Things I'm Glad Have Evolved in Gaming, Part 2: Controllers

When was the last time you played an older console game? If it’s been a while, you may have forgotten about some of the headaches brought on by old game designs or technology. While there’s a certain charm to the gameplay and graphics of many older games, there are also definite problems. It’s here that we catalog those changes and remind you why progress is often for the best. Please enjoy Part 1 of this series as well.

Whether you're playing the oldest PC text adventure or the newest console game, there's been one constant throughout the history of gaming: controllers. And every time I pick up an old controller, I'm sure as hell glad that these things have changed in the past twenty-plus years.

The control options we now enjoy are the result of evolution of controller design and innovation. The D-pad introduced with Nintendo's NES is now standard on controllers worldwide, as is the four-button layout introduced on the Super NES. The exterior design of Sony's Dual Shock controller has remained almost unchanged since its 1997 introduction in Japan. That strange, trident-style Nintendo 64 controller brought us analog controls as standard and force feedback via the Rumble Pack introduced with StarFox 64. When you combine all of these improvements, .

Think about the controllers we use now: The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 controllers each feature four face buttons, four more on the top of the controller, two analog sticks and a D-pad. The PlayStation 3's Dual Shock 3 also has motion controls built-in. Meanwhile, the Nintendo Wii's remote and nunchuk are designed specifically for motion controls. All of these controllers are wireless (though the Wii remote and nunchuk attach together with a wire) and all have rumble built in as well. Just imagining the technology involved is jaw dropping, but seeing what it allows game designers to do is amazing.

I, for one, am glad for that process of evolution. Sure, there's an old-school charm to playing games on NES or Sega Genesis or even the PlayStation, but between features and comfort, there's a reason controller design has changed. That old SNES dog bone-shaped controller may be your best friend when playing games like Super Mario World or Mario Kart, but pick it up now, 20 years later, and the D-pad isn't terribly good and the physical form factor isn't really comfortable either — it's too thin for my large American man-hands. Conversely, the original Xbox controller — aka The Duke — was way too big, and its jellybean face buttons were awful. And let's not talk about the Dreamcast controller; though the games are still some of my favorites and I spent countless hours with the damn thing, few things in life inspire hand cramps like trying to play Crazy Taxi now.

If you're new to gaming those standard controllers are now more complicated than calculus, but I'll take that when it allows me to do so much in gaming. Now we're breaking in motion controllers, from the previously mentioned Wiimote to the Sony Move and touch-screen based handheld gaming and Microsoft's Kinect, which doesn't even have a physical controller at all! Who knows where the future will take us; I may be writing here in ten years about how foolish I was to play games with a controller when motion control was so clearly the best solution. All I know is there will be change and evolution.