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Input Devices Entertainment Games

In Defense of the Classic Controller 251

Kotaku has an opinion piece by Leigh Alexander singing the praises of classic, button-rich controllers for the level of precision and complexity they offer. While the Wii Remote and upcoming motion-control offerings from Microsoft and Sony are generating a lot of interest, there will always be games for which more traditional input devices are better suited. Quoting: "With all this talk about new audiences — and the tech designed to serve them — it's easy to get excited. It's also easy to feel a little lost in the shuffle. For gamers who've been there since before anyone cared about making games 'for everyone,' having that object in our hands was more than a way to access the game world — it was half the appeal. Anyone who's ever pulled off a chain of combos in a console fighter can tell you about the joy of expertise and control. ... Gamers may suffer some kind of identity crisis as the familiar markers of their beloved niche evolve — or disappear entirely. The solution to that one's easy: Get over it. Like it or not, it's clear that gaming's not a 'niche' anymore, and its shape will change. The more pressing issue is whether or not controller-less gaming will truly make the medium richer. Making something 'more accessible' doesn't necessarily make it better."
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In Defense of the Classic Controller

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  • by emocomputerjock ( 1099941 ) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @08:38AM (#28526707)
    I have always maintained that the original SNES controller is the best gaming controller ever developed. It has the right feel, just enough buttons, and great responsiveness. I haven't seen a better pad in 20+ years of gaming.
  • sigh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cowscows ( 103644 ) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @08:39AM (#28526729) Journal

    Anyone afraid that buttons are going to disappear is just getting upset for no good reason. There's bazillions of hours invested into buttons, programming buttons, and designing game interfaces around buttons. Everyone isn't going to just up and abandon all of that investment and knowledge just because something new has appeared.

    You'll just have to live with the fact that your beloved button based games might have to sit next to some motion control games on the store shelves. But that's not really something worth whining about.

  • Mouse and keyboard (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Engeekneer ( 1564917 ) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @08:41AM (#28526745)
    For most non-simulator games, I'd stick with mouse and keyboard any day! Try to sniping someone in the head in a fast-paced game with a traditional controller without any auto aims, and then talk about "precision".
  • by sys.stdout.write ( 1551563 ) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @08:42AM (#28526753)
    So this quote doesn't fully address the One True Controller debate, but I think it's important to realize that we were all children when this equipment came out and we may have a bad case of rose-colored glasses.

    In the words of Douglas Adams:
    • everything that's already in the world when you're born is just normal
    • anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it
    • anything that gets invented after you're thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it's been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @08:47AM (#28526795)

    Punch Out for the Wii has both motion based and button based control schemes. Very few people use the motion based controls after the first few levels, because, let's face it, we're not real boxers and most of have no desire to be.

  • by Spyware23 ( 1260322 ) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @08:47AM (#28526797) Homepage

    D-pad: SNES
    Analog: Gamecube.

    Why? Go play some SNES/Cube games. I'm not sure which guys in Nintendo are developing the controllers, but they used to do a very, very good job. Too bad they kind of screwed up the Classic Controller for the Wii. They should have gone with the SNES controller, without editing too much, just new start and select buttons.

  • For short (Score:3, Insightful)

    by 4D6963 ( 933028 ) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @08:53AM (#28526839)
    For short : diversity is good, no one size fits all solution, to each his own, etc...
  • by j0nb0y ( 107699 ) <> on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @08:53AM (#28526841) Homepage

    The gamecube controller is the best ever, imo.

    The stick is in the upper left and not in the odd uncomfortable position of the dual shock stick.

    The right button placement is great. Large A button in the middle. Small B button to the left. X is above the A and Y is to the right of the A. The buttons all have different shapes so you can feel what button your thumb is on without having to look.

    And of course, the *epic* analog shoulder buttons. The buttons have a huge range of motion; I'm pretty sure they depress over half an inch, and they 'lock' at the bottom. I've never seen another controller with such awesome analog buttons.

  • No (Score:2, Insightful)

    by sesshomaru ( 173381 ) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @08:53AM (#28526843) Journal

    Gamers may suffer some kind of identity crisis as the familiar markers of their beloved niche evolve or disappear entirely. The solution to that one's easy: Get over it.

    You know, I always think it's great when people say this, but they always forget the alternative... I don't have to play video games if I don't think they are fun. There are tons of other things to do in this world. In fact, I'm actually not going to play video games if I don't think they are fun. I have something called a job for when I want to do things that aren't fun.

    More importantly for the people who say, "Get over it," if I find that the new video games aren't fun, I'll stop buying them and wait until someone produces some that are worthy. Heck, since I'll likely fill my leisure time with alternative activities I might just forget that games exist entirely....

  • by wjousts ( 1529427 ) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @09:01AM (#28526939)

    Model M [].

  • by Logical Zebra ( 1423045 ) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @09:02AM (#28526949)

    To this day, I think of the buttons on my PlayStation or XBOX in terms of the SNES layout. "Hit the Y button! I mean the Square one!"

  • by geminidomino ( 614729 ) * on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @09:07AM (#28526987) Journal

    That's not a chain of combos, it's a cheat code, and if putting it in takes any effort on your part (enough effort for you to "not miss it") then you've got no business talking about classic controllers.

    Now get off my 30-liv^W lawn!

  • Re:sigh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SQLGuru ( 980662 ) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @09:13AM (#28527087) Journal

    Use the right tool for the job.

    I'm not about to try to play Starcraft 2 using only motion controls. I need a keyboard. A *REAL* keyboard (not even a Chat Pad that has all of the right buttons). There are certain cases where the game lends itself to motion control (bowling or tennis, sure -- flight sim, no). As long as game designers use the right controller for the job, I'll be happy. I don't mind playing a game that makes me expend some energy manipulating a motion controller -- it's very immersive. I also don't mind playing a game that required 40 different buttons and three keyboard overlays to give the right feel. As long as they stick to that, they can be successful.

  • No, gamepads suck (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Tridus ( 79566 ) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @09:22AM (#28527199) Homepage

    Gamepads, or the "classic" controllers he's whining about, actually suck quite a lot. They have terrible precision when compared to a mouse, don't work that well for things like Flight Sims when compared to a flightstick, and don't offer accessability over motion controls.

    I've never understood the appeal. Playing console shooters is like steering a drunk camel compared to on the PC. Good RTS with large numbers of units is pretty much a joke. Trying to explain to a non gamer how to play is an exercise in futility compared to the thirty seconds it takes to understand the Wiimote.

    The only real upside to the things is that they're generic. You can shoehorn a lot of game types to work on the thing, no matter how badly it works for most of them.

  • by jollyreaper ( 513215 ) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @09:32AM (#28527331)

    So this quote doesn't fully address the One True Controller debate, but I think it's important to realize that we were all children when this equipment came out and we may have a bad case of rose-colored glasses.

    You raise a good point with the curmudgeon angle. I can't stand playing shooters with a console controller, I need a mouse and keyboard. But this does not discount that there are people very, very good with the console controller. You probably can't argue the inherent superiority of one over the other but you can certainly see how personal preference can enter into it. I grew up on mouse and keyboard control for shooters so it feels more natural.

    There's probably still good room for controller innovation and it would also depend on the kind of game you're playing. Digital controls suck for racing. The analog sticks are ok but you really need a wheel for it to feel right. Likewise, flight sims don't feel right with anything other than a proper joystick to control the aircraft.

    I think there's a lot of room out there for controller innovation but the downside is that it greatly increases the cost of the game. I was skeptical about the potential for Guitar Hero due to requiring an expensive guitar controller for the full experience. I was extremely skeptical about the equipment cost for Rock Band. Turns out those games were popular enough to support it. The Wii motion controller is great for games designed with it in mind but there are many genres where the motion controller just doesn't cut it, you need a traditional gamepad.

    We've traditionally seen more innovation in the arcade game market since the special hardware development is simply part of designing the game and it all comes with the cabinet. As electronics become cheaper, we might end up seeing more customized controllers for specific games.

  • by Delusion_ ( 56114 ) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @09:59AM (#28527699) Homepage

    It's the interface. A controller is only half the story, and usually a lot less than that.

    I'm not suggesting we go back to the Atari 2600/C64 era joystick, but it does have some lessons we should learn from. Some of the best interface design comes from embracing the limitations in the format. There were many C64 era games that, if they didn't use the keyboard at all, had to be somewhat creative on the control side. Four directions, one button, make it happen. Now, the trend seems to be that we need a discrete, separate button for every function a game has, and button combinations that are completely unobvious and arbitrary are a good thing.

    As the Atari 2600 was my last console, after which I got on the 8-bit computer bandwagon, I say the following without any platform bias: The Sega Genesis system had it right in the first generation: stick and three buttons. is similar, but is the 6 button version. I used this on the Amiga (which only supported one button, but very few games were programmed to use three, since the Atari and Sega joysticks had compatible connectors and pin layouts). It had heft, it was accurate, it was solid. With three buttons, you had to create a control mechanism, but you couldn't go down the road of arbitrary button hell. That's what the modern console controller feels like to me: hell, and inaccurate to boot.

  • by Hubbell ( 850646 ) <brianhubbellii AT live DOT com> on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @10:09AM (#28527809)
    The XBOX 360 controller imo is the best one to ever come out. Could you perform the dozens of different actions/moves in modern games with a snes controller? No. The 360 controller has the sticks offset which is MUCH more natural feel and orders of magnitude better than the Playstation design, the 2 triggers, 2 bumpers, and 4 buttons are also setup in a way that is extremely easy to use and very intuitive.
  • by Draek ( 916851 ) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @10:22AM (#28527959)

    Pretty well, actually. Its easier, in my experience, to input those long chains of commands for special moves with a keyboard, 2D platformers like Megaman work just as well with an "old-school" keyboard setup (read: arrow keys instead of WASD), and if you want to see how incredible playing a vertical shooter is with a mouse you should go and play Chromium B.S.U., available at your nearest Ubuntu repository.

    About the only genre I can think of where a controller is noticeably superior to a keyboard and/or mouse are platformers, but even then I had no problem finishing Assassin's Creed with my trusty keyb+mouse combo. And, of course, simulations but for those you want a specialized controller anyways.

  • Re:sigh (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SQLGuru ( 980662 ) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @10:33AM (#28528117) Journal


    Still one of my favorite games. And you are right that it isn't intuituve because of how many commands there are.....but I'm willing to invest the time if the game is worth the investment. Which goes back to my comment about the right tool for the this case a keyboard (I couldn't imagine all of the "macros" that would be needed to play nethack with a Wii-mote). FYI, a decent Nethack-like game that can be played entirely with a stylus is Powder (; similar level of complexity and a decent stylus based navigation.

    Even touch games on the iPhone.....some lend themselves very well to a touch interface, others not so much. Luckily, there are other inputs that can be paired with touch (GPS, tilt, now a compass) which can open up more gaming options.....but you still will find that some games just aren't suited for some platforms. (Also why PC gaming will never die...nor will console gaming. They will just find their balance point and co-exist.)

  • by mrchaotica ( 681592 ) * on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @10:33AM (#28528127)

    The XBOX 360 controller imo is the best one to ever come out. Could you perform the dozens of different actions/moves in modern games with a snes controller? No.

    Only if you think thumb joysticks were ever a good idea to begin with. Everything that the Xbox 360 controller can do that the SNES controller can't is done better by either a mouse or a real joystick, thankyouverymuch!

  • Re:sigh (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Darkness404 ( 1287218 ) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @10:37AM (#28528193)
    But there are a lot of games released on Wii that use motion controls for no apparent reason. In fact, I'd say that about 85% of the Wii's games use motion control for no real reason and the gameplay suffers because of it.
  • by BetterSense ( 1398915 ) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @10:44AM (#28528279)
    It's a legitimate worry. People keep assuring gamers that the two control systems will exist side-by side. They have a right to be skeptical.

    Once upon a time, all movies were silent, and then someone invented the talkie. Great, now we can have silent movies AND talking movies! No, the reality is we only have talking movies. Eventually nobody makes silent movies anymore.

    Same thing with black and white. Someone invents color film, and people thing WOW, great more options! Now we will have black and white and color movies! But the reality is we only have color movies after all. If you want to see a black and white movie you have to watch on old one or an independently produced one. Nobody makes them because nobody thinks they will sell, and only weird hardcore artsy people would value such an obsolete aesthetic on purpose.

    Same thing with 2D sprite-based games. 3D comes along, and people at first thing Great! This 3D stuff is neat, now we can have 3D and 2D games. And good thing, because entire genres of games and styles of art are built around 2D graphics. There's no way people will just stop making 2D games. But the reality is that they do. After a while we only have 3D games after all, and 2D games are not taken seriously anymore.

    I think that gamers are entirely justified in worrying about losing button-based gameplay when they see the hoards of casual gamers and advertising hype around motion-based control. In technology as soon as something is viewed as old-fashioned the perception is that it won't sell, whether it's black-and-white film or 2D graphics or button-based gameplay.
  • by Fantastic Lad ( 198284 ) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @12:05PM (#28529647)

    Here's how it works. . .

    The system you grew up with has a life span which will end at some point and you will be left feeling either bitter or so old you just don't care. --Either that, or evolution will reach a plateau of suitable perfect-ness in bio-feedback device and stay there for 20 million years. I doubt even the Mouse, Screen & Keyboard will manage this, though as of yet, nothing seems to match it for getting yourself from one end of an Operating System to the other.

    For games. . . Any controller which has a limit to its usefulness in moving stuff around on screen, and all controllers seem to, will irritate some engineer/designer somewhere enough to spawn some new brand of tool. The kids new to video games will be more than willing to train themselves on whatever cool new system is offered so long as it activates all their happy circuits, and whatever solution you were content (ecstatic) with while growing up will have to shuffle over to make room, and will eventually find itself relegated to a niche market. And you won't understand what your kids are talking about half the time. Welcome to parenthood. You're not cool anymore. Laugh at it. The other option is to wear leather pants and buy a sports car and look really sad and desperate.

    Best to age with a little grace. Let the Nintendo button thingy go. You don't want to be the old guy saying, "When I was young, we had to play our games with a STICK! In 8 bits! And we LIKED it!"

    Hm. Actually, it might be kind of fun to be that guy.


  • To this day, I think of the buttons on my PlayStation or XBOX in terms of the SNES layout. "Hit the Y button! I mean the Square one!"

    Some of my friends have played games on PlayStation, Xbox, GameCube, and Super NES. The X button is in a different place on every controller. In fact, it has shown up in all four positions []. So when I tell them what button to hit, and it's not the one on the bottom, I tend to say triangle, square, or O because they're less ambiguous than A, B, and Y.

  • I quote (Score:2, Insightful)

    by KneelBeforeZod ( 1527235 ) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @12:58PM (#28530753)
    To quote Yahtzee of Zero Punctuation about motion controllers: "People plays games to unwind and no one unwinds by coming home and waving their arms like air traffic controllers covered in beetles." And that said it all
  • by CorporateSuit ( 1319461 ) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @01:07PM (#28531009)

    Button-mashing mechanics will only be missed by those who had an over-reliance on it for winning.

    I don't know what you envision your victory over, here. Button mashers are people who CAN'T complete combos or DON'T know the moves, so they simply mash the buttons and try to beat you that way... like a chimp would. Do you think motion controls make that any different? Instead, they'll be flinging their arms this way and that, rapid-punching and still "button mashing" as far as the input is concerned.

    If you were referring to leveling the playing field so a skilled player is just as bad off as a terrible player, then a competitive game is no fun. What possible joy could come when the input is so shoddy that the game shows you no skill progress and winners may as well be picked at random? Yes, the mentally incapable might pull some joy out of "beating someone" because they rolled a higher number than the other person at dice, but such joys are short-lived and the game will end up being played once and then forgotten, because you can't get any better at it than you started.

    Incapacitating everyone's avatars in the spirit of "equality" is NOT a step forward in video games.

"Turn on, tune up, rock out." -- Billy Gibbons