A wise man once said “The most important aspect of video games is being able to play them”, and without controls this would not happen. Many appliances need a control to work but over time they “evolve” to make the job easier. Is this true?
I’m going to go through some of the controllers for video games and see what went right and wrong, and what was laughable (how did this pass for acceptable?). For those that do not know, gaming goes in generations, so I will go through the consoles that way.
(From 1972 – 1977)
Pong consoles, Magnavox Odyssey, Coleco Telstar.
Pay your respects to these ancient pieces of history, for without these you would NOT play games today! To be fair most of the consoles these days only played Pong or Pong rip offs, so controller-wise all you had was a heavy box and a dial for the most part. The plastic was crappy and colour scheme was dull. Some of these controls only had the dial and nothing else, hell; some of the controllers WERE the consoles! But you didn’t need a phone book sized instruction manual to play Pong.
(From 1976 – 1984)
Atari 2600, Atari 7200, Magnavox Odyssey 2, Intellevision.
Here we have the first few 8-bit consoles and consoles that used cartridges to change the games. Made before I was born, but I grew up with these beasts and they changed my world. To help play different games the console used they changed the style of controllers to benefit the gamer. Still big and blocky, these had a joystick to control the spaceship, character, spaceship, racing car or spaceship. A lot of the controllers would introduce “8 directional play”. Some of these had 1 or 2 buttons to use in game, including a pause button, while a few had numerical pads making them look like a phone. NO NEED! Too many buttons! And for what? Space Invaders?! Back to the drawing board…
(From 1983 to 1992)
Sega SG 1000, Sega Master System, Nintendo Entertainment System, Atari 7800.
These were NOT the first consoles to use 8-bit technology to play games but they sure as hell broke the mould. It was also a time when non gamers were paying attention to commercials and friends telling them which console was better. Ditching the big block for a rectangle and the stick for a directional pad (D-pad) was a HUGE step up in being comfortable to play. The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was big in its day, and the controller became an icon with its grey colour and backward A and B buttons. Sega and Atari followed suit with similar looks because they too knew this was the future…or was it?
(From 1987 – 1996)
Sega Megadrive/Genesis, Super Nintendo, PC Engine/TurboGrafx 16
The fourth generation, or “16-bit era” bought gaming to another level with its amazing graphics, it’s……*shudder* blast processing, and better control scheme. Sega challenged Nintendo to see which console was better between the NES and Megadrive. Sega went with a sexy looking all black finish console, and controller to match. But it also had a secret weapon: the C button! No select button but now with a 3rd action button players could do something extra in their game. Not one to stay down for the 10 count, Nintendo released the Super Nintendo (SNES) in 1991. Keeping the select button, Nintendo added 2 action buttons for players, AND THEN added 2 “shoulder” buttons for specific games! The 4 action button/shoulder buttons would now be a norm for controlling.
(From 1993 – 2006)
Sega Saturn, Sony PlayStation, Nintendo 64
Things were changing in gaming again. Cartridges were going (even though Nintendo were being difficult) in place of CDs and 32 and 64 bit consoles are here. Sony jumped into the gaming warzone and shocked everyone by……….doing well. Very well in fact. Sega and Sony knew having shoulder buttons made sense, but while Sony went with 4 action buttons on a light, well designed controller, Sega went with 6 and a controller that was seen as “pretty big” by most gamers.
Then there was the Nintendo 64 controller…
This thing looks like it was designed by a child who wanted everything game wise. I was so put off by the look of this thing, until I used it. I have huge hands so size and weight was nothing to me. And despite being big it was great to use. The 3rd handle in the middle made for good gameplay on certain titles, and even had a Z trigger on the back too. Analog sticks were here to replace D-pads in certain games. Just another case of looks being deceiving. This generation also introduced force feedback or vibration in controllers, to let the player feel more like they were in the game.
(From 1998 – Present)
Sega Dreamcast, Sony PlayStation 2, Nintendo GameCube, Microsoft Xbox
As always, Microsoft smelled the money in the air. They introduced the Xbox to the world, and wow….the controller was huge! Again for me it was fine, but it was big and very heavy (how people in Asia played this I will not know). Was it trying to compete with the Dreamcast? They eventually made the Xbox S controller, a smaller version. Nintendo once again went off the wall with a crazy (and in some cases, purple) controller. I was never a fan of this one. It made the 64 controller look normal. A drunken clown would design this for shits and giggles. Buttons everywhere, but most were not needed and were too close together. This would also be Sega’s final console.
(From 2005 – Present)
Microsoft Xbox 360, Sony PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii
After getting laughed out of E3 with their boomerang controller, Sony said fuck it, don’t fix what isn’t broken, and bought back the Dual shock controller. Microsoft won awards for its 360 controller, and it deserves them too. Feels great in your hands and not too heavy. It will go down in history for having a horrible D-pad (which they later fixed). Nintendo strikes again! This time with the help of wireless controls (which is now normal) they made motion sensor gaming. Using their Wiimote in one hand and nun chuck in the other, you can now emulate the player on screen. From swinging a bat to sword fighting, YOU were in control! Microsoft released the Kinect, similar to the Wii but with NO controller! Standing in front of the Xbox and making gestures were enough to enjoy a few games. Sony went on to rival the Wiimote with the Sony Move. It did not go well.
What will the future have for gaming? Will hand controls be a thing of the past? I know I missed out a lot of consoles, including hand helds and mouse/keyboard for PCs, but these were the consoles I grew up with, my experiences and my story. Personally I still do not mind hand controllers and as long as they are done well I am happy.