It doesn’t matter if you play on an Xbox One, PlayStation 4, or PC gamepad – you’ve probably used the same button and stick configuration for a decade. (Unless you own a Nintendo console. Then all bets are off.) But in the early days of console gaming, there was no standard controller, prompting each company to create their own designs. Here are eight examples that gaming has since moved away from.
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Magnavox Odyssey 100 – 1972
With the world’s first controller came the world’s first video game home console – even if they were both fairly basic by today’s standards. The Magnavox Odyssey was played using two dials on the controller’s sides, each directing horizontal and vertical movement. In the early days of console development, this scheme proved a good fit for sports games like Pong. And speaking of Pong
Atari Home Pong Console – 1975
It’s difficult to understate the huge impact of Pong on game development, to the point that Atari released an entire console for it. Unlike most systems on this list the controller literally was the console, allowing two players to hook it up to a TV and play. It was also boasted one of the most powerful consumer computer chips on the market, although that record didn’t last for long.
Fairchild Channel F – 1976
While dials were great for Pong, the next generation of consoles needed something a little more complex. Enter the Fairchild Channel F and its innovative joystick technology. These controls let players move in eight directions, and the joystick itself could be pushed inwards or pulled outwards for additional buttons. The outward button was basically the “Select” button of early consoles, but still a step closer to joysticks we’re familiar with today.
Coleco Telstar Arcade – 1977
At one point, game developers struggled to make sports, shooting, and racing games function on the same controller. The Coleco Telstar Arcade had a great solution: Put three different controllers on the same unit. Outside of traditional dials, the Telstar featured a steering wheel and a light gun so you could play any possible genre made available in 1977. Sadly, no games let you use all three at once, which would’ve been quite a sight.
Atari 5200 SuperSystem – 1982
While the Atari 2600 pioneered a recognizable joystick, the Atari 5200 knew players needed more buttons. But instead of laying them around the joystick, the 5200 put them all on a stock number pad below the directional controls. What’s really impressive, is the non-centered 360 degree joystick, allowing for more complex in-game movements.
Sega Master System – 1985
Three years before the more iconic Genesis, Sega had an NES-era console on the market – perhaps a little too NES, judging by the two-button control scheme. The noticeable difference were some controllers included a little joystick nub instead of D-pads. Sadly, they wouldn’t return to popularity until the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation era, and were quickly set aside when the Genesis launched.
Sega Activator – 1993
What, did you think the Kinect was the first gaming peripheral to use motion controls? Sega tried back in 1993 with a new system designed for fighting games. The Activator was a large ring that players stood in, moving their arms and legs over infrared beams emitted from the edges. Sadly, it was less effective than modern controllers and more expensive, and was quickly forgotten.
Apple Bandai Pippin – 1995
Apple has toyed with consoles at various points in its history, the Bandai Pippin being one such example. While the console itself failed to take off, the controller was an interesting blend of classic D-pad controllers and the modern grip designs we use now. It also featured a scroll-ball that could replicate mousepad and joystick movements. The boomerang shape is a little too easy to throw at Player 2 however, so maybe it’s best the design stopped here.