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What are gyro controls?

Updated: Nov 16, 2021

You might have heard this name a lot recently, gyroscope. When you are buying phones, you often heard that they come with a gyroscope. Almost all modern gamepads have a built-in gyroscope. Games like Splatoon advertise that you can use gyro controls to play the game, but ...

What is a gyroscope?

A gyroscope is a small device that determines the direction in which an object is rotated. They do this by sensing how the Coriolis force affects its vibrating structure when you move the controller/phone around. Despite sounding complex, they are not, a vibrating gyro can fit into the circuits of most modern electronics without issue.

Once the gyro knows the rotation of your device, it can extrapolate the direction you are moving it and the force that you used to do so. When you combine multiple gyros and other sensors (like accelerometers), you have a device that can detect its movement across all Six Degrees of Freedom, or in layman terms, across all directions.

For gaming, this means that you can use the gyroscope for motion controls, so...

What are gyro controls?

Gyro controls are when a game uses a gyroscope to determine how and where you have moved your controller. This information is then translated as an input for the game you are playing to perform a specific action, like moving the camera around.

In other words, you use your movements to control the game instead of buttons and joysticks.

You might think that this is the same definition for motion controls, and you´ll be right. Nowadays the terms are interchangeable, as gyroscopes are the most common way for games to achieve motion controls.

Which game consoles and controllers have gyroscopes?

Both the Nintendo Switch, Sony´s PlayStation 4 and the Playstation 5 controllers have built-in gyros. The Joy-Con, Pro Controller, Dualsense, and Dualschok 4 are all capable of motion controls. The Switch Lite also comes with built-in gyros. Unfortunately, the Xbox controller doesn´t share this capability and so the Xbox Series X (and Series S) is the only console without motion controls in this generation.

The Dualshock 4 also has a built-in gyro.

If you want gyro motion controls on PC, then you might need to buy a special gamepad, or try to connect your Pro Controller/Dualshock 4 to Windows. Fortunately, it´s quite easy to do so, just follow the flowcharts that we have just linked and you´ll be playing with them in no time.

Enabling motion controls is also quite easy thanks to Steam. Just go into the controller configuration, click on the gyro icon, and then you can tweak them to your heart´s content.

The Steam Deck, a portable console/computer hybrid like the Nintendo Switch, also comes with a built-in gyro. You can tilt it pretty much the same way as you would your Switch to play with motion controls.

For most games that take advantage of the gyroscope on the Switch, PS4, and PC, its use is relegated to gyro aiming. They use the gyroscope to let you aim more precisely than you could with an analog stick, but with slightly less precision than a mouse.

Practically all modern Smartphones also come with a gyro of sorts, it doesn´t matter if they are made by Apple, Samsung, Huawei or other brands. The games on your phones also use the gyro mostly for aiming, but a few clever ones make you play by occasionally moving or shaking the smartphone.

Where the motion controls of the gyro shine, however, is in Virtual Reality (VR). We already have written about the different types of VR headsets, but all of them, even the PC headsets, rely on some sort of gyro controls to control the game. VR usually uses special controllers that resemble the classic Wii remote.

In VR, gyroscopic controls aren´t used to control the camera, but for the actual movements of your in-game arms. They play a much more important role in the game than even a mouse would on a PC title.

These controllers, like the Oculus Touch, must always keep track of the position of your hands, as the point of the experience is to feel like you are inside the game. To that end, the most expensive VR platforms don´t only use the gyro, but have other gadgets, like IR lights, to keep track of your movements more accurately.

Is gyro aiming better than analog sticks?

We already had a post analyzing if motion controls were actually good, the answer remains the same: yes, most of the time. When it comes to aiming, a well-calibrated gyro controller will allow you to aim with a precision that is only rivaled by a mouse.

The downside is that these types of controllers tend to be bad at quick and broad motions, like if you want to turn around quickly. This is why a lot of games, like Breath of the Wild, use a hybrid system. You use the sticks to move the screen and the gyros for the finer parts of aiming.

If you are interested in playing these types of games, then the Switch should be the console for you, as it the one that pushes its motion controls the most (as showcased by Splatoon) and has more games with an optional gyro control toggle. Not to mention that Nintendo has a lot of experience in this control scheme, as they pioneered it with the Wii.

If gyro aiming is so good, why isn´t it used more often in games?

A screenshot of Splatoon 2, depicting the use of gyro aiming on the Nintendo Switch
Splatoon is a game that makes extensive use of gyro aiming

The success of early motion controls, namely the Wii, was a double-edged sword for this technology. A lot of games incorporated motion controls clumsily and in ways that weren´t fun. This creating a stigma around them, that they were nothing but gimmicks. The stigma carries on today in many developers' and players' minds, so they don´t bother with them.

However, if you can, I urge you to give them a chance, especially for shooters. Games like Splatoon proved that they can not only be fun, but competitively viable as well, which is why there are around 45 games on the Nintendo Switch that uses gyro aiming, including ports of games that originally didn´t have them, like Doom, Fortnite, and Resident Evil 5. The PlayStation 4, sadly, has fewer games that use it.

It is also important to recognize that the Switch itself can´t be played with a mouse and keyboard, so the gyro is the most precise way to control games on that console.

If you are interested in a similar article, check out our piece here to know of Haptic Feedback works.


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