The typical array of controllers used with video game systems over the years. There are two main classes, universal and specialized, and notable one-off gimmicks worth mention also appear here.
Compare Stock Control Settings
Universal (used as the out-of-the-box controller for at least two major gaming systems):
- Joystick: The classic. Simply a small stick (typically sans buttons) with the base's surface bearing any number of buttons, held with one to three digits, and generally digital microswitch-based. Seen as early as the first arcades and the early game systems. Most European computer games were designed around single-button joystick controls until the commercial abandonment of the Amiga in the mid-1990s. Still seen today as optional controllers for all three seventh-generation home systems and several modern PC games, in both digital and analog varieties. The Neo Geo AES was probably the last major home system to use it as a standard.
- Modern arcade cabinets still tend to use this system. Any given Fighting Game with circular inputs (Quarter-circle/Half-circle/Full-circle * X + action button) is likely to have been designed for a joystick first and foremost and ports of such games to D-Pad machines tend to result in skinned thumbs or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
- Rotary Joystick: A special joystick where the handle can also be twisted clockwise or counterclockwise to shift the character's aim, without altering the direction of movement (this fell out of favor to the competing "twin stick" setup of just two joysticks). It was used mostly in 1980s Arcade Games by Data East and SNK such as Guerrilla War, Heavy Barrel, Ikari Warriors and Midnight Resistance.
- Keyboard: It was natural for PC gaming to use the keyboard as a controller, since it was already the standard input device. Many PC games still just require the Keyboard; keyboards for consoles are typically add-ons supported by few to no games, though the Odyssey˛ actually had a built-in keyboard. The Typing of the Dead is one of the very few instances of an arcade cabinet with a keyboard. The Wii allows USB keyboards for use with the Wii channels while the Playstation 3's USB ports easily accept them, and the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 have mini keyboard attachments for their gamepads, not to mention a number of hideous monstrosities designed for Phantasy Star Online (one of which is basically an official Nintendo GameCube pad stretched apart to fit a full-size keyboard in the middle).
- Keypad A numeric calculator/telephone layout on the bottom half of the controller. Used mainly on the Intellivision, Colecovision, Atari 5200 and Atari Jaguar. Not seen since on home consoles, due to its bulk and unnecessary complexity for games at the time (or insufficient complexity compared to a Keyboard.) Yet it has had a resurgence in the field of mobile gaming, since cell phones of course have keypads.
- Keypad-Gamepad (Gaming Keypad) Auxiliary controllers for keyboard+mouse or keyboard+joystick schemes — a non-flightsim counterpart of left hand throttle. Not many keys beyond WASD or QWER and fire, but superior ergonomy and extra controls give reasons to use it instead of the good old keyboard. May have mode switch and/or software macro programming and profile loading. Varies wildly, from hand-fitting piece with buttons (Terratec Mystify Claw) to rich keypad + hat switch (Saitek Cyborg Command Unit) and keypads with D-Pad and mouse wheel (Nostromo SpeedPad N52 or Belkin n52te, Razer Nostromo and Genius ErgoMedia 500—the latter has a built-in sound card for headsets). A number of them are referenced there on The Other Wiki.
- Mouse Once mice came along, and allowed precision movement, this became the standard controller requirement for almost every PC game made since. Many old Apple Macintosh games were controlled primarily or exclusively with the single-button mouse. Combined with a keyboard, this immediately found its blood and essence as the default controller scheme for First Person Shooters and Real-Time Strategy, to the extent that people who play FPSs with Gamepads are all but incapable of beating mouse & keyboard gamers. Some set-top consoles allowed one or the other for certain games. The Super Famicom/SNES, Mega Drive/Genesis, and Playstation had a mouse. The Dreamcast had a mouse and keyboard. The Playstation 2 and 3 allow PC units to be hooked up through their USB connectors to play some PC ports.
- Trackball: A spherical ball set in a frame, which can be freely rotated in any direction. Sometimes used on computers as a mouse substitute, though less suited to precision movement. In arcades, trackballs are most common with golf or bowling games, with most of the famous exceptions being made by Atari (Centipede, Missile Command, Crystal Castles, Marble Madness, Rampart). Trackballs were available as optional input devices for the Atari 2600, Atari 5200 (set in an enormous box including two keypads), Colecovision and Phillips CD-i.
- Motion Controller: First well known attempt for home consoles was the infamous Power Glove. Brought the gift of Mouse to the impoverished wastes of consoledom. Used successfully so far with the Wiimote/Nunchuck, the Sixaxis, Dual Shock 3, and iPod/iPhone. The PS3 now also has the Move controller.
- Mouse-Keypad: A 101-button mouse could replace your keybord, but moderate numbers seems to be more convenient. SteelSeries WoWmouse — more of the top many-buttoned mouse than keypad-mice, but it got 15 buttons and LEDs; was built for World of Warcraft fans and for any other purpose isn't better than normal mice. Razer Naga — mildly Sci-Fi design with keypad on the thumb side; 17 buttons. WarMouse Meta (aka OpenOfficeMouse) — has keypad instead of main buttons on both sides of the wheel-button, mini-joystick on the thumb side; 18 buttons; its software is Open Source and has ready settings for lots of games and applications, including OpenOffice.
- Touch Screen (or stylus): Similar to a touch pad on a laptop, this allows greater precision than an analog stick for pointing, but can be cumbersome for movement. Can also function as a Keypad. Used with PDAs, the Nintendo DS, and the iPod/iPhone and Android. Comes in multiple varieties:
- Resistive: thin film pressed inward creates a signal. Very precise and supports any reasonably pointy object for input, but easy to scratch and usually not multi-touch capable. Most older devices use resistive digitizers, as do the Nintendo DS, Nintendo 3DS and Wii U GamePad.
- Capacitive: a conductive object pressed against glass that disrupts an electrical grid. Often capable of multi-touch. Requires a bare finger or a special capacitive stylus to use, the latter of which requires a thicker, fatter tip than a resistive stylus by necessity. Popularized by trackpads and especially the iPhone. The Play Station Vita also uses one.
- Optical: a grid of lasers surrounds the screen, and their obstruction creates input. Can be activated by anything that can block said lasers. Most notably featured on some models of HP TouchSmart all-in-one desktops.
- Electro-Magnetic Resonance: Not a touchscreen in the typical sense, for it relies on generating an electromagnetic field that is used to communicate and get positional information from a specialized pen, as well as powering the pen in some instances. Contact is registered by a sensor behind the pen nib, which is also pressure-sensitive for controlling brush width and/or opacity. Some advanced models can even sense the pen's tilt and rotation. The digitizer board that generates the EMR field sits behind the screen as opposed to the aforementioned digitizer types sitting in front, allowing a resistive or capacitive digitizer to handle finger input until the pen comes into range and disables the touch digitizer for palm rejection purposes. Wacom drawing tablets and Cintiq monitors are the most prevalent example, along with most Windows Tablet PCs and all Samsung Galaxy Note devices based on their technology. The Sega Pico used an earlier version of this technology.
- Gamepad All of your controls in one piece of plastic, tends to evolve uniformly across the entire industry.
- D-Pad Controller A Direction-Pad (or similar pattern of four buttons) on the left and at least two face buttons on the right (or center and right). Simple, yet still allowing for a fair bit of control, this became the standard for years. Started with Nintendo "Game & Watch" series, popularized with the Famicom / NES, and used notably with the SG 1000 Mark II & Mark III / Sega Master System (although the pause was left on the console for some reason), Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Virtual Boy (with a second D-Pad next to the face buttons), Mega Drive / Sega Genesis, Game Gear, Atari Lynx, Commodore CDTV (with many additional buttons for its alternate function as a TV remote), PC-Engine / Turbo-Grafx 16, PC-FX, Neo Geo Pocket (and color), WonderSwan (two or four face buttons depending on how you hold it), and the Wii if you turn the Wiimote sideways.
- BTW, while Nintendo invented the D-Pad with the Game & Watch, Sega coined the term D-Pad with the Master System (Nintendo seems to prefer the seemingly more trademarkable "+Control Pad").
- SNES D-Pad Perhaps the most common controller type. It consists of the D-Pad on the left, at least two shoulder buttons or triggers, and at least four face buttons, usually in the shape of a cross. Popularized with the SNES, used with the Amiga CD32, Sega Saturn, first Playstation controller, Game Boy Advance ("Start" and "Select" are face buttons), and DS. Beginning with the Dreamcast, many were given analog buttons.
- Analog Same as the SNES D-Pad, but there is an analog Joystick near the D-Pad (either above or below it). This was also when rumble feedback became popular. Used with the Nintendo 64, the Sega Saturn analog pad (most commonly featured with NiGHTS), Dreamcast, PSP, and Nintendo 3DS. The Wii's Nunchuck attachment is an unconventional version. (If you count a more basic gamepad and a more TV remote-esque design, the Vectrex and Philips CD-i had analog thumbsticks prior to the N64.)
- Dual Analog (Type 1) Same as above, but with a second analog stick just below the face buttons. Used first with the Playstation Dual Analog, then used with the DualShock 1/2/3, Sixaxis, and the Wii Classic Controller.
- Dual Analog (Type 2) Swaps the D-Pad with the analog stick directly below it. This variant appears on the GameCube pad, Xbox pad, and Xbox 360 pad.
- Accelerometer/Tilt Sensor: Most notably used in the WiiMote, Nintendo 3DS and the Apple iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad; allows the user to control the game by moving the entire controller/handheld. Some PlayStation 3 games, such as Heavy Rain can also be controlled by tilting the controller. Kirby Tilt 'n Tumble, Yoshi Topsy-Turvy and WarioWare: Twisted! incorporated the tilt sensor into the game cartridge itself. Some third-party Atari VCS/2600 joysticks had a mercury-based tilt sensor and no base.
Specialized (seldom an out-of-the-box controller, but has been used for at least two systems):
- Floor Pad A pad on the floor, so you use your feet instead of your hands. Notable examples are the Famicom/NES Power Pad, the Dance Dance Revolution/Pump It Up pad, and the Wii Balance Board.
- Zapper Named for the NES's Zapper. A toy gun used to shoot at stuff on the screen.
- Light Guns The first variants, that used the refresh rate to create a point of light to tell where the gun was aiming on the screen. Not used anymore since only direct-view CRTs have a refresh they can detect. (Rear-projection CRTs will not work.) Used in arcades, the NES, Sega Master System, Atari XE Game System, the Mega Drive/Genesis (called the Menacer) and Namco's GunCon 1 & 2.
- Sensor Guns Uses other methods to detect where the gun is pointing, notably a sensor near the TV. Seen in the SNES (the Super Scope), GunCon 3, the IR sensor of the Wii Remote (which can become a zapper with an attachment, and technically is the reverse — it uses a sensor in the remote to see two IR lights in the misleadingly named “sensor bar.”), and even the Playstation Move with the addition of a gun-shaped housing. Also of note are some guns that are actually giant joysticks (like for Crossbow and Silent Scope).
- Microphone Rarely used for gaming before the sixth generation, due to voice recognition and broadband not being that well developed before. Even without gaming, it can be used to talk to others online, such as with Xbox Live. For gaming, they have been available for the N64, PS2/3, XB360, GCN, Wii, and built into the DS and Famicom.
- Camera A camera that can be used for gaming. While the Gameboy, Playstation 2, Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and even DSi have them, the PS2's EyeToy was probably the first to be used as a controller in the mainstream (although Intel played around with it years before). Microsoft aims to make this input method mainstream with Project Natal/Kinect.
- Paddle/Spinner: Not the D-Pad in the form of a flat nub, this is a dial you simply spin from side to side. Used as early as the Etch-a-Sketch, this became popular in gaming with Pong, shipped alongside the joystick in many Atari 2600 bundles, and available as an attachment for the Nintendo DS for playing modern versions of Space Invaders and Arkanoid.
- Steering Wheel An overgrown paddle, used for racing, of course. Seen as soon as Driving Games hit arcades and for many game systems since, and it almost always comes with pedals (sometimes even with gear shift, usually sequential via paddles or stick, sometimes an H-gate stick shift). More advanced models have proper force-feedback to help convey the feeling of traction, as well as greater degrees of rotation (cheaper wheels are generally 180, 240, or 270 degrees, while the higher-end wheels have 900 or even 1080 degrees). The Wiimote counts to some degree, as it can be placed on a steering wheel, as highlighted with Mario Kart Wii.
- Musical Instruments Just that, musical instruments, ranging from simple toys to professional MIDI gear. Most famously used in Guitar Hero and Rock Band, though featured earlier in various Bemani games. Used for almost any game system for the 7th gen, and earlier for the PlayStation 1, PS2 and Gamecube.
- Flight Stick Similar to a Joystick in function, but shaped for a firm grip with the whole hand. Early examples had only one button (and sometimes a thumb button too, not even a trigger!), but nowadays they can come with four or five plus trigger. Other additions include a hat switch in four directions, a throttle lever on the base, more buttons on the base, and mechanisms that allow the player to twist the joystick itself clockwise and counterclockwise on the base, adding a third axis to "front-and-back" and "left-and-right". It's used mainly to simulate flying an aircraft, although it can be used for other games (e.g. Space Harrier). Very advanced examples may support force-feedback for more realism in older aircraft and for helicopter trim, or use a force-sensing transducer with a very rigid stick that doesn't budge much to better simulate the one used in the F-16 and later jet fighters.
- Yoke Looks sort of like a steering wheel, except that it can also be slid up and down its shaft, just like the yokes in really big aircraft.
- Flight Control System / Hands-On Throttle And Stick (HOTAS) Consists of a joystick/yoke/cyclic, rudder pedals (like car pedals, only with toebrake axes and the main pedals sliding forward and back inverse to each other for the actual rudder control) and an independent throttle/collective with one or more big sliders/rotaries, a miniature analog stick or TrackPoint for mouse or targeting system control, and even more buttons. Can get very expensive, especially if it's a licensed replica of military aircraft components (see: Thrustmaster).
- Virtual World pods provide those and a whole bunch of MFDs to play BattleTech or a racing game called Red Planet.
- Console gamers got a taste with the Xbox game Steel Battalion, which required a ludicrous, dedicated two-flightstick controller (the left one moving only left and right to steer, the right one not centering and used to aim and fire weapons) with a sliding manual gear shifter to simulate the cockpit of a Real Robot, complete with an eject button with a flip-open cover. (The original plan required the player to break glass to activate it.)
- Biological sensors: Ranging from simple heartbeat monitors to brain EEGs, these are generally rather hard to control, and as such are usually gimmicks. Bio-feedback sensors have also appeared in the medical industry; primarily used as a diagnostic tool, the patient is connected to the sensors and then uses his brain to perform various tasks (such as popping on-screen balloons) in order to measure brain function and alpha/beta wave balance.
Unique (Only used once, as a one-off gimmick or merely yet to catch on):
- Super Action Controller: An innovative controller for the Colecovision, adding a four-button pistol-style grip to the typical joystick and keypad of the time, as well as a "Speed Roller" wheel.
- R.O.B.: After The Great Video Game Crash of 1983, nobody was willing to buy a home game console in the United States, so Nintendo originally released the NES bundled with a robot (and a game called Super Mario Bros.), who would be the original focus of marketing. Needless to say, it worked. R.O.B. was rather gimmicky and unnecessary in practice, but he did his duty.
- Wii Remote, more commonly called the Wiimote. It's a Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot of controllers — along with the signature motion control accelerometer, it has a pointer/sensor, a built-in speaker and rumble, can be flipped on the side to simulate a NES controller, and has an increasing array of attachments to add a thumbstick and more buttons, more motion control, a classic controller layout, and other features. The Wii Remote Plus (and it's add-on counterpart for the original Wiimote, Wii Motion Plus) added a gyroscope for more precise motion control. Despite the general skepticism of the Wii remote when it was first introduced, Nintendo's runaway success has prompted other developers to Follow the Leader with their own motion controllers.
- The Nerf Switch Shot is a lightgun shell for the Wii where the Wiimote can be swapped for a conventional Nerf dart shooter. Unfortunately it's only really good in the latter capacity, as the trigger mechanism for the B button has a tendency to break.
- The PlayStation Move is a peripheral controller for the PS3 that works much like a Wiimote in reverse; while the Wii uses an IR emitter near the TV screen and a sensor in each controller for position tracking (in addition to the attendant gaggle of gyroscopes and tilt sensors), the Move uses a camera near the screen and lighted, colored orbs at the end of the controller. This does give the advantage of more precise position tracking, as the Move does not need to be pointed at the camera for it to determine the position. Unfortunately, due to this, the Move is unable to emulate some of the Wiimote's modes, and it has earned the derisive Fan Nickname "The Lollipop" thanks to Penny Arcade's lampooning of the controller, and statements made by Sony executives about the Wiimote.
- Wii U GamePad, another Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot controller by Nintendo, taken Up to Eleven. Its most prominent feature is its 6.2 inch resistive touchscreen, which can display a video stream sent from the console itself with minimal lag. It also features 3 different types of motion sensors: an accelerometer, a gyroscope (as with the Wii Remote Plus) and a magnetic sensor. Other features include dual analog controls (similar to Type 1, except the sticks are above the buttons and D-pad), a microphone, camera, headphone jack and stereo speakers (similar to the features found on the Nintendo 3DS). It can also function as a universal TV remote.
- 3D Mouse/Motion Controller: Covers devices like the Spacetec IMC SpaceBall and SpaceOrb 360 (which has a PlayStation variant known as the ASCII Sphere), Logitech CyberMan 2, and 3Dconnexion's various "3D mice". (Incidentally, Spacetec IMC was bought by Labtec, who was then bought by Logitech and then spun off as 3Dconnexion, which may explain the similarities.) The distinguishing feature is a ball/puck that senses motion/force on all six degrees of freedom, allowing for intuitive multi-axis control. The SpaceOrb 360 was even packaged with a demo of Descent 2, and for good reason-it soon found itself as a must-have controller for Descent fans due to the controller matching up well with the nature of the ship's movement. Most of them are designed as professional 3D CAD/modeling input devices with little game support, but software exists to work around that.
- Air Keyboard Conqueror / Mimi Wireless Gaming Keyboard: In case you thought "101-button mouse" mentioned above was only a joke, this weird gadget by Veho / Cideko is a close call. It's a gamepad and laptop keyboard melded into one, with built-in gyro mouse.
- Motion Capture: Uses a camera and specialized image recognition software to track selected parts of a player's body, eliminating the need for any controller and theoretically allowing better interaction. In practice, however, more calibration is required than for other motion sensing systems and a certain type of environment is required for optimal function. Earlier implementations were one-off gimmicks or neat little distractions but the technology arguably caught on (though not in a terribly big way) with Sony's Eye Toy, which had it as one of the device's capabilities. Microsoft's Kinect uses this system in lieu of a handheld motion sensor.
- Card Readers: Originally used to transfer character or item data from collectible cards to arcade cabinets, with other systems used for actual control. Improvements in technology have resulted in cabinets with a large reading surface upon which cards can be placed and moved to control in-game entities. The Sangokushi Taisen series is one of the more notable users of this system.
- Punch Pads: Used in the Arcade Games Sonic Blast Man and some models of the original Street Fighter. Not seen too often in arcades due to the potential for players to injure themselves and/or damage the cabinets. The "bongos" in Donkey Kong Jungle Beat work on a similar principle.
- Bike: An exercise bike which the player rides, spinning the pedals and rotating the handlebars to provide control input. This was used in the SNES game Exertainment Mountain Bike Rally and the Arcade Game Propcycle.
- Virtual Pinball: A plastic replica of a pinball machine lockbar and flipper buttons, sold by Philips in 1997. It would connect to a computer and send keystrokes to correspond with playing PC pinball games.
See also here