Sony just took its largest step in improving the hardware accessibility of their devices with a new and upcoming controller.
Project Leonardo is designed to help people with limited motor skills to properly enjoy their gaming experience. It was unveiled during Sony’s CES 2023 press conference on January 4 alongside other major news. The in-development controller has circulated gamepads lined with buttons and directional inputs, drawing comparisons to Microsoft's Xbox Adaptive Controller in function. But, unlike its rival, Project Leonardo looks vastly different and it also retains the theme of the DualSense.
Project Leonardo will try to make gaming more accessible to everyone as a customizable gamepad that allows players to swap out hardware bits to their comfort, change the shapes and sizes of stick caps as well as map buttons.
Software accessibility has taken a big step forward in recent years, most notably with 2022’s God of War: Ragnarok having a variety of features that cater to an array of disabilities. The indie game Tunic, created by Andrew Shouldice, also features a No Fail Mode without combat challenges for players who want to focus on exploring and story development. And while many games in PlayStation’s catalog offer extensive accessibility features, until now, their hardware options were lacking in that department. But now Project Leonardo can be used on its own or paired with up to two DualSense controllers while being recognized as a single gamepad by the PS5, granting flexibility and allowing other people to help with the setup or control games.
Here’s what Sony designer So Morimoto had to say about the project on the recent PlayStation blog:
We were inspired by the idea of all players enjoying the world of PlayStation together. Our team tested over a dozen designs with accessibility experts, looking for approaches that would help address key challenges to effective controller use. We finally settled on a ‘split controller’ design that allows near free-form left/right thumbstick repositionability, can be used without needing to be held, and features very flexible button and stick cap swapping.
To achieve this, Sony partnered with a handful of organizations that helped with the design through playtesting draft models and consulting. AbleGamers, SpecialEffect, and Stack Up are some of the involved with the creation of a gamepad that doesn’t have to be held.
Players can mount Project Leonardo on a tripod, a wheelchair tray, or a nearby table. The controller can also integrate various existing accessibility accessories and switches, through the four 3.5mm AUX ports on the side, making the experience a lot more enjoyable.
Project Leonardo is just a codename and there's zero information about when it might be out as well as its price point. Still, it's nice to see Sony embrace this severely under-served gaming niche.
Speaking of controllers, the DualSense Edge will launch on the 26th.