How Amazon Made a Controller Built for the Cloud

It wasn't part of the original plan

Key Takeaways

  • Amazon's Luna controller was designed to work no matter what device you're playing on by communicating directly with the cloud.
  • The controller designers built it based on the design of an older Fire TV controller.
  • Albert Penello and the team behind the controller wanted to focus more on the features that made it stand out.
Someone playing a game on a smartphone using the Amazon Luna game controller.

Amazon

Amazon's Luna Controller looks and feels like a controller with years of planning under the hood, but it wasn't even part of the original plan.

There are already a lot of gaming controllers out there. From the more well-known options of the Xbox or PlayStation to the lesser-known variants found across online storefronts like Amazon and eBay, the choices in front of us are greater than ever. So, when the team behind the Luna Controller set out to create a new gaming controller—specifically designed for the cloud—it had to be something special.

"It wasn't actually part of the plan, originally," Albert Penello, a senior manager of Product Management at Amazon, told Lifewire in a video call.

Taking Advantage of the Cloud

Penello has worked on the hardware side of the gaming industry for years. Throughout those years, he's worked for several companies, including Microsoft's Xbox, where he and others designed the Xbox controller. When he came to Amazon, he saw an opportunity to put that experience to use and create something that people could use to make gaming on Amazon's cloud service even easier.

"I joined Amazon probably two years before, and part of the goal was to help write the doc for Jeff and the leadership team about what was going to become Luna," Penello told us.

The Amazon Luna game controller in development.

Amazon

"It dawned on me, that there was this dependency on somebody having a controller. Not only did we have to presume that someone was going to have a controller, but we had to presume that someone had a controller that was going to work where the client would be," he said.

But Penello says that wasn't enough reason to go and create a controller. So, he sat down with Marc Whitten, VP of Entertainment Devices and Services at Amazon at the time, and they started thinking about how they could tackle the connection problem.

"So, we started brainstorming... Could that work? How would it work? And just like a light bulb, it hit. First, this is going to be faster. And at that point, it doesn't matter. It wouldn't matter what screen you were on because the controller doesn't know, and it doesn't care."

Next, Penello says he worked with the prototyping team in the lab. After about a month, the team had managed to put together a working device using an older Fire TV game controller and wiring it up with an Adreno processor.

"We could tell right away that it was faster. It felt more responsive," he explained.

"What you play is a refinement, and that's where you really build in excellence."

Building on Old Foundations

Penello says the team continued working from that old Fire TV design. 

"There wasn't time to start with a clean slate," he explained. So, they took the design Amazon already had with the Fire TV controllers and focused on the things that mattered. This included getting features like Cloud Direct just right and focusing on how the controller texture feels in your hands. How the thumbsticks feel. If a controller doesn't feel good, people are less likely to use it, especially with so many other options.

But Penello says that didn't stop the team from putting everything into the controller. Instead, that limitation became one of the controller's biggest strengths.

"What you play is a refinement, and that's where you really build in excellence," he explained. "The original Xbox, if you remember the first controller, it wasn't exactly a huge hit, although people remember it fondly. But there was a refinement process to make that better."

Someone using an Amazon Luna game controller with a portable computer.

Amazon

Because they didn't have time to create a controller from scratch, and because of the extensive history of how much gaming controllers have improved over the years, Penello says the team was able to take the bones of the Fire TV controller and make it into something better. What was simply a suitable game controller before, now had the opportunity to become a great game controller.

And it has. The use of Cloud Direct to connect directly with the games you're playing—no matter what device you're on—and the inclusion of Bluetooth to make it work outside of Luna have helped make the Luna Controller a fantastic addition to any gamer's arsenal.

Sure, it doesn't have the same standing as the Xbox controller or Sony's DualShock controllers, but it's something that Penello and his team can be proud of. And, it's something that Penello says they will improve on even more in the future.

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