Saturday, 6 December 2008

Ow! My hands hurt.

Throughout the years, new console designs have included new controller designs. A 'controller' or 'input utility' or whatever you want to call it, is the players tool for interacting with the console. By traditional standards, it includes buttons, and sometimes and analogue device. You, as the player, sit in front of your TV for hours playing a game, with the controller firmly placed in your hands. But, out of the many different designs, which is the most comfortable?

I'm going to admit, I've always been a PC gamer. Consoles were never my thing, the games were over priced and my parents would never fork out for a console itself, so I just stuck with what I had, a computer, and £5 games from 'Electronics Boutique'.

But I'm not a complete novice when it comes to consoles, in fact I always had a good supply of friends who's parents WOULD fork out for the next console. And it starts with my mate Sam.

When I met Sam he lived two doors down from my house, we were about 4/5 years old, and together we would spend hours playing on his 'Atari 2600 VCS'. That thing was amazing, I still remember the racing game, Indy 500, I rocked at that, especially the Ice level.

Now, the input device for the Atari was a joystick, with a little red button. That simple, no arrow buttons, no trigger buttons, just a joystick and a button, the joystick either moved too little or too much, but it was fun. However, I think the excitement of you youth hides from me the fact that the design was clunky and uncomfortable.

Next, Sam's mum bought him a Sega Megadrive and this is where the fun/time indoors really started. We had loads of games, Worms, Sonic, but most memorably, 'James Pond'. We spent hours playing this simple side scrolling game.

The 'Sega Megadrive' had quite interesting controllers:

However, I have distinct memories about the problem with them. I found as a kid that I could never reach the C button, on the right hand side of the controller. And when things got intense, and your little hands were sweating, the controllers would very easily slip out of your hands. Yes, I know I have small hands, but it was still a design flaw.

Next in my timeline comes the Playstation, most of my friends had one, and tis fair to say that this console was a staple part of my upbringing, once again, though this time, it was my friend Jamie that had one.

The Playstation was brilliant, it had many different games and a gun! Now, I know the 'light gun' was actually invented a long time before on the old 1967 'Brown Box'. But the brown box had lost popularity by the time of the Playstation and it was all new to me.

The first Playstation controllers were also quite well made, and are still used today on the Playstation 3. Obviously they have been updated since then, but the fundamentals of the design are still there.

Here is a comparison - Playstation 1:

And the new Playstation 3:

Notice the similarities? And why change them? For me this is still one of the more comfortable designs out there. the buttons were reachable and the handles holdable, without being too heavy.

Next on the list was the Nintendo 64, and this one, my parents bought me for my birthday. What a mistake, this is where the skiving school started. The N64 was amazing, but its controller, very different. The new design of the controller was a memorable talking point between me and my friends. There were three handles? But only two hands? Was this designed for aliens?

In my opinion it actually worked quite well. In essence Nintendo essentially packaged two controllers into one. on the left side, you had a view changing joy stick, and directional pad, along with a trigger. But if you shifted your hands to the right side, you had a trigger, a movement stick and option buttons.

I also found the design comfortable, I don't remember at all disliking it, and in fact liking the console because of its cool controller.

Next was the playstation 2, but I won't talk about it much, because well, the controller is basically the same as the PS1.

I never bought an Xbox, and surprisingly neither did many of my friends, I remember us all bitching about the new controller, being big and clunky, and I'll admit, the few times I played it I did get a little bit of hand ache, once again, probably because I have small hands.

I currently own an Xbox 360, and my flatmate has Wii, and as you'd expect, I've played both quite a lot.

With my 360, I actually like the controller. I won't lie when i say I think I'm the only one, it seems most of my friends really don't like the displaced analogue sticks, but I personally find it more natural.

The Wii on the other hand... This one takes some thought.

Ergonomically, the Wii controller is a piece of ass (in my opinion). It makes my hand ache, I spend ages trying to find the buttons, it just doesn't 'fit' in my hand, or make sense. But does it?

The Wii controller actually does a hell of a lot right. Yeah it might not sit in your hand nicely, but when you use it in conjunction with the Nunchuck thing, its actually like you have taken a normal controller, split it in two, allowing you to put your hands wherever is comfortable.

It also has the revolutionary interactivity, the bit that essentially, makes the console. The controller has to be a gun, a sword, a baseball bat, a golf club, a tennis racket, an old Nes controller etc. All in one, so when you think about it, the stick design really is the best way to achieving all this.

Which brings me onto my next point: Where are console's going? are we going to see more wireless motion sensing, or is the D pad going to stay?

In my personal opinion, I believe that we are almost definitely going to see more wireless, but it won't be a complete switch. The button and analogue stick configuration works too well for developers to just give up on it. Motion sensing is still new, and will need to mature before it starts to become the mainstream.

However, I definitely think console manufacturers want to make their consoles more interactive. In the Uk alone the Nintendo Wii has sold over 3.5 million units, wheras the Xbox has sold only 2.3 million. Which begs the question, is it interactivity or graphics that sells consoles? Source: Wikipedia

Other than interactivity, consoles are also starting to look good. Designers are actually starting to care about what their new console looks like. Take the new PS3 for example:

Its sleek, its slender, its trendy, and it really does look like a George Foreman Grill (its so good, he put his name on it). I hate to say it, but its almost fashionable.

Same with the Xbox360:

With the beveled sides and sleek design, its almost arguably a decorative piece for the TV stand in the living room.

Its safe to say that developers are starting to care about their consoles now. They are no longer the chunk of plastic and wires that mum makes you put in your room before the guests come over. They are the tidy slender living room asset.

Now, to answer the question, I personally prefer the look of the Xbox 360. I think its the clean white surface that does it for me. I'm a bit of a clean freak and it just looks good.

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