Thursday, June 11, 2009

Controllers - Now

This is the conclusion of a 3 part series. You can read part 1 and part 2 by clicking the links. *NOTE* I am purposely skipping the Dual Shock 2 for the Playstation 2 since it was basically the same controller with added pressure sensitivety, therefore nothing really changed, but it was already a near perfect controller already.

Gamecube Controller

In 2001, the Gamecube hit and it was Nintendo's chance to make up for the mistakes it made with the N64. When you first see the controller you notice that it looks like a fisher price toy. It is very colorful with many buttons in many different sizes. The colours do not really matter though it is the functionality of the controller that does. The Gamecube controller was basically the N64 controller done right. The Z trigger was moved to the top right shoulder. The L and R buttons were now triggers with more depth than any controller on the market. Because the L and R triggers had so much depth to them designers could use their pressure sensitivity so that the deeper the button was pressed it would change the action on the screen (for example some games used the triggers as a zoom lens for a sniper rifle. The more the trigger was pressed, the closer the zoom). The face buttons were strange shapes and sizes but it was an attempt to make them more comfortable and easier to read with just using your fingers. The main action button was bigger making it easier to find. Overall, it ended up being an unneeded change since players were comfortable with the traditional button setup. The best change was the N64 C buttons being turned into a second analog stick which made 3D games even more involving.

Game types - The Gamecube suffered from a lack of support from developers. While the controller probably had nothing to do with it, it was clear that most game genres just played better on the Xbox or the Playstation 2. However when Nintendo made games, they really took advantage of the controller and used its unique design to create really unique games. "Super Smash Bros Melee" was a fighting/party game and it could only be pulled off using the Gamecube controller (even the new wii version is best played by plugging in a gamecube controller).


The Xbox also hit the market in 2001 and with it came a massive controller. The first thing that players noticed was the size of the controller and it was a problem. Even big handed individuals (like myself) found the controller too big to be comfortable. Since players were used to smaller controllers it was too much of a change. It made some right moves by having the 2 analog sticks in staggered locations to make room for comfortably using the face buttons. However, the face buttons had a problem, namely the black and white buttons. The A, B, X, and Y buttons were fine and were in the same positions as gamers were used to. The black and white buttons were placed up high in a hard to get to place while still using the rest of the face buttons. Also the black and White buttons were far too small which stood out on the massive controller. The L and R shoulder buttons were triggers much like the dreamcast controller and they were perfect. The Xbox and the Gamecube together made sure that triggers were standard making the Playstation's shoulder buttons seem a little stiff in comparison. Pictured below are both controllers side by side. You can see how much bigger and boxier the controller on the left is, and how much of an improvement the controller on the right is.

In 2002 the Xbox hit Japan and with it came new controllers. These controllers were smaller in order to fit into Japanese gamers hands. It was quickly found that these smaller controllers were superior to the American controllers and became standard worldwide. The black and white buttons were now in a different position as well and they were still awkward to use.

Game types - The Xbox was made by Microsoft so it was almost like a console/PC hybrid. Because of this it brought the most popular PC genre, the First Person Shooter, home. The N64 might have done it first but the xbox perfected how to put an FPS on a console and its controller was almost perfect for them. The Playstation 2 and the Gamecube just couldn't produce the same quality of FPS and 3rd person shooters as the Xbox could.

Xbox 360

Coming out in 2005 the Xbox 360 was an instant hit, and the controller was part of its success. Many gaming publications and websites mentioned how improved the controller was and it is now one of the best controllers on the market. The changes made from the original Xbox controller were simple but effective. The controller remained small and was much smoother and less boxy, so it was very comfortable to hold. The triggers remained and the black and white buttons became bumpers placed in front of the triggers. It basically made the 360 controller an improved Playstation Dual Shock. One thing that really set it apart from what came before was the big Xbox button in the middle. This button functioned much like a menu button on a DVD remote letting the player switch back to the Xbox 360 Operating system and use its features. For example if the 360 has music already on the harddrive the Xbox button could be used to navigate to a custom soundtrack and have the players own music play over the game. It brought up the customization aspect that is very prevalent in today's games. It is a button that has become standard on all controllers since.

Game types - Much like the xbox, the 360 also has a great deal of first person shooters and 3rd person shooters. However, every genre seems to work great when mapped onto the 360 controller. Recently developers have even tried bringing in complicated RTS games (which many thought impossible without a mouse and keyboard) and successfully mapping the controls to the 360.

Playstation 3

Released in 2006, the Playstation 3 Sixaxis controller copied key features from the 360 and the not yet released (by only a handful of days) Nintendo Wii. It had a Playstation button that functioned the same as the Xbox button. It also had some motion control like the Wii. The Playstation's motion control is limited but it does add a little over the typical controller. By tilting the controller you can control the action on the screen. This Sixaxis controller has been used to do everything from drive cars, to lob grenades. Many players do not like the Sixaxis controls and feel that developers added in the feature as an afterthought. It works best when it is optional or is only used for simple tasks. The other change to the Playstation 3 controller was turning the R2 and L2 buttons into triggers, which was a welcome addition. In 2007, the Dual Shock 3 came out which looks exactly the same as the Sixaxis but had added force feedback (which every other controller had).

Game types - The Playstation 3 controller is similiar enough to the 360 that their game types are very similiar. The only difference is that the Playstation 3 allows for motion controls. This worked great in action games like "Uncharted" allowing for better aiming of grenades. But the game "Lair" which only had motion control was a failure both commercially and critically because it is too hard to control everything by twisting the controller.


The final controller discussed is by far the most different controller and the biggest change to gameplay since the NES. In 2006, Nintendo launched the Wii with an odd looking controller. It focused a lot more on motion controls than action buttons. Alone the controller only has 6 buttons and a d-pad (and only 2-4 buttons can be used at once comfortably), and when attached with the nunchuck it has an extra analog stick and 2 more buttons. The controller can be held either horizontally or vertically depending on the game allowing for many different control sets between games. Alone, looking at just the buttons, it is a pretty awkward and useless controller that is a giant step backward from its predecessors. But, with the motion controls it really is a revolutionary design choice. Games can tell how far the controller is away from the screen as well has how it is positioned. This has led to a wide variety of designers trying to make use of its unique features (and usually failing). Regardless of whether designers are getting it right the Wii has been such a hit based on the motion controls alone. It currently outsells both the 360 and the PS3.

Game types - Because it is such a radically different controller, it has attracted a strange number of new game types. The most common game being the mini-game collection (a series of small activities that use the motion controls). Sometimes the motion controls really pull off unique games, like "Zack and Wiki" and can be precise enough to offer amazing first person controls, like "Metroid Prime 3" or the "medal of Honor" series. Overall the Wii controller is full of potential but it does not seem to be fullfilling it yet.

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