Wednesday, 7 January 2009

You can push my buttons.....

The SNES, I remember the first time I held the controller of one of these. I was in Kenya at the time and game consoles where extremely rare to find. You had to have imported one from either the US or Europe (Japan as well but can’t handle learning a new language at the age of six). Course the problem was the Internet, this was around 1995 and Africa was just starting to get used to the idea of computers being used in small businesses. The Internet only hit off around 1998 onwards when phone companies started to integrate it and create a possible connection to customers. The amount of people who owned a computer back then was limited as well, so home users couldn’t connect and it was left for businesses and schools. Anyway…a friend of mine had just gone to Europe and picked up a Super Nintendo Entertainment System (Snes). He set it up one day and handed me the controller, I looked at it wondering what on earth this thing was, a flat rounded piece of plastic with the combination of buttons and a cross (later I realized this was the D-Pad). I must say it was a little bit big for my hands and the buttons where far to stiff, it oddly seemed rite though. I knew, just holding it that it was meant for great things…Street Fighter II and Super Mario Kart. Looking back it did the job well, Mario Kart was a little tricky to handle but once you got used to it you where okay. The Snes controller like many back then, had one bad quality, after playing for over two hours the pain could not be contained. I had once played for more than four hours until I had blisters on my fingers, but all of it was in good vain.

As games progressed, so did the advancement of controllers. The analogue stick greatly improved the steering in racing games, the accuracy in shooters and it looked cool. The N64 controller has to be one of my favorites, the design appealed to both left and right-handed players as well as the game genres. Strategy games and early plat-formers didn’t need the analogue stick and therefore the outer handles of the controller could be used for the buttons and the D-Pad only. For games such as Golden-eye and Perfect dark, they required the use of the analogue stick and the z-trigger at the bottom to replicate a gun. It was easy to use (well once you understood what you needed from it) and was comfortable. Most of the buttons were smooth and did not cause pain as you played a game.

I preferred the N64 controller to the Playstation controller. The Playstation controller has always seemed cheep to me. It feels as if you’re holding a plastic toy rather than a controller, it doesn’t seem right. The button combination was confusing and I struggled when first trying to use the bumpers. Playstation upgraded the controller by adding duel analogue sticks, which did make gaming easier than having to use the D-pad all the time. The problem was the analogue sticks being too close to each other making it less comfortable and harder to move from button back to analogue. The controller hasn’t really changed over the years and still isn’t any better. The bumper buttons still seem as if they’re going to fall off, and they make a very unusual noise every time you press them.
Microsoft original Xbox controller…………what were they thinking? Was it meant for a Godzilla? Lets make a console that both kids and adults can play, but at the same time lets see how they cope with Godzilla’s controller. It’s like watching an elephant climb a ladder. Microsoft was thinking BIG, I recall seeing stickers on my first Xbox warning me not to drop the controller on my foot to avoid major harm. Once they released the S-Controller, gaming hit off. The new controller was comfortable (still a little big but micro versions helped) and the analogue sticks where in a good place. It still took a while trying to figure out what and where the buttons on the thing where. Controllers at this point where trying to achieve far too much but at least they had the right amount of buttons needed for shooters and sports games.

The GameCube to the rescue, I loved this controller purely because of the colour-coded system that makes it easier to find buttons. The “A” and “B” buttons are green and red since they are used as action and negate buttons in most games. If you wanted to do something press “A” (green) if you wanted to go back, press “B” (red). The c-stick also worked well not to distract the players attention from the primary analogue stick so that it was easier to know which one did what. But save best for last, the 360 controller has to be my choice. NOT because I prefer Xbox games but ergonomically this controller is extremely comfortable, the layout is easy to read (looks similar to the GameCube layout) and it’s the only controller that successfully fits my little sister’s (seven year old) hands. The added bonus of it being able to attach a microphone headset and a micro keyboard also make it reliable and user friendly. It is also easy to navigate from applications and tasks due to the central logo button.

Controllers will always advance such as the Wii mote but for practical and design reasons. The Wii mote it great for family fun, interactive games and the 360 controller is good for racing, sports and shooters but nothing beats the old fashion keyboards and mouse. Over the years I’ve been able to get my hands on some of the most interesting controllers, generally they don’t work well as all round controllers but work for the games they are intended for. The Nes zapper and Snes Bazooka are great for arcade type shooters. You can have a lot of fun playing Duck hunt with the Bazooka. They need to make more of these for next gen consoles.

The most fun I’ve had playing with a controller (hands down) has to be the Steel Battalion controller for the Xbox. I’ve never seen a controller so big and complicated. It has two joysticks, one analogue, a gear lever, brake, accelerate, clutch and several buttons (one of which is a windscreen wiper button). All these allow you to control a massive robot as if you were inside the cockpit. The game never really hit off since it was released close to when next gen consoles were being released but it is seriously one of the hardest and most entertaining games I have played in years.

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