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Here’s how the PS5’s ‘adaptive triggers’ work

Complicated, but genius, design leads the newest form of haptic feedback

Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

Deep inside this teardown video of the new PlayStation 5 DualSense controller is a look at how the controller’s variable, adaptive triggers actually work. The DualSense’s variable triggers are another, newer form of haptic feedback, which can convey things like a gun jamming up, or a superstar footballer tiring out on the pitch.

TronicsFix pulled apart the DualSense 5 to examine the unit’s overall reparability; the trigger closeup comes at the 9:15 mark. If you’re expecting this to be an “actually, it’s quite a simple device,” type revelation, well, forget it. I have no idea how Sony’s engineers figured this out, but it’s brilliant. If the entire world was nothing but people like me, I don’t think we’d have designed anything this ingenious. I don’t think we’d have designed the wheel yet, either.

The adaptive triggers were highlighted all the way back when Sony first revealed the DualSense in April. This type of feedback is unique to the DualSense, whose PS4 predecessor only had standard rumble through the body of the DualShock 4. The Xbox One controller — forward compatible to the Xbox Series X, has more sophisticated micro-rumble feedback, including through its triggers, but nothing like what the DualSense is packing.

Sony’s Hideaki Nishino in April said the triggers will deliver the sensation of “driving a car through mud” or the tension of “drawing a bow to shoot an arrow.”

More specific examples: Arkane Studios’s PS5-exclusive Deathloop will block the adaptive triggers when the user’s weapon jams “to give the player an immediate feedback even before the animation plays out,” said game director Dinga Bakaba. And in NBA 2K21, it will be hard to lay on the trigger turbo when you’re sprinting with a tired player.