A game controller
is an input device
used to control a video game
. A controller is typically connected to a video game console
or a personal computer
. A game controller can be a keyboard
, or any other device designed for gaming that can receive input. Special purpose devices, such as steering wheels
for driving games and light guns
for shooting games, may also exist for a platform. Some devices, such as keyboards and mice, are actually generic input devices and their use is not strictly limited to that of a game controller.
A game controller can be used to govern the movement or actions of an entity in a video or computer game. The type of element controlled depends upon the game, but a typical element controlled would be the player character's actions and movements.
Types of game controller
A gamepad, also known as a joypad, is the most common kind of game controller, held in both hands with thumbs and fingers used to provide input. Gamepads can have anywhere from two buttons to a dozen or more, combined with multiple omnidirectional analogue or digital control sticks. Gamepads generally feature a set of action buttons handled with the right fingers or thumb, and a direction controller handled with the left. These let the player control the game element movements in up to three dimensions, with many buttons to perform quick actions. Due to the ease of use and precision of gamepads, they have spread from traditional consoles where they originated to computers
as a common input device.
Most modern game controllers are a variation of a standard gamepad. Some common additions to the standard pad include shoulder buttons placed along the edges of the pad, centrally placed buttons labeled start, select, and mode, and an internal motor to provide haptic feedback.
Gamepads are the primary means of input on nearly all modern video game consoles. Gamepads are also available for personal computers, but not all computer games support gamepads, preferring the more conventional keyboards and mice. However, most console emulators support gamepads.
A paddle is a controller that features a round wheel and one or more fire buttons. The wheel is used to typically control movement of the player or an object along one axis of the video screen. Paddle controllers were the first analog controllers; they died out when "paddle and ball" type games fell out of favor. A variation on the Paddle, the Atari driving controller
appeared on the Atari 2600
. Designed specifically for the game Indy 500
, It was almost identical in operation and design to the regular paddle controller. However, its wheel can be continuously rotated in either direction, and it was missing the extra paddle included on the previous model. Unlike a spinner, friction prevented the wheel from gaining momentum.
A trackball is basically an upside-down mouse that is manipulated with the palm of one's hand. It has the advantage of not requiring a lot of desktop space, and that it is as fast as one can roll the ball on it. This is faster than one can move a mouse due to space not being an issue.
Notable uses of a Trackball as a gaming controller would be games such as Centipede
, Marble Madness
and Sonic Arcade
This joystick is a computer peripheral
that consists of a handheld stick that can be tilted around either of two axes and (sometimes) twisted around a third. The joystick is often used for flight simulators
controllers, composed of a joystick and throttle quadrant (see below) are a popular combination for flight simulation among its most fanatic devotees. Most joysticks are designed to be operated with the user's primary hand (e.g. with the right hand of a right-handed person), with the base either held in the opposite hand or mounted on a desk.
Arcade style Joystick
This device can also be a home version of the kind used in the arcade, or for use on emulators. It features a shaft that has a ball or drop-shaped handle, and one or more buttons for in game actions. Generally the layout has the joystick on the left, and the buttons on the right. There are instances when this is reversed, or the joystick is in the centre with buttons on both sides.
A throttle quadrant, as the name indicates, is a set of one or more levers that are most often used to simulate throttles or other similar controls in a real vehicle, particularly an aircraft. Throttle quadrants are most popular in conjunction with joysticks or yokes used in flight simulation.
The steering wheel, essentially a larger version of a paddle, is used for racing simulators such as Live for Speed, Grand Prix Legends, GTR2, and Richard Burns Rally. Many are force feedback (see Force Feedback Wheel), designed to give the same feedback as would be experienced when driving a real car, but the realism of this depends on the game. They usually come with pedals to control the gas and brake. Shifting is taken care of with either paddles, a simple shifter which is moved forward or back to change gears, a paddle shifting system, or a shifter which mimics that of real vehicles, which may use a clutch. Most wheels turn only 200 to 270 degrees lock-to-lock, but some models, such as the Logitech Driving Force Pro and Logitech G25, can turn 900 degrees, or 2.5 turns lock-to-lock.
The Namco Jogcon paddle was available for the PlayStation game R4: Ridge Racer Type 4. Unlike "real" video game steering wheels, the Jogcon was designed to fit in the player's hand. Its much smaller wheel (diameter roughly similar to a soda can's) resembles the jog-and-shuttle control wheel used on some VCRs.
The game Mario Kart Wii is bundled with the Wii Wheel, a steering wheel-shaped shell that the Wii Remote is placed inside thus using the Wii Remote's motion sensing capabilities to control the game.
A yoke is very similar to a steering wheel except that it resembles the control yoke found on many aircraft and has two axes of movement: not only rotational movement about the shaft of the yoke, but also a forward-and-backward axis equivalent to that of pitch control on the yoke of an aircraft. Some yokes have additional controls attached directly to the yoke for simulation of aircraft functions such as radio push-to-talk buttons. Yokes, like throttle quadrants and pedals, are popular with serious flight-simulation enthusiasts.
Pedals may be used for driving simulations or flight simulations. In the former case, an asymmetric set of pedals can simulate accelerator, brake, and clutch pedals in a real automobile. In the latter case, a symmetric set of pedals simulates rudder controls and toe brakes in an aircraft. As mentioned, most steering wheel controllers come with a set of pedals.
Keyboard, mouse and mousepad
The keyboard and mouse are typical input devices for a personal computer and are currently the main game controllers for computer games. The keyboard and mouse with the aid of the mousepad achieve greater speed, comfort and accuracy for the gamer. Some video game consoles also have the ability to function with a keyboard and a mouse. The computer keyboard is modeled after the typewriter keyboard and was designed for the input of written text. A mouse is a handheld pointing device used in addition to the keyboard. For games, the keyboard typically controls movement of the character while the mouse is used to control the game camera or used for aiming.
The numeric keypad found on the keyboard is also used as a game controller and can be found on a number of separate devices, most notably early consoles, usually attached to a joystick or a paddle. The keypad is a small grid of keys with at least the digits 0-9.
A touch screen is an input device that allows the user to interact with the computer by touching the display screen. It was first used on a dedicated console with the Tiger game.com. Nintendo popularized it for use in video games with the Nintendo DS; other systems including the Tapwave Zodiac as well as the vast majority of PDAs have also included this feature.
Modern touch screens use a thin, durable, transparent plastic sheet overlayed onto the glass screen. The location of a touch is calculated from the capacitance for the X and Y axes, which varies based upon where the sheet is touched.
system utilizes a new kind of controller, called the Wii Remote
. It uses accelerometers
to detect its approximate orientation and acceleration and a built-in camera so it can be used as a pointing device. The Sixaxis
and DualShock 3
controllers for Sony's PlayStation 3
system have similar motion sensing capabilities.
A light gun is a peripheral used to "shoot" targets on a screen. They usually roughly resemble firearms or ray guns. Their use is normally limited to rail shooter
or shooting gallery games like those that came with the "Shooting Gallery
" light gun. The first home console light gun was released on the Magnavox Odyssey; later on, Nintendo would include one standard on their Famicom and NES
has also released a "shell" in the style of a light gun for the Wii Remote
called the Wii Zapper
which comes bundled with Link's Crossbow Training
Gaming keypads and programmable PC controllers
There are a few specialized controllers that are specifically used for First-person shooter
games and some arcade type games. These controllers can be programmed to allow the emulation of keys, and macros in some cases. They were developed because some of these games require a keyboard to play, and some players find this to be awkward for such a task.
- Train controls: At a smaller scale, other hardware such as train controls (available after Microsoft Train Simulator was released), pinball controllers and multi-button consoles for strategy games were released in the past, but their popularity was limited to hardcore fans of the genre.
- Dance pads, essentially a grid of flat pressure sensitive gamepad buttons set on a mat meant to be stepped on, have seen niche success with the popularity of rhythm games like Dance Dance Revolution and Pump it Up. The dance pad was first introduced on the Atari 2600, called the "Exus Foot Craz" pad. Nintendo later purchased the technology from Bandai and used it on their "Power Pad", for the Famicom and NES.
- Balance board: The Wii Balance Board comes with the game Wii Fit. Several other game are in development which will be compatible with the balance board.
- Rhythm games with controllers resembling musical instruments like guitars (GuitarFreaks, the Guitar Hero series, Rock Band), drums (Donkey Konga, DrumMania and Rock Band), or maracas (Samba de Amigo) have also seen some success in arcades and home consoles.
- Buzzers: A recent example of specialized, while very simple, game controllers, is the four large "buzzers" (round buttons) supplied with the PlayStation 2 quiz show game series Buzz! (2005, 2006); both game and controllers clearly being inspired by the television show genre.
- NeGcon: is a unique controller for racing games on the PlayStation. Physically it resembles a gamepad, but its left and right halves twist relative to each other, making it a variation of the paddle controller.
- Microphone: A few games have made successes in using a headset or microphone as a secondary controller, such as Hey You, Pikachu!, Rock Band, and the SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs series. The use of these microphones allowed players to issue commands to the game, controlling teammates (as in SOCOM) and other AI characters (Pikachu). The Nintendo DS features a microphone that is built into the system. It has been used for a variety of purposes, including speech recognition (Nintendogs, Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day!), chatting online between and during gameplay sessions (Pokémon Diamond and Pearl), and minigames that require the player to blow or shout into the microphone (Feel the Magic: XY/XX, WarioWare: Touched!, Mario Party DS).
- Steel Batallion for the Xbox was bundled with a full dashboard, with 2 joysticks and over 30 buttons, in an attempt to make it feel like an actual mecha simulator.
- Fishing rod: the first fishing rod controller appeared as an accessory for the Sega Dreamcast video console for playing SEGA Marine Fishing. Later other games for Playstation console use also a similar controllers.
- Floating Interactive Display: since 2003 two companies, IO2Technology from the US and Fogscreen from Finland have developed Minority Report style interactive floating interfaces which display an image projected in mid-air but can be interacted with by finger similar to a touch screen. The IO2Technology version is called the Heliosdisplay.
- Mind control headset: As of March 24, 2007 a US/Australian company called Emotiv Systems began launching a mind-controlled device for video games based on Electroencephalography. It was reported by Wall Street Journal's Don Clark on MSNBC.
- PCGamerBike similar to a pair of pedals removed from an exercise bike, then set down in front of a chair & used to precisely control game characters instead.
- Optical motion tracking systems such as TrackIR and FreeTrack use a video camera to track an infrared illuminated or emissive headpiece. Small head movements are tracked and then translated into much larger virtual in-game movements, allowing hands-free view control and improved immersiveness.
- Mechanical motion tracking systems like Gametrak use cables attached to gloves for tracking position of physical elements in three-dimensional space in real time. Th Gametrak mechanism contains a retracting cable reel and a small tubular guide arm from which the cable passes out. The guide arm is articulated in a ball joint such that the arm and ball follow the angle at which the cable extends from the mechanism. The distance of the tracked element from the mechanism is determined through components which measure the rotation of the spool drum for the retracting cable reel, and calculating how far the cable is extended.
- Instrument panels are simulated aircraft instrument panels, either generic or specific to a real aircraft, that are used in place of the keyboard to send commands to a flight simulation program. Some of these are far more expensive than all the rest of a computer system combined. The panels usually only simulate switches, buttons, and controls, rather than output instrument displays.
- An accessory for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was the R.O.B. (Robotic Operating Buddy). Known in Japan as the Famicom Robot, this accessory was short lived, appearing in only Stack-Up and Gyromite. It was classified a "Trojan horse" during the video game market crash of 1985. R.O.B. appeared in two packages - the NES Deluxe Set (along side a NES control deck, the NES Zapper, two controllers, Duck Hunt and Gyromite) and the Gyromite set. However short lived, this accessory jumpstarted Nintendo's involvement in the western market. R.O.B. was called by GameSpy the fifth greatest video game marketing move within twenty-five. R.O.B. has been shown in Mario Kart DS for the Nintendo DS as a playable. It also appeared in Super Smash Bros. Brawl not only as a playable character but as the Ancient Minister in the Story Mode, The Subspace Emissary.
Longevity of hardware
Given the number of mobile and soft rubber parts in controllers it can be expected that after extensive use, some of the buttons will become eventually less responsive due to the softening of the rubber parts that connect the hard exterior button to the integrated circuit. Even the plastic outer casings of joysticks and wheels might crack if used too violently. This becomes more of an issue with cheaper third-party controllers.
Button mashing and joystick wobbling were responsible for countless broken controllers until the mid of the 16-bit era, when such games became progressively out of fashion.
Even better built joypads, able to endure mechanical wear for years, can be defeated by the development of games which require more buttons or functions, or changes in the interfaces used, rendering them obsolete. For example, the increasing number of axis and buttons demanded by computer flight simulator titles and the disuse of the PC gameport interface have left many working PC controllers unusable. The end of a game console generation generally brings obsolescence for both a console and its controllers.
Since the controller is the most common way of interacting with a game, it has to be ergonomically
designed to feel comfortable to most of their potential userbase to avoid injuries such as the ones in the RSI
group or CTS
. Most controllers these days are designed with the relaxed position of the hands in mind, which gave origin to the "pronged" design that reduced the soreness and cramping after extended use with older pads such as the NES or the Sega Master System.
Also, Nintendo fingers was a term coined in the early 90s after video game players had their thumbs badly burnt and even developed blisters due to the hardness of the buttons. A more common, less dangerous phenomenon sometimes known as a Nintendo cramp means the strain felt on the thumbs and the palm below. This tends to occur mostly when using particularly small controllers. The latter may in fact occur on any finger or the hand if it is kept in a prepared "arched" position for a long time, and is much less dangerous than Nintendo Fingers.
Currently, there are controller gloves available for the Wii Remote, Xbox 360 controllers, and SIXAXIS controllers in stores to comfort players' hands.