There was always this debate that ran rampant within gaming circles across the internet. The argument about those who enjoyed older games before 1996/2001. Those that had a taste for older games were assumed to be wearing “nostalgia goggles”. It’s a term that was conceptualized by the youth. The youth is always going to have a lack of respect for the old. What the old would see as traditional and classic, the young see as primitive and “un-evolved”. “Get with the times” is a common mantra of the youth. The question that should be asked is “if 15 years ago, people enjoyed these old and primitive games like Super Mario Bros., how do people come to enjoy what is essentially a rehash of a 15 year old game?”. The notion of getting with the times falls short when we come to realize that times haven’t changed. Nor did people. Games did. A lot of this comes down to how you played games.

When you look back at the earliest video games, you could imagine just how simple the controllers were.

Look at that mother… one stick… and ONE BUTTON!!!!11

I can’t even look at that controller and imagine playing games easily. How in the hell do you hold that thing?

But of course, considering how limited the controller was, developers knew to design games with ease of control and accessibility. Think about it. How many controls do you need to play Pac Man? All you had at the arcade was a Joystick simply because the objective was to eat pellets and ghosts by traversing a maze. All of your actions were controlled by movement.

Unfortunately, that’s all the “stick” was really for. To control movement. The addition of the button was so you could perform “actions”. Actions like “shooting” in Asteroid, Space invaders, or even jumping in Donkey Kong.

So we get to this type of controller.

Controller diagram

…..Aww hell. Ok, the left side is supposed to say “Movement side” while the right is supposed to say “action side”. Cheap ass MSpaint program

Anywho, this is a controller format that perfectly “melts” into the palm of your hand. On your left, you control the basic movements of your character (walking, dashing, crouching, etc.) while on your right, you control your character’s basic actions (jumping, attacking, etc).

Despite having limited buttons, developers learned to create controls that allowed you to perform additional actions even though you had only 2 buttons. Castlevania, you could use subweapons by holding up and pressing attack or in some games, holding down to crouch and pressing jump allowed you to slide.  If a particular game had some sort of dash attack, you simply pressed left or right twice and hit the attack button. Other games allowed you to block attacks simply by holding up or down on the Directional pad (D-Pad from here on out). Limitations in control designs did not limit the number of actions you could perform. And in many ways, it felt much more natural. A good (or bad) example of this would be the “Captain America and the Avengers” game on the NES. Captain America could perform many actions. He could toss his shield, do regular punches and kicks (either crouching or jumping), he could block bullets just by standing still facing the bullet, he could do a dashing tackle, and he could also… “shield sit” on enemies by jumping and then holding down on the D-Pad. All of this with just a few buttons. A better example would be Super Mario Bros. 3 which probably doesn’t need any further elaboration. In some games, holding up or down allowed you to scroll the screen to see what was above and below you, just so you wouldn’t have to make some “leap of faith” like you do nowadays. You could perform reconnaissance with the D-Pad.

Even then, game consoles still came out and more buttons kept being added.

Or… they never learned to stop adding so much shit to a controller…

Certainly, there was no issue with Sega Genesis adding just one more button, but when you find most games only used 2 different actions (attack and jump), the addition was largely pointless as the “third” button amounted to nothing more than a dusty hump. Sonic games only used one kind of action (jumping) for all of it’s buttons. The Super Nintendo… now there was a complex piece of work there. It had 4 face buttons, the A button was no longer used for jumps, and then you had shoulder buttons. It wasn’t enough that you had 2 additional buttons to work with, now your fingers have to be active when playing games. Course, the SNES controller has been a staple template for all controllers after 96.

But then… 3D gaming occurred. 3D in games made it a requirement to have more and more buttons on a controller. Know why?

They resurrected the Control Stick!

Behold Yurugu’s mistake! Developers (Nintendo) wanted to have accurate movement in 3D, and the D-Pad wasn’t going to cut it. D-Pad’s were good for 2 dimensional movement and space, but for 3D, you could only move in 4 directions (Even though there were plenty of SNES games that allowed you to move diagonally, that was not full 3D movement). So, in order to have that precise 3D space, an input device was needed for 3D gaming. The N64 had the answer in the form of the Control Stick (now known as an analog stick for some strange reason). Playing Super Mario 64 at a kiosk, I was confused at the presence of the control stick. Trying to use the D-Pad, I thought the damn thing was broken. I didn’t know what the hell this weird contraption was called an N64 Controller.

The control stick was championed as ground breaking and was used for video game controllers since it’s conception. I remember the Playstation didn’t even have control sticks when it first came out and only added them in a couple of years after the fact (then they have the nerve to add it 2 separate shoulder buttons AND shapes for face buttons!). And with that, 3D gaming became an unofficial standard.

The control stick allowed for complete 3D movement as well as pressure sensitive controls for walking and running. It also proved to be better for flying controls in dog fighter games and smoother steering in racing games. And FPS’s would be nothing on consoles without dual control sticks. However, there were problems with this transition. The control stick was all about movement in 3D space. But what about actions like crouching, guarding, all the cool little movements you could do with a D-Pad? Well, those actions were good for 2D space, but in 3D space, you can’t crouch as pressing down on the C-Stick would make your character walk downward. In order to crouch, you were now required to press an external button… on your “action” side. Or one of your shoulder buttons. What about actions like “looking up and down to scroll the screen to see what’s above and below you?” You now have camera controls in the form of another stick (or even the buttons themselves) where you have to take your thumb off your action buttons just to look around and scope your surroundings. This became extremely important during combat sections since your visibility is vastly reduced in 3D Space.

You see what the problem is? Actions that you could easily perform with the D-Pad had to be spread out around the controller just to make room for control in 3D space. What this does is reduce accessibility and make games look and feel more complicated than they need to be. Especially when you have controllers that look like this.

I gotta stretch my thumb to the D-Pad just to play Capcom vs SNK 2!? Hell with that!

Where is da start button on dis mug!?

I read letters, not shapes! They expect me to gain arthritis trying to play half the games they make!?

This looks uncomfortable to hold.

…….what in the hell….

A video game console was just supposed to be a pick up and play device in the living room/kids room/basement, where ever. The need to control a character in 3D space complicated controls to the point that controllers started to require more buttons. Some games even had a feature where you needed to hold a certain button just to access more actions on existing buttons (Splinter Cell, X-Men Legends). A barrier was erected due to 3D gaming.

Unfortunately, even if controllers went back to simplicity, the developers still continue to develop games in a “3D Space” mindset.

For example, if I were to play a 2D game like Rayman Legends, I would’ve enjoyed not having to hold down a “run” button just to run to where ever I want to go. As well, for littleBIGplanet (shitty game, btw), why do I have to use the control stick just to move in 2D space and use the shoulder buttons just to peform actions like shooting cupcakes? Because the control stick has to be used to move in the background and foreground so I have to use the right control stick to aim, but because my thumb is on the stick, I can’t just switch it back and forth between stick and buttons, so I gotta use the shoulder button SON OF A… wouldn’t it have been logical to make no need to move between the background and foreground and just let me JUMP to aim or something? And why can’t Smash Bros. use the damn D-Pad!? The games are in 2D for pete’s sake!

I say that because Control Sticks are also incredibly un-realiable. Often times, they become defective or abnormal after a good 3-5 months of use. You could be as gentle as you want to be with the control stick, it will still wear out after a while. D-Pads last a long time plus they’re not a pain in the ass to repair as the most you do is clean the contacts. Control sticks, you gotta get a soldering iron and switch out units because the control stick’s…. parts are wrapped in a tiny steel box or w/e, or buy a new controller. So not only is 3D gaming generally inaccessible, it’s also a pain in the pocket book.

This is a hassle not too many people are willing to go through just to sit down and play some games. As such, the audience for video games declines to those with patience and/or stubborness. Not to actually play and get through a game, but to get used to a control scheme that looks like rocket science. What used to be an exercise for your thumbs has become a game of muscle memory. Mastery of controls should never be a requirement to enjoy a video game.