Reading Response #5 |
October 30th, 2022
Music 256a / CS476a, Stanford University
Our story starts before the first controllers, in the 70s with arcade cabinets. Arcade inputs in this era usually consisted of some combination of digital buttons (1 or 0), things like joysticks were at this time just a metal rod that would hit 4 different buttons depending on how you tilted them. Somewhat less frequently one would see knobs attached to potentiometers to get some limited form of analog input (Yes, many potentiometers are technically digital sensors but at this time they were used in a very analog way). Most arcade cabinets had input schema specifically designed around each game. Now why am I talking about arcade machines when I said I'd be talking about controllers? The advent of home gaming consoles posed a unique challenge for developers, one would need one control scheme for a wide variety of games.
Note: I'm only going to talk about consoles I've personally used, and won't be touching on handhelds since I've only used Nintendo ones.
Atari 2600 - 1977
Atari were once the titans of the gaming industry, they made many of the classic arcade games we know and love today, and on their controller they tried to emulate arcade controls as much as possible with a single digital (sensor which can only output 1 or 0) joystick much like an arcade cabinet, and a single orange button. This got the job done, the Atari 2600 was a great success (still sitting at the 19th best selling console of all time), but it's controller was definitley lacking and gameplay remained rather 1 dimensional, with many games just being reskins of eachother. By 1983 many in the media declared the end of the video game "fad" and that home gaming would never beat arcades.
Nintendo Entertainment System / Famicom - 1985 / 1983
So obviously the media was wrong, almost entirely because a playing card company in Japan decided to step into the ring and try their hand. Nintendo also started in the arcade sphere and helped pioneer light gun video games. The 94 year old company (Kind of insane Nintendo has only made video game systems for 32% of it's life) released a new at home console in Japan to tremendous success. Two years later they released the US version, the Nintendo Entertainment System. These consoles were profoundly succesful, sitting at 13th on the list of highest selling game consoles of all time (I actually wrote a whole essay on how they saved the dying video game industry in Think 66). The controllers for the NES were game changing as well. The controller did away with the joystick and instead presents the user direct acces to the 4 directional inputs in the form of a D-pad, and it had a total of 4 other buttons to lead to a wider variety in gameplay.
Super Nintendo Entertainment System - 1991
Okay time to speed up a bit. The SNES added two more buttons on the face of the controller, and also added two shoulder "bumper" buttons on the top of the controller. This allowed for users to take advantage of their unused fingers, and consequently made it easier for people to hit the right buttons while not looking at the controller, adding to immersiveness.
Playstation - 1995
The first non-Nintendo console in a while. The Playstation 1 controller has all the buttons of the SNES controller, in a way more ergonomic package, allowing for a way more comfortable experience. It's general shape would set the standard for almost every future console controller.
N64 - 1996
Nintendo is back! And they brought one of the worst controllers of all time! Honestly, this thing absolutley sucks, it's terrible. Nintendo emulated the Playstation controller but added a few buttons and an analog stick. The addition of an analog stick was absolutely massive though, for the first time players had a way larger degree of control over their games, allowing players to do things like move at variable speeds or look around more accurately. The functionality of this controller was revolutionary but the shape and ergonomics are quite frankly revolting.
Playstation 2 - 2000
Added two analog sticks to the PS1 controller. That's literally it. It just so happens that this works out perfectly for many 3D games, one stick to control movement, and another to control the camera. The PS2 is the highest selling video game console of all time in large part because of how natural it's control scheme is.
Xbox - 2001
Microsoft effectively just a massive PS2 controller but with the stick and D-pad swapped to avoid a lawsuit.
Gamecube - 2001
Nintendo's take on a PS2 controller, also added a third button on the top of the controller.
Xbox 360 - 2005
Basically a refinement of the original Xbox controller, much slimmer and very futuristic looking (for the time). I'm also pretty sure the 360 had the first analog triggers, basically two buttons on the back are depth sensitive and instead of giving a flat one or zero, they how deep the button was being pressed. The feature is rarely used in most games these days but can really add to the immersion when developers choose to implement behavior for it. A very tiny change yet one that can be impactfully felt when taken advantage of. The 360 controller also had an official wireless version which was an awesome quality of life improvement. (Wireless controllers existed before but were almost always 3rd party)
Playstation 3 - 2006
Basically a refinement of the PS2, they look almost identical. The PS3 also added some analog triggers to it's controller, and also supported wirelss connection.
Nintendo Wii - 2006
I already wrote about the Wii controller during HW1, but in short, it allowed for extremely easy use by anyone of any age. For many games you don't even need the buttons, you merely hold the controller and move it around. The Wii controller on it's own was pretty barebones, and only had a few buttons. The Wii remote however was modular, it had a port on the bottom which allowed for analog sticks in the form of the Nunchuck, and other far more specific accesories like the iconic Guitar Hero and Rock Band guitars. The Wii controller was a bit of a chameleon, it had the infrastructure to turn into almost any kind of controller. I would bet good money on the Wii controller being Ge's favorite on this list.
Wii U - 2012
The Wii U controller is basically an Xbox controller that has been stretched apart and in the middle a screen has been placed. It mimics a lot of the handheld consoles of the time. The realy unique part of it though is the screen. This screen isn't just a mirror of the TV but in most cases is a whole different view. For some games it may be an in universe device like a map of a gps. It really helps to break the 4th wall and make it feel like the game is spilling into your lap.
Playstation 4 - 2013
I've actually never used one of these, but they added a trackpad in the center to fill the previously empty space present on the earlier controllers.
Xbox One - 2013
A refined, modernized, 360 controller, in my opinion one of the most ergonomically comfortable controllers on the market.
Nintendo Switch - 2017
Okay the switch is crazy because it merged the Wii U and the 3DS into one system. Nintendo basically took the Wii U gamepad and made it a standalone console. Except you can plug it into your TV. Oh also the buttons on the side come off into their own mini controllers and if you hold them next to each other they can become one big controller. The switch is revolutionary, it makes gaming with friends a breeze. The controllers have insanely precise gyroscopes allowing detailed movement controls on the level of the Wii. The right Joycon (name of the controllers) has a small ir camera in it as well. Oh also the haptic motors are capable of creating localized feedback. In the tech demo game called 1-2 Switch the controllers can emulate a box full of marbles and it feels real down to the inertia. The switch also has a "pro-controller" which is basically the same as an Xbox one controller. Oh yeah also the Switch (And Wii and Wii U for that matter) is officially compatible with gamecube controllers (provided you get the adapter) basically exclusively just for competitive Super Smash Bros Players.
Xbox Series X - 2020
Literally the same controller as the Xbox One, like you can just use old controllers from 2013. (They did make a new one with a slightly different shell though).
Playstation 5 - 2020
The PS5 controller is an improvement on the PS4 one. The haptic engine is much better (closer to the Switch but certainly not there yet). The coolest feature though is the variable trigger stiffness. The PS5 controller can adjust the resistance of it's triggers meaning that developers can code physical stops into trigger input. In many games this translates to "If you push the trigger halfway it'll do one thing, and if you push it all the way it'll do something else" the difference though is that developers can code physical stops into the trigger so you can feel the halfway point instead of just guessing. It's a really awesome feature and for the first time in all of these controllers that have been discussed,it allows for games to dynamically physically interact with the user in a tactile way. It lets the controller control you a little bit and makes the PS5 really feel like the next generation in high powered gaming instead of just a faster Xbox like the series X does.
Okay that was kind of a lot haha, didn't realize how many controllers I had used when I decided to do this. I didn't talk at all about Keyboard and Mouse as an input method quite frankly because it's precise to the point of overcomplexity, hasn't changed in like 40 years, and was designed as a productivity tool, not as a gaming device and quite frankly it shows. With that said I do use keyboard and mouse for the majority of my gaming, but honestly it's only because I've reached the point where the imprecision from the controller actually affects my ability to game (waste time) at a high level (be better than my friends).
Thanks for Reading!!