Into the Fray

Into the Fray: The Evolution of Control

Written by James Pope

Controllers… they are the one device that we gamers can simply not live without, we cannot even function as we used to without one. Since I was a kid I could be found with one of many gaming controllers in my hand, I have been lucky enough to own many consoles and have had the opportunity to judge for myself just how far the controller has come. This is not simply just an article discussing how far this piece of tech has come, but also an ode to the gateway into our own fantasy worlds.

This list is not meant to be all-inclusive, controllers that have not been mentioned were left of because I either felt no passion for them good or bad or were not used by me personally. Motion controls were not included simply because I do not personally use or like them. I always want my gaming experience to come with a controller in my hand and therefore I decided to focus on them exclusively.


Nowadays it is commonplace to see multiple face and shoulder buttons, dual analog sticks and even a home button on controllers, but as many of us know… we did not always have it quite this good. The Atari was the 1st console I ever got to experience, and many of the games available for the system, while revolutionary for the time, were very ordinary in regards to the control scheme required. Games like Pong, Bootlegger and Frogger required nothing more than simple up, down, left and right movements with the occasional action button. For this very reason the controller used was very simplistic and by todays standards outright pre-historic.

Looking back on it now it seems funny that this was something we viewed as high-tech at the time, something that today appears to be so… plain.  Be that as it may this simple, outdated, almost laughable piece of plastic was the jumping off point for a revolution that would vault us into the future, a future where our wildest dreams would finally become reality. In the coming years we would see a giant leap not only in the games we would play, but the way we would control them as well.



Many of the gamers in today’s world will recognize our next controller as the one that brought them to the realization that games were becoming special, that something big was on the horizon. Boy were they right, while still simple by todays standards the NES controller was something new, it took us into the world of the Mario Brothers, to the land of Hyrule and even gave us the chance to become a Kung-Fu master. With its revolutionary d-pad and 2 action buttons there was a whole new realm of on-screen possibilities for us to explore, and explore we did.


 It would have been really easy for Nintendo to rest on its laurels and provide us with a new console and give us a slightly improved controller for the Super Nintendo, but this is Nintendo we’re talking about, they swung for the fences. They went out and added not only 2 additional face buttons but also added shoulder buttons for the 1st time in the history or game controllers providing a level of control that gamers had never even dreamed of. Out of this came true Action-Adventure games and the ability to have on-screen characters start performing a litany of actions.

New Kid on the Block


 As a kid I remember being so incredibly jealous of my buddies who had a Sega Genesis before I did, I wanted one so badly that anytime I had a chance I would select friends who I didn’t like as much just to get my hands on it. The controller was so comfortable, unlike the blocky Nintendo controllers I had been toying around with for so long. Once I finally got a Sega Genesis of my own I was sold, and the controller had a lot to do with that. Being that I was always one of the biggest kids in my class, I by default also had bigger hands than most. The Sega controller felt like it was made for me, I could wrap my hands all the way around it and still feel like I had something sturdy in my hands, it was a match made in heaven.

Now not every idea in the world of controllers is a good one, take the Sega Saturn for example. With its completely unnecessary 6 face buttons and 2 shoulder buttons it seemed like games other than 2-d fighters would have to sacrifice tight controls and sensibility to find a way to use all of them. While there were certainly games that were developed using only the buttons it particularly needed it seemed like such a waste of space and technology to have that many buttons. While the ergonomic structure of the controller was very similar to its predecessor it just didn’t have that same appeal to me, possibly because I spent half the time trying to figure out why I needed a Z button…

The last Sega console produced certainly left us with one the best controllers that I have personally ever used. Its design felt like it was perfect for my growing hands and the thumbstick was as tight and responsive as any others that may have been around at the time or even released afterwards. While the insertable mini screen was not of much use a lot of the time certain games made such great use of this forward thinking idea. NFL2k comes to mind as the one who made this vision applicable in my mind, giving players the ability to select their plays on the mini screen instead of on-screen allowed me to put my cheating friends through a living hell as they could no longer see the selections I was making. The simple yet effective design to this particular controller was clearly an inspiration to console developers in the current generation… I’m looking at you Microsoft.

As Weird As Nintendo Itself

Nintendo has always been kind of different, whether its be the games themselves or just the 2 controllers we see here in front of us. I remember playing 007: Golden Eye with the N64 controller (left) and thinking it was so awkward to be making turns using 4 oddly placed buttons and how it seemed every game required you to hold the controller in a different yet still extremely strange position. The Gamecubes controller (right) was no better, and in fact possibly made less sense then the previous. The C stick was possibly the weirdest addition that a controller ever had and the placement and shape of the controller itself just made it completely forgettable compared the other control options available at the time.

This is control!

Over the past 2 generations we have seen the controller perfected in my personal opinion. With 2 thumbsticks, 4 face buttons, 2 realistic feeling triggers and 2 functional and comfortable shoulder buttons you get that true sense of control no matter the genre that you’re playing. It is no coincidence that the format for both Sony and Microsoft hasn’t changed with their last 2 consoles… because you don’t fix what isn’t broken. While it’s possible we may see an innovation in the controller that brings us to a place where we can’t live without it, I think it will be an addition to the current layout that we already have.

Players are constantly debating which console is better, Playstation or Xbox, and the controllers for each platform are one of the more heated topics there is to have. Whether players like the larger feel and stick placement of the Xbox design or if the prefer the smaller sleeker feel of the Playstation model they’re certainly not begging for drastic changes to the current design. While I think games sell consoles and not controllers I must say that I personally feel that the 360 controller is perfect for me. It is by far my favorite controller for a couple of reasons, it has all of the things I want and is big enough to feel like my hands can rest perfectly on it without any comfort issues whatsoever.

No matter which controllers left an impression on you, whether it was growing up or even in the current generation one thing remains true. Video games would not be what they are today without them and because of that they will forever remain my favorite piece of technology ever created.


About the author

James Pope

Twitter: @Jamespope2 Lead News Editor- Video games aren't just a hobby, they're a way of life!


  • There are some upcoming games that combine both the traditional xbox controller and the Kinect gesture interface, which I think could be a really good use of that interface, because it would give fine control while also expanding the number of possible actions.

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