10 Great Controller Firsts
When we made this list of 10 Great Controller Firsts, we had to think about controller innovations that really changed the shape of gaming. There are plenty of controllers out there that were the first to use an analog knob, or the first to use a number pad, or the first to use turbo switches, but none of these innovations have made their way into contemporary controller design. We dissected the controllers of today and asked ourselves, “where did all of this come from?’ and that’s how we came up with this list of 10 Great Controller Firsts.
Yes, the first controller with a built in microphone wasn’t the Wii U GamePad, or the Xbox 360 controller with its microphone jack. It was the Player 2 controller of the Famicom, which was hardwired into the system. In return, the controller didn’t have start or select buttons. Since all the next-generation systems are building microphones directly into their consoles now, we thought we could honor the 8-bit system that did it first by putting it on our list of 10 Great Controller Firsts.
At this point, wireless is the norm. PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii controllers are all wireless, and it was hard to find anyone in the Gamecube days that didn’t own a Wavebird. But the first console to feature wireless controllers was the Atari 2600 and their pro line of the Atari CX-42, which used radio waves to transmit wireless signals. They also chewed through batteries like crazy and required controller bases that were huge and cube shaped.
Before the SNES, face buttons were all that controllers had. You have to remember that the controller design people were working off of was the arcade panel, so the idea of buttons that weren’t on the “front” of a controller was pretty alien to most people. The SNES added the L and R buttons which allowed, essentially, four buttons to be pressed at once: one for each thumb and one for each finger. This would later be evolved by the PlayStation and Xbox to included triggers, another innovation we will get to later in this list.
The “Game Pad” is what we know as the traditional controller layout that essentially every console follows. It seems so natural now, d-pad on the left, buttons on the right. But it wasn’t always so. Most old school gaming consoles had Atari like box joysticks. Some even had phone like number pads. It was actually the Nintendo Famicom that started the Gamepad craze, and the simple design has been mimicked time and time again ever since.
Many of you might be thinking, “wait, wasn’t the first PlayStation dual analog controller the Dualshock?” Nope! The PlayStation 1 pulled a PlayStation 3 before it’s time by creating a dual analog controller that didn’t have rumble. It was named…. The PlayStation Dual Analog Controller. Nearly every controller since has followed the dual analog setup, and that’s why it’s on our list of 10 Great Controller firsts.
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the very first console controller with a trigger was the famous three pronged N64 controller. The only trigger that the controller had was on the middle handle, underneath the analog stick. It was a perfect for early shooters of the time, like Goldeneye. The idea of “shoulder triggers” were then implemented on the Gamecube, and analog triggers have been a standard of video game controllers ever since.
Do you love the Power Glove? Is it so bad? Well you better start listening to Lucas because The Power Glove is actually the first instance of console motion control! Yep, this crappy plastic glove that rarely ever worked was released in 1989, way before any other motion control devices were formed. Motion control existed in arcades as early as the 1970s, but The Power Glove was the first time it was ever implemented for console use. Doesn’t seem that stupid anymore, does it?
Once again, the Guinness Book of World Records lists the N64 as the first video game controller to feature vibration. Note, that force feedback and rumble were integrated into arcade cabinets before this, but the Rumble Pak, which Star Fox 64 fans drooled all over, was the first instance of rumble on a home console. The Dualshock later followed and was the first instance of controller vibration integrated within a console controller itself.
Whatever console you actually think had the first analog stick, you are wrong. The N64 had the first thumbstick, but it was actually digital, not analog. The PlayStation had the first dual analog controller, but consoles had analog controls way before it came out. In fact, they had analog controls before the Game Pad was even implemented. The very first instance of analog controls was actually in this hunk of junk, a programmable video game system distributed through Europe that went by a ton of different names, such as Acetronic and Intertron. The joysticks used potentiometers, did not self center, broke all the time, and rarely, if ever, worked the way they were supposed to. Still, they were the very first analog sticks ever made.
Of course the #1 entry on our list of 10 Great Controller Firsts had to be by Nintendo, the grandfather of gaming innovation. Before the Game and Watch, all video games were controlled with tiny joysticks. This just seemed natural because home video games were all mimicking arcade video games, which of course all had joysticks. However, the Game and Watch was a portable system and a joystick made it hard to carry around or fit in a purse or pocket. So Nintendo developed the d-pad, a cross shaped button that you pressed in order to go up, down, left and right. Ever since, Nintendo’s products have used d-pads, and just about every other controller for every other console has copied it in some way.