All about video game controllers

I’m not sure about everyone else, but I feel I’ve certainly overlooked this as a topic of conversation. Although game controllers are, in my opinion one of the most important aspects of a gaming experience, because how you interface with a video game really defines the experience you have.

For example, sometimes, when I go back and play some older 3D games that don’t really have the standardized left analog stick to move around and right analog to move the camera; or they have that but the right analog is inverted; or maybe they don’t have camera movement at all because they literally only have one analog stick. Well, it can get a little frustrating!.. But then, if the game is good, I can push past the frustrating controls and get used to them, and enjoy the game how it was intended.

Super Mario Sunshine is a great game, so I could look past the inverted C-stick controls for the camera.

In alot of ways we look at game controls now and say ‘they are the best they’ve ever been’, I mean personally I think that’s true in terms of being versatile enough to cover a wide array of games, to the point that almost all games can be played on a modern controller. However that’s not to say games are best played on a modern controller. I’d take the original NES controller any day for playing NES games.

.. but I don’t feel the same way about the Master System controller. I think when it comes to Master System, at least these days I prefer using the Mega Drive (Genesis) controller which is backwards compatible with the Master System. The buttons are more tactile and the directional pad is an improvement.

Then, as games started taking a 3D turn we came out with controllers with only one analog stick, most notably the Dreamcast controller and the Nintendo 64 controller.

Personally I’m not a huge fan of the N64 controller, but the Dreamcast is okay, what it lacks in buttons for more modern games, it makes up for in comfort.

Then for someone like me with a background in PC gaming, I have to mention keyboard and mouse controls. Loads of easily map-able buttons and very precise aiming. I was primarily a PC gamer for a solid 12 years so it’s no surprise that even when it came to racing games I was better at these in keyboard and mouse than on a controller, at least ‘back in the day’.

My current gaming keyboard and mouse

I still advocate that FPS’s and probably strategy games are best played with keyboard and mouse, but for everything else, I prefer controller these days. Especially today’s controllers, where they have all the buttons you need and the control scheme is almost a de facto standard across most controllers and games.

Admittedly, my favorite of these three is the XB1 controller. Pictured is the Elite controller, but my opinion remains for the standard also.

Except during that weird motion controller phase everyone on the planet went through all at once.. and in alot of ways are still going through if you’re a VR gamer.. or just really love playing Nintendo games with the motion controls.

Farpoint.. also known as ‘spider’s in your face regularly’.

It’s interesting to consider the evolution of controllers. From the humble beginning’s of the Joystick, through to what we have now

It’s clear that at the start console manufacturers had their own ideas of the best way to interface with a game, the best control scheme, how much input is required from the user and for what actions. Certainly the technology available shaped the games and the mechanics, and therefore the degree of input required or possible from the user to perform to play through the game. Leading us to what we have now. Dual analog thumb sticks, four shoulder buttons, a directional pad, plus four action buttons. Sometimes this isn’t the case, but usually it is. However it is worthwhile to appreciate that it took a long time to come to a control scheme that works so well it’s been adopted by basically everyone.

Or maybe we think the opposite, maybe we think it’s not enough and controllers need to be more adaptable or have more buttons. Maybe controllers are starting to define games more than games defining controller design. However you can consider companies like Microsoft with their adaptive controller, third party manufacturers with their own custom form factors and of course every now and again certain games have their own custom controls; or you can consider the keyboard and mouse which breaks rule entirely because you can map 100+ buttons however you want. Maybe as keyboard and mouse setups for consoles become more popular well see if there’s any change to how console gaming operates and the control scheme’s that underpin them.

It’s an interesting thought but for now, I’m happy with my modern controller, relaxing on the couch and playing a variety of very different games all from one very comfortable, very versatile controller.

References: All images were taken by the author of Gaming Detour

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7 thoughts on “All about video game controllers”

  1. I always remember how Fur Fighters (third person shooter) on Dreamcast managed the whole camera control thing with only one analogue stick. Character movement was handled with the face buttons whilst the left analogue stick moved the camera for aiming. It was like a bastardised version of WASD and mouse.

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    1. Gee. That’s a new one. In my experience games would drop the camera movement entirely or move it to the shoulder buttons when it was a controller with just one analog. But that configuration sounds ridiculous!

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      1. The shoulder buttons method was the one I was most familiar with. It sounds odd, but the Fur Fighters one actually worked quite well as a console control scheme. It felt a bit odd going from camera control on the right (using mouse) to the left (using the stick) but it wasn’t the worst way to handle it.

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