on it.

Now sure, some unicorns could pull that off. We've seen Rarity and Twilight levitate and control multiple objects at once. But one shouldn't need to be an advanced telekinetic just to play video games. If anything, a unicorn controller would need larger/more delineated contact surfaces and more space to make it easier to manipulate multiple objects at once. And even then you still run into the problem of parallel processing.

I could see a game controller-like device being used to help younger unicorns practice telekinesis, though.

Also I can't be the only one who finds that picture deep into the uncanny valley :rainbowderp: Feathers don't have any muscles or supporting structures: the only bones in a wing are along the one edge. Yeah, fine, magic anatomy, but the one x-ray we've seen of a pegasus wing is laughably silly as far as bones go.

4169926 I considered that, but I think the stick staying level/flush with the surface is more important than additional buttons. The stick tilting (as on a normal controller) would dig into a pony's hoof/frog. The way the PSP is designed, the lip of the analog stick is flush with the plastic surface. There's no room for it to depress.

Of course, that's not to say the two are mutually exclusive: perhaps the center of the stick and the outside could be separate mechanisms, so it could both depress and stay level. Or perhaps the center has a more defined button sitting on top of the mechanics for the "stick". Adding that mechanical complexity might make it less durable, though. It would also create an issue of how to make them feel like a continuous surface (a single rubber lining over the whole thing? Would that make the center button less receptive to input?).

If it was mechanically feasible, though, it could work. It would also be an improvement over human controllers: since the stick tilts/angles when moved, pressing R3/L3/whatever you call it is a very awkward movement.

How about do that for earth ponies? Pegasi wings can grasp, right? So their wings would be like human fingers. Unicorns? Well, they could just use magic. Also, what do you think of Xbox one controllers? The last few I've had broke in the span of just a few months, but I got this custom made one over the summer, so I'm hoping that one will last a long time.

4170023

That is a human limitation. These are ponies. Ponies regularly have to move their hooves during the various gaits. Plus have you seen dresage?

The same goes for anchoring. A person has trouble with that because we are on two legs. On four legs it becomes much less of a problem.

4170216 Yes, but we're not talking about regular movement, or even complicated rhythmic movement. We're talking about linking specific actions to other specific actions, and using that movement to create a specific desired result, all in a short space of time.

I'm not saying it's impossible, I'm saying it's unreasonable. Muscle memory and reflexes are going to cover some of it, certainly. But memorizing a dance or routine is not the same as doing specific actions in response to an unpredictable situation. Anything that isn't a computer is going to have to deal with the limits of parallel processing, even a sentient quadruped. Humans have it easier than ponies because we can get away with more subtle movements: moving a finger from one keyboard letter or controller button to another is a much smaller movement than moving a hoof. :derpytongue2:

4170200 A similar comment was made by 4169902. You can see my reply to them right below :raritywink:

I've only used Xbone controllers a few times, so I don't have a strong opinion on them. I still use 360 controllers with my gaming PC :derpytongue2:

4169902 Would be a cool idea. Sorry I kinda stole your thunder.:twilightsheepish:

4170023
Is there any reason why anchoring would have to be done with limbs? I'd think something like an adjustable padded arch over the dance pad would work fine. The player would set the arch so it's resting just over their back, letting them move freely without needing to worry about accidentally jumping off the controls if they get particularly vigorous.

Personally, I still think the dance pad idea would also deal with the concern about dealing with too many simultaneous actions to track, since we know they can walk/run/dance/etc without constantly getting tangled up in their limbs. So long as the game designers don't screw up badly enough that playing requires hideously unnatural motions, there shouldn't be any real problems. (And as a bonus, such an activity-based input system would probably go over pretty well in a more physically oriented culture like theirs.)

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I'm a bit dubious about the assertion that TK wouldn't be a good input source. Setting aside the only-one-item-at-a-time claim (which I'm pretty sure we've seen counterexamples to by characters outside the primary cast/big goods/big bads), we know that they have a high baseline level of control over individual items. Even if you assume the typical unicorn can't, say, write with TK, they obviously have enough control for gross movements, or else the TK would be worthless for most of the tasks we see it used for. That would easily be enough to get a lot of mileage out of a single multipurpose control like the analog sticks you proposed, or even several distinct controls if they can switch TK targets fast enough.

On a tangent... while I do enjoy stories about characters getting to try out the abilities of other races/species, it does kind of bug me that authors always seem to gloss over the Required Secondary Powers aspect of TK. (And other abilities, but it feels like TK gets hit with it the most.) That's reasonable if you have a transformation rewiring the target, but if your earth pony/diamond dog/etc gives their self TK, they ought to be hilariously terrible with it unless and until they also figure out how to give their self the senses to accurately judge where remote objects are and the brain circuitry needed to control flinging them around. Whether or not unicorns can apply those secondary powers to things other than spellcasting could make for an interesting story; the show seems to suggest that it's not a conscious ability, but with a bit of inventiveness it might be possible to "trick" it into working with arbitrary stuff.

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And don't forget that the head/tail are also potential input sources. They'd be a bit more awkward, and stuff that makes talking impractical would probably be somewhat unpopular since it hurts social gaming, but something like a headpiece/tail clip that triggered inputs in response to changes in position might be reasonable. And it'd likely possible to use the same sort of idea to register joint flexes as inputs, though that might not work well in concert with some of the other controls under discussion. Still, that would work for the chorded keyboard concept: a player could lie on their stomach on a bench with their legs hanging off the sides, either resting in hoof/paw/etc cups that can slide back and forth or wearing "gloves" that trigger input when flexed/moved, and use flicks instead of button presses to control the chords.

One tech you didn't mention that would be far more useful to ponies and less just a gimmick is light guns. For ponies it would be something strapped to the head or maybe elsewhere, and probably not resemble a gun at all but the idea is the same. Point at the screen and a target appears. I would be a good substitute for a mouse and all the sorts of games that could use that, especially FPS games. Though obviously you'd be far more like to be slinging about powerful magic as Starswirl than using any sort of firearm. Obviously you can add additional complicated controls for a more complex modern game, but early on just one button would be enough. It could put extra stress on the neck for action games, but for more sedate things it's no worse than looking around.

Also of note is ponies probably developed dance pads (or similar things at least) first. Controllers would come later. Also of note that an old school arcade control stick isn't that bad really. Modern pad sticks like on the xbox controllers might actually be a bad idea, because you can pinch your hoof flesh in the little gap there, but the taller thinner stick not so much. Though it seems like it would be less than comfortable. As for buttons, just bigger could work easy enough, maybe not even that much bigger if you just hit with the edge of your hoof/horseshoe. (It's confusingly unclear whether ponies actually use them in some way.) The main problem is staying in the two hoofed position, but it's unclear if this is uncomfortable for ponies or not.

4171127 I intentionally mentioned the "nub" design because I didn't want any hoof getting stuck in the gap of a controller stick, yes (among other reasons).

I think that any item strapped to the head immediately becomes questionable at best and a health hazard at worst. This is one reason (of many) I found ponies firing guns with their mouths to be suicidally dumb. Imagine if the only way to move your mouse cursor was by looking at where you wanted it to go. And not just with your eyes: having to physically move your entire head to point at the spot you want your mouse to move to. Not only would it strain your body almost instantly, it would severely damage your reaction time, because you need to refocus on the screen each time you move your head.

4170432 I suppose I can see the case for TK being used on a single joystick without any problems. Between you and 4169902's comments, I can see the reasoning. But that still raises more questions, about standardization and customer demographics.

Let's say there's a unicorn-only model of this controller, with an additional arcade stick in the middle. Is designing a game around additional controls--ones that only a third of the population can use--really worth it?

Perhaps the third stick could just be a duplicate of the button stick: that would solve the problem of simultaneous inputs. But it would also give unicorns an unfair advantage over other pony types. (Maybe a 3-stick controller was made by some third party manufacturer, and they quickly canceled it: having 2/3rds of their consumers boycott them would be bad for business)

I'd be more concerned with falling over, not jumping off the pads. Having an entire pony's weight resting on some sort of cushion while their four limbs all make separate movements doesn't seem any better than just using two limbs :derpytongue2:

As for head movement, see my reply above.

The tail could certainly be an interesting way to add inputs. This is another area where the show is so fantastical, however, that it's hard to judge. The show treats tails like monkey tails, almost: AJ can use a lasso with her tail. But real horse tails are actually mostly hair (Google "shaved horse tail" if you feel like). The only musculature is limited to a very small nub, really. Real horses mostly use their tail reflexively for swatting flies or communicating body language. There's not a lot of fine motor control, if any. I definitely wouldn't follow the show example of making the tail prehensile :derpytongue2:

4171786
With regards to unicorn controllers, I was thinking of something along Smash 4's design: Numerous different controller designs inputting the same commands.

4171786 First bit is me just being confused about you meant. My bad.

Second bit though it more complicated. First the guns comparison doesn't work the same way because we are not talking about a traditional firearm or high energy weapon, we are talking about a headband with a laser pointer or thereabouts. Also I said I was a little iffy on the head thing, but sitting there with it attached to one hoof you're holding up seems more awkward, even sitting.

As to reaction time, maybe, but then there is the counter issue of input lag/accuracy. I play both GW2 and Wildstar by having my xbox one controller emulate a mouse and keyboard. I can speed it up so the pad moves the cursor faster, but that means accuracy goes down, the reverse is also true but it is workable. It seems like for a certain level of control and speed something like this would make sense to me. Though I admit I am assuming certain things about ponies that may or may not be true. One is that ponies seem pretty durable so minor stresses on the neck wouldn't cause any damage, and I suppose it's not a good assumption to make. It also is based on the idea that ponies need an alternative to a mouse, which I guess might not be true.

4171127
4173087
Light guns are a good idea, but strapped to the head might not be the way to go. Unfortunately, the health and precision issues tend towards contradictory solutions: preventing muscle strain/subtler head injuries requires minimizing the amount of head motion involved, which means the light gun needs to parse small head movements into significant aim movements, but that would make it very difficult to aim at a specific target, and subconscious adjustments to head position would make keeping aim on a specific target extremely unrealistic. (And while magic/xenobiology could conceivably be used to wave away the health concerns, that's hardly something I'm thrilled to just assume.) It's certainly possible to design games that would work with those restrictions - eg having the light gun fire for a set time after hitting the trigger, then counting everything the aim point crossed over in that time as hit or registering a single shot in the center of the curve it traced - but a lot of concepts simply wouldn't be options.

Personally, the first idea I'd try would be a light gun mounted on a stand that lets it swivel up/down and side to side. The mechanics might need some tweaking from human versions to account for different limb layouts, but based on what we've seen of their forelimb-manipulation abilities, I suspect most aspects would carry over fine.

4171786
Honestly, I'd be surprised if they didn't make custom controllers for all the major races/species. Sticking with just ponies for simplicity, remember that pegasi would benefit from controls which incorporated their wings and earth ponies from controllers with extra reinforcement the other races wouldn't need. And that's not even getting into the possibility of their own magical abilities, which might well be harnessable too (though since how that would work is dependent on specific details which haven't been canonically established, I'm not planning to tackle the subject).

As for game design, I suspect it would be worth making games optimized for individual races - it'd be similar to designing games for moderately niche genres, and we know that's profitable enough to justify. A lot of games would be pretty playable with any likely control schemes, so those would probably be the most common, at least at first. However, the evidence does seem to suggest that they're alright with racially constrained activities (most obviously in the case of flight-based ones), so specialized games designed to take advantage of mechanics which are controller-specific would make sense for gamers seeking options more complex than most raceblind games would permit. And of course, the middle ground of games which allow for players to take on different roles appropriate to the controllers they're using would be a natural fit for a society in which race-specific abilities normally do influence the tasks an individual is able to accomplish. I think the biggest concern would be making sure games don't unfairly handicap just one race; a game which, say, strongly favors TK inputs essentially just collapses into a unicorn-targeted game, whereas one which strongly penalizes reflexes required for flight comes across more like a pegasus-excluding game.

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Apparently I didn't get the point of bringing up the anchor bar in DDR, so you may have to elaborate on why people need to use it. I sort of figured it was to provide stability, and to let players move more energetically without getting displaced by the reaction forces involved in making quick motions. Your last comment suggests players mostly use it to hold themselves up, which does make sense in principle, but didn't originally strike me as relevant; I guess I assumed that the players you were talking about were already at the point where the forces necessary to move that fast were largely sufficient to support their weight.

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Agreed on the head inputs thing, at least as far as using gross motions for light guns/button presses/etc is concerned. However, inputs that can be usefully tied to subtler movements should still be fine. I think the most sensible choice would probably be using head position for field-of-view controls; for example, having a slight head motion in one direction cause the camera to pan a significant distance in that direction would capitalize on natural head movements while letting the player stay mostly still. And of course, mouth-based controls would probably still be a thing, even given the assumption that social games would usually be playable without them to allow for talking - that extra button-equivalent (or more, for serious gamers who make use of the tongue too) would be hard to pass up.

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Yeah, I didn't intend inputs based on precision tail control. I mean, that might be possible, especially if braiding/tying the tail to a fixed point are considered, but absent implausible degrees of prehensility, it seems way too impractical to be a remotely common thing. I was thinking more of something like a twitch-detector, which would simply act like a single button. More extensive controls based on the directionality/strength of the tail motions might be feasible, but given their relative dearth of inputs, even one extra button would be a major boon.

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