Video game console controllers have had a myriad of changes, some of which have been for the better but had only been achieved by experimenting with something new for the time, and there are others that may have been misunderstood or way ahead of their time. On the other hand, the ergonomic design of a controller, considering that it is what is going to be in your hands to go from start to finish in a video game, is very important, and it can be evidenced through the generations of consoles that some experimented with unorthodox but comfortable to hold designs, but in the end came up with a specific mold that would be the basis for modern console controllers from one or two generations ago.

While the most iconic console before the NES was the Atari 2600 with its joystick and single button, Gunpei Yokoi revolutionized the field with the Game & Watch and its D-Pad, which was incorporated into the Nintendo Famicom/NES and Game Boy. SEGA wanted to step up after losing with the Master System in Japan and North America (which incidentally had the Pause button on the console itself instead of the controller), and released the SEGA Genesis, also known as the Mega Drive, with its 3-button controller.

When Nintendo had to cope with SEGA’s new console technology, they released the Super Nintendo which took THREE steps forward with the controller: It had 4 front buttons (not counting Start and Select), added 2 back buttons, and the shape was much more ergonomic. While SEGA released a 6-button controller for the Genesis with a more ergonomic design, it had no back buttons and games had to be made compatible to take advantage of the 3 new buttons, unlike the SNES which had them from the beginning.

Note that in the following gallery, the Famicom and Mark III controllers are the Japanese equivalents of the NES and Master System, while the SG-1000 was the Japanese exclusive predecessor of the Mark III/Master System.

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It was at this time that the first stepping stone for modern controllers was established, as while the SEGA Saturn would be a slight evolution of the 6-button SEGA Genesis controller by slightly redesigning the mold and adding L and R buttons (although the first American controller took a somewhat different design, which would be reverted to its Japanese counterpart), also originated the Sony Playstation controller, which took the same SNES button layout but added two more back buttons and added handles to hold them comfortably (ironically, the Playstation came from a failed expansion for the Super Nintendo). Next would come the N64, although released quite a bit later than the Playstation, it crucially possessed an analog stick, the first of its kind on console, and had 6 face buttons, 4 of them called the C buttons, arguably the predecessors of the right stick as they were used for camera movement and tertiary functions in various 3D games.

The SEGA Saturn received an analog stick controller in 1996 with a very peculiar design and few supported games, but it was the first to have analog L and R triggers. On the other hand, the Playstation would later receive the Dual Analog Controller in 1997, which brought TWO analog sticks; and no, I’m not referring to the Dualshock, but the controller that came before it, but the DualShock was the best known and with more support in many games, besides bringing rumble function, which was previously only in the Japanese Dual Analog controllers and in the N64 through Rumble Pak.

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After this, controllers arguably received less visible but noticeable improvements in the following controls: the Dreamcast adopted the analog triggers from the Saturn 3D Control Pad by default in 1999, the Playstation 2 would have the DualShock 2 in 2000 with most buttons being analog or pressure sensitive, and the Xbox 360 controller brought a recognizable ergonomic design after iterating with two controllers around the time of the first Xbox, as well as using the XInput system that many games currently use.

The Sixaxis controller was launched with the PS3 in 2006 with motion sensing, and days later the Nintendo Wii with the Wiimote that had been revealed earlier and primarily used motion sensing, which would receive greater precision with the Wii Motion Plus, and would be what would lead Sony and Microsoft to try to compete with the PS Move and Kinect; the latter acting as a camera that was ambitiously posed to be a more interesting way to control games. The PS3 would also receive a “Dualshock 3” that would restore the rumble function absent in the Sixaxis.


From here on out, controllers would somewhat conform to a specific standard, which would follow the stick and button structure established by the Xbox 360, as not only Xbox One and X Series controllers take different layouts but the same button layout, but Pro Controllers for Wii, Wii U and Switch would also resemble it (only the original Wii Classic Controller would resemble the Super Nintendo one but with two sticks). Meanwhile, Playstation controllers would get their first visible redesign after three very similar controllers with the Dualshock 4, swapping the Start and Select buttons for Share and Option, changing the rubber on the sticks, and adding touch panels.

Coming to the current consoles, the Joy-Cons of the Switch act as a successor to the Wiimote, which while they do not have the IR aiming function of these, include accurate motion sensors, a new “HD Rumble” to feel different sensations, and the novelty of being separate controls or attachable to the console screen, you can use it as if it were a tablet, use the controls loose to the Wiimote + Nunchuck, or even use only one side to have TWO improvised controls for multiplayer. On the other hand, the Dualshock 5 retains the structure of the DS4, but has adaptive triggers (add more force depending on the game), motion sensors, and a special rumble function considered incredibly superior to all of the above, including the rumble of the Joy-Cons.



Up to this point, controls have come to a universal button and stick position standard, with the most radical deviation among current console controllers being the Joy-Cons with their differences for the unique purpose they serve, the Dualshock and its placement of the left stick below the directional pad instead of above it, and the differences between the directional pads on many of the controllers. It is interesting to see how the variety of controller shapes looking for the most ergonomic style and at the same time adapted to new functions over time, only to finally end up with the innovation coming to stand out for the small details added within them.

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There are a variety of somewhat unorthodox controllers that were good and some bad, though most are divisive by the general public for their unique shapes, such as the N64 controller and the Gamecube controller; the latter focused on using varied rather than symmetrical button shapes to suit different functions in games (just as the N64 had the C buttons designed for utilities). And this is without going into the controllers of those failed consoles of yesteryear where you witnessed some pretty strange designs, such as the Atari Jaguar and Virtual Boy, and the unofficial controllers of consoles with a variety of designs…some functional, some not so much.

However, the idea of the influence that a controller can have, whether good or bad, with games designed to use the controller comfortably or that are poorly tuned to it, or that games are specifically designed to take advantage of a specific controller function (analog stick, motion sensor, number of buttons) for better or worse, is an interesting topic to which I want to dedicate a separate post, as it is something that is not taken much into account nowadays because of how pervasive console controllers have become (PC controllers are a very different topic because of their variety).

Hey, thanks for reading! I had written this originally in another website in February 8, 2022, but well, sometimes hard work hardly works, but attempting to write stuff like this reminded me back when I didn’t have the ever-looming thought of needing to have a way of generating income just to keep some stuff afloat or in case of emergencies, instead having the head empty of any monetary thoughts and writing, researching and interviewing at my heart’s content and sudden interests. I mentioned this on the last one I published here, but I still want to see when I can get back to more freeform writing on this blog considering the kind of stuff I’ve covered before like interviewing emulator developers, modders, finishing stuff I started a year ago, and wanting to simply enjoy writing stuff about what I like without having to feel pressured by “oh no nobody cared about this, so much work to have it be a good investment and it went under the radar” because that is a REALLY sour feeling.

Anyways, I still have my Ko-fi open, so if you want to leave some support for this site through donations, it is very appreciated (big thanks to the two anonymous supporters and blueminder for supporting me last year), and if you want to see me write more stuff like this in the future, please share this on whatever social media you have (Twitter I guess?), and I’m also interested in checking out any blogs about creative stuff with games like Kimimi’s and Gaminghell, so any blog writers that have fun stuff like that, please let me know!

I’m aware that I’ve just said that I would like to make stuff without feeling “pressured” by any kind of success (in the other website it is definitely more about getting to save up from successful posts because so far its the closest thing I have to a job right now), but again, having any kind of support from interacting with this site and sharing it with others is very, VERY helpful and appreciated, because if there’s something that can always help a content creator to push themselves forward, is to know that there’s at least a few people that care about your content 🙂