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Essay/Term paper: Video games

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Position Papers

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Video games have progressed over time, and as they have, more complex controllers have been necessary to accomodate those games. This is the history of video game controllers.

The Atari 2600's standard controller was simple: an 8-way joystick with one button on the base. The controller looked the same from all sides, so you had to put the button in a certain position to be sure you were right. The Atari also had it's share of special game-specific controllers, like the paddle wheel. The controller was like the joystick, but it was just a dial and a button. It really only had one axis of movement.

I've never actually seen an Intellivision, but I've seen pictures of the controller. It was a pad with 12 buttons on the face and two triggers on each side. A graphical overlay was slid over the face to tell you which buttons did what. It didn't have a dedicated movement pad or stick, though.

When the Nintendo Entertainment System hit in 1985, its controller was designed better. It had a pad on the left and two buttons on the right, as well as a Select button to change modes and a Start button to, well, start. This button eventually evolved into a pause button as well. The rectangle shape and labels made sure you were holding it the right way. It may not have been that comfortable, but you knew you were holding it right.

The NES also had its share of peripherals. The Zapper, the first home light gun, debuted not long after the system. It wasn't loaded with features, and sometimes the second slot was used to set up options with the pad.

One of the most original and unreplicated peripherals was the Power Pad. This was a mat with 12 circles on it that detected the motion of someone's feet. It allowed for real races in games such as Track and Field.

Also available was the rarely-talked-about Robotic Operating Buddy. It did something, exactly what I'm not sure. It was glitchy and rarely worked, but no one's attempted to do it again, perhaps to their credit.

Nintendo also made the first 4-player adaptor for the NES. I'm not sure how many games used it.

When the Sega Genesis came along in 1989 (?), it had three buttons on the face and no Select. Nothing revolutionary.

The SNES came out in 1991 (?) with what seemed to be an incredible amount of buttons: four on the face, two triggers, a Start and a Select. The only new concept was the triggers.

Both the SNES and the Genesis had light-gun peripherals: The Super Scope on the SNES and the Menacer (?) on the Genesis. Neither did well.

The Super NES came out with a game known as Mario Paint, and to accompany it they released a Super NES mouse.

The Genesis is the only system to date that added buttons to a later version of its controller. A second Genesis controller came out with X, Y, and Z buttons on the face and a Mode button on the right trigger (it served no gameplay function). It was mainly designed for fighting games.

The Saturn, which launched in 1995, had a controller similar to the new Genesis one, but with two triggers. The Playstation (and the crowd boos), launched later that year, had four buttons on its face, intelligently labeled Triangle, Circle, Square, and X, as well as two triggers on each side and a Select and Start button. Note: the bold on intelligently indicates sarcasm.

The Nintendo 64 debuted in 1996 with its peculiar 3-handle design. The most innovative design in years, the controller featured six buttons on the right face, one trigger on each side, one trigger under the middle handle, and a start button. On the left handle was the standard crosshair D-Pad. On the middle handle was the best feature: the analog stick. This read the direction and strength of the push, like pushed in 37% at 228°. Pads could only read eight directions and two strengths: pushed and not pushed.

Also new on the N64 controller was the in-controller memory card slot. Not only did this make changing cards easier, but it played a more important role a short year later.

The N64 was also the first to have 4 controller ports built into the system. All others before it only had two. That makes for much better multiplayer action. Four-player GoldenEye is one of the most entertaining gaming experiences you can have.

In 1997, Sony released its Dual Analog controller. It had two analog controllers, one on each side. This was likely done to match the N64's ability to use the pad and stick together (instead of replacing the pad with a stick) without adding a third handle and infringing on patents. Sega also made its Analog Controller, packaged with NiGHTS. It had a D-Pad and an analog something, I'm not sure what, on one side and the buttons on the other.

In June 1997, Nintendo made its biggest innovation yet: the Rumble Pak. Latching into the Controller Pak port on the bottom of the controller, the Rumble Pak provided simple force feedback without needing to buy another controller.

The Saturn also started the NetLink in 1997. This necessitated new peripherals: a mouse and a keyboard.

Namco's GunCon was also interesting. It featured improved accuracy over past light guns as well as a force-feedback "ricochet" that kicked the gun back every time it was fired, like a real gun.

In 1998, Sony released its Dual Shock controller. This featured two force feedback devices, one in each side of the controller. It necessitated the purchase of a new controller to use it.

On September 9, 1999, the Dreamcast will/did come out (depending on when you read this). Its controller features four buttons on the face, a digital pad, an analog joystick and a Start button in the center of the controller. However, it has two major innovations.

The first is the analog trigger buttons. These are sensitive to how much you press them, much like the gas pedal in a car. The deeper they're pushed, the more action the game will take. This could be used in a racing game like a real pedal or in a football game where the deeper press becomes a bullet pass or in a platform game where you jump higher with a harder press.

The Visual Memory Unit is a great idea. The memory card (which goes into the controller, like on the N64) has a video screen on it. Minigames can be played on the card separate from the system, or you can use it, for example, to secretly pick plays in a football game.

What can we expect in the future? Well, Nintendo has already announced Voice Recognition for at least one N64 game. Expect true force feedback. Joysticks will resist your pushing rather than just shaking. The analog button idea will spread. The memory-card-in-the-controller deal will stay, so new ideas will be expandable onto the old controller. But the best control in the future will come from ideas we haven't had today.


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