While Nintendo hasn’t officially discussed any details about their upcoming next generation of console hardware, rumours online have been circulating with increasing frequency the past few months about a potential “Switch 2” believed to be releasing some time in 2024.
While not the focus of today’s video, a quick overview of the rumours currently circulating indicates that the system is likely to be keeping the hybrid handheld and dockable home console format of the current Nintendo Switch, while providing considerably better framerates, output resolution when docked, and support for modern games via upscaling technology.
Rumours out of Gamescom back in August suggest that the system was shown running a 4K 60FPS port of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild with essentially zero loading times, and a version of the Unreal Engine 5 demo The Matrix Awakens featuring realtime Ray Tracing. Reports seem to generally agree that the hardware, despite relying on upscaling tech, is considerably more capable of running ports of modern home console titles than the current Switch.
However, today’s episode of Access-Ability is less focused on these rumours, and instead on something a little bit more concrete.
On September 7th 2023, a patent was published by the United States Patent Office, submitted to them by Nintendo back in May of that year. While patents are certainly not confirmation of future product releases, they do indicate that a company was researching a specific technology, and given the timing of the patent it seems pretty plausible to suspect that it’s in relation to the main piece of upcoming Nintendo hardware that we’re all waiting for, the hypothetical Switch 2.
So today, on Access-Ability, we’re going to dig into the Nintendo patent for magnetic viscosity fluid in analogue sticks, alongside the ways the technology might be used in Switch 2 Joy-Cons, and the potential accessibility solutions and hurdles that such a technology might provide for disabled gamers.
Let’s start off by summarising what this patent seems to be for. I’ll link the full patent down in the video description, but my best understanding after pouring over it at length is as follows.
Nintendo has been working on technology to create analogue sticks containing a viscous metallic fluid. This fluid can be made more or less resistive by creating a magnetic field, thus making it more difficult for the player to push the analogue stick in a certain direction, or to help force the analogue stick back to its centre position more quickly and accurately. It seems likely that the analogue stick would also use this technology to read and register your analogue stick position, rather than relying on physical contacts to read your analogue position. These new analogue sticks may ship on Switch 2 Joy-Cons that come with resistance presets installed onto them for developer ease of use.
While a lot of the language in the patent is deliberately vague, in order to ensure that the patent is broadly applicable, we can read between the lines and imagine an analogue stick that resists being pushed in a similar fashion to the Resistive Triggers on a PS5 Dualsense Controller, but the patent also seems to suggest other uses such as making it so that an analogue stick in a certain game might only be able to move vertically or horizontally, or experience resistance for only a brief moment rather than consistently.
This patent is very Nintendo, and sounds exactly like the kind of gimmick that they love introducing into new hardware generations. As such, I’m going to assume that this is something coming to the Switch 2, and discuss it in that context for the time being.
Let’s get the easy part of this breakdown out the way first. While not technically the same as a Hall Effect analogue stick, another type of magnetic analogue stick that many users have installed into their Joy-Cons to prevent stick drift, this seems likely to serve a similar purpose. By using magnetism to detect stick position rather than physical metallic contacts which can be eroded over time, or impacted by trapped dust or dirt, magnetic analogue sticks seem to be much more resistant to drift errors.
Many people may not think about analogue stick drift as an accessibility concern, but if you’re a gamer who struggles with accurate fine motor control, and occasionally enters incorrect inputs into games, being able to reliably know if an error input was your own or caused by stick drift is really important for being able to accurately interact with games, and trust your own sense of the inputs you’re doing. Potentially ending Stick Drift prevalence on a Switch 2 would in theory be beneficial to a number of disabled gamers.
Next, let’s get into the more complicated part of the discussion. Put simply, resistance in gaming controller components is an accessibility barrier, and one that we would need Nintendo to be considerate of if this is a core feature of their next console.
On a PS5 console, it’s possible to disable Dualsense Resistive Trigger technology on a system level. This means that, for disabled players who struggle with muscle pain or muscle weakness in their fingers for example, they can be confident they won’t find themselves expected to push a trigger button that’s fighting back against them in any game on the system.
If this Switch 2 technology works the way that it seems to, increasing resistance in your analogue sticks when your character’s pushing a heavy stone block or pulling a sword from a stone, this needs to be able to be disabled on a system level. If it’s used for puzzles, such as feeling for a vibration at a certain analogue stick position, there needs to be an alternative option offered to players who will struggle with sudden resistance changes impacting their thumbs. This is a feature that, much like Resistive Triggers, needs to be avoidable by players.
That said, there are some potential accessibility positives this new analogue stick could be used to implement. You could cause small resistance bumps to allow a player to “feel” eight cardinal directions around the edge of a round analogue stick housing for input accuracy improvement, or you could use a resistance bump to differentiate between where slow walking changes to regular walking or running in a stealth game for example. Additional feedback on analogue stick placement could offer interesting accessibility benefits, if used sensibly and optionally by developers.
Additionally, one issue seen with the PS5 in terms of accessibility is the lack of support for PS4 controllers when playing PS5 games. Even with resistive trigger functions switched off at a system level, PS5 games still look for the presence of resistive triggers on a controller, making it more difficult to trick the PS5 into supporting non-standard controllers. In a similar vein, I really hope that these new analogue sticks, if used on the Switch 2, are not used to justify shutting off support for past generation controllers on the new generation of Nintendo hardware.
There currently exist low resistance accessibility controllers for the Nintendo Switch, such as the 8BitDo Lite SE, and modular accessibility controllers such as the Hori Flex, both of which offer options for disabled gamers who struggle with even standard Joy-Con stick resistance. I desperately hope that these current Switch accessibility controllers are supported on a Switch 2 at launch, particularly if stick resistance is going to be a core feature of the new system.
Lastly, and this is a more niche concern, but if these new analogue sticks are the default for Switch 2 Joy-Cons, it’s likely that finding second hand replacement sticks will be more difficult for self repairs than it is currently on the existing Switch model, which uses a fairly standard analogue stick component which can be found cheaply online for self repairs. I have known a lot of disabled gamers in my life, myself included, breaking controller analogue sticks through imprecise use, and being able to do your own replacement and repairs can be a really good option to avoid a multiple week turn around for a warranty repair. Hopefully this option doesn’t vanish if a new proprietary stick format is on the way.
I personally love when Nintendo gets weird and wacky with input technology on consoles. I’ve been playing Trombone Champ this week on Switch, and for the first time in the system’s life I feel like a game has truly justified the inclusion of an IR sensor on the right Joy-Con, allowing me to mime playing a trombone really badly. Nintendo gimmicks can be fun, but Nintendo’s not always great as a company about recognising when a gimmick creates accessibility barriers.
There are Switch games today that require motion controls, and offer no alternative options for disabled players, even in cases where alternatives would be easy to offer. Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee for example require docked mode players to use motion controls to throw their Pokéball, even though in handheld mode a stick and button alternative control scheme already exists. As a company, I don’t as default trust Nintendo to have considered accessibility in how their new hardware is being designed.
I hope that if we see the Switch 2 use these weird new magnetic analogue sticks as default that the feature is optional. I hope that it’s not used as justification to shut out current accessibility controllers for Nintendo systems, but I do hope that it’s used creatively. I hope someone at Nintendo is thinking about ways that this can be used sparingly by games, to help certain players access games in new and more accessible ways.