Sep 16 2017

So The Controller I Use Is…

And now onto a fascinating topic I’m sure everyone is dying to know, what is my favourite controller? For those that couldn’t care, than to cut this short, it’s currently the PS4 controller, preferably in black, but if you really want to know why, than read on.

As like anyone else, I’ve used a vast range of controllers over 20 years of playing games, and each generation of console has always brought a new iteration of comfort in our handheld devices that cater more and more to the ergonomics of our hands and many hours long playstyles whilst integrating bold, new features to enhance our interactions with games.

The first controller I have any memory of ever holding was the N64 controller in original grey. I remember as a child having some difficulty understanding where my hands were supposed to be positioned on the controller, so perhaps I’d handled a different controller before that and wondered why the d-pad on the N64 controller wasn’t responsive in Mario 64. Throughout the lifespan of the N64, the family picked up many more controllers for the system, including a rare Pikachu controller that was unfortunately lost (probably stolen by a cousin), and some third-party controllers. I remember the best one out of these being a massive, bright yellow controller with turbo switches for A, B and Z. I’ve since never been a fan of turbo buttons, realising that they’re an absolute pain to handle mid-game, but the responsiveness of this third-party controller was just as good as the originals. At one point, I recall having a rumble pak for the controllers, not quite believing that it required batteries to operate, seeing as they were so expensive back in the day for very little functionality and the additional size of the controller. Next was save card that slotted into the controller, again a pain in the arse deciding between either using the rumble or the save pak to play a game with. When I did discover the PS1, what a marvel to see that it was all integrated into the controller and console.

The next controller I remember handling was for the Sega Megadrive. I wasn’t really a fan of it, with upto 6 buttons on the right that became confusing to use, and a D-pad that felt squishy. Around this time, I recall having some form of Commodore, mashing buttons on the keyboard to get some response out of the game. Something that went well over my head at that age.

Next, came the Super Nintendo controller, which I fell in love with, probably due to the coloured buttons of X, Y, A, B, and later due to the R & L buttons which gave much extra functionality to games. It’s thanks to this that I was influenced to buy my SNES themed New 3DS console, and I still use a USB SNES replica controller today for retro games on the Raspberry Pie.

Some time later, I recall the Gravis controller for PC being the next one that I spent a vast amount of time with. I remember playing Big Red Racing for hours on end with my Gravis, hitting the horn button on a jump to shout “Wooohooo!”. The controller was a cross between a SNES and PS1 controller, but interesting the D-pad could be made into a makeshift joystick by screwing in a small rod into the center of the pad. Come to think of it, I remember having a small device that would magnetically attach over the top of arrow keys on a keyboard to provide some form of a joystick in PC mouse and keyboard games. Back in those days, USB was still gaining foot, so instead these controllers relied on serial ports. I remember daisy chaining something like 3 of these off a single port.

Quite a long while later, I finally got my hands on a PSone. Though I used to play on one over at a friend’s house, it took a while to get used to the configuration having played the N64 most of my life, but what followed was an introduction into how games should be played, with two analogue sticks for movement and viewing, whilst having a plethora of buttons for controlling everything else with. On the PSone, I prefered playing the RPGs, not really a fan of action games until the PS2 came along, which showcased many awesome shooters that the PS controllers excelled at.

I give credit to Playstation for keeping the shape of the controllers essentially the same over the first 3 generations, meaning that we didn’t have to break familiarity with our input device and just be able to jump straight into games on the new consoles, unlike Nintendo and Microsoft that required a few days to get used to, and even then made it feel weird going back to play on an older console after getting used to the new one.

So we get to a stage in the story where I was able to compare new generation of controllers side by side from having owned all three systems at the same time. But just before we do get to those comparisons, I just want to make a quick mention of the NES, which was around the time of the PS2 that I managed to pick one up for the first time in my life, and I have to say that I wasn’t really a fan. I get that the games at the time didn’t require a tonne of buttons, but the lack of buttons to what I was used to make me feel that I didn’t have as much control over the game. Secondly, I can’t say I liked the bleak greyness/yellowing of the controllers and lastly but most importantly, I hated the sharpness of the corners of the controller, including the corners of the D-pad that would essentially scratch up my hands.

Now back to 6th generation controllers, at some point or other, I owned all systems but the Dreamcast, which I can’t say I’m fussed about as I’ve never been a fan of Sega or their controllers, with the Dreamcast being one of the biggest I’ve handled at a friend’s house, and even then I saw it as nothing but a gimmick having to buy it accessories such as the save modules which I was glad to be rid of from the N64 era. So out of the three remaining consoles, I feel that PS2 was easily the winner, which I had most of my games for and was simple enough to play. I did enjoy the Xbox though it wasn’t until the end of its lifecycle that I finally got used to the very large, heavy controller that contained an extra two buttons over any controllers I’d seen to date, with the black and white buttons which I did actually miss on the 360 controller. Finally the Gamecube, I thought the controller design was abysmal, with buttons thrown all over the place, no real comfort whilst gripping the buttons, trigger buttons that felt like I was pulling back the bolt on a .50 Cal rifle and a c-stick that would lock into 8 positions, clicking every time I moved it to a new position rather than just smoothly sliding there as was familiar with the PS controllers. And the purple plastic did it no favours.

This ofcourse all turned around during the next generation, with the loss of wired connections, instead each console manufacturer opting for wireless controllers. Now I got my Xbox 360 many years before getting a PS3, and to be honest I took to it like bears and honey. I really did appreciate the smaller size the 360 controller was incomparison to its older brother and how the positions of the analogue sticks did feel much more natural. I guess it resembled more like having to hold an N64 controller, only referring to d-pad and function buttons as and when they were they needed. The triggers on the 360 were fantastic, actually trigger-esque with a thin profile that authenticated the experience in shooters such as COD. I liked the bumper buttons, as it says in the name, being able to just bump them to activate that particular action. I liked the feel of the Xbox button in the center, and the functionality that brought to the console, allowing us to jump between system and game in an instance. I also liked how easy it could connect to a PC using a simple wireless adapter, though I did at the time get caught out by the plug-and-play cable, but this gave the controller an entirely new lease of life. What I also liked most about the controllers, though not really officially supported, was all the third party cases you could get for the controller, having a choice of colours and button options to simply customise your controller with. The only thing I could complain about was that I felt the d-pad had gone a bit squishy. But all in all, the ergonomics of the controller was just lush, and remains my favourite of that era.

PS3 on the other hand, when I finally did acquire one, even though the design hadn’t changed, now felt cramped, with hands having to cling onto the sides of the controller rather than being able to wrap around them. The controller sticks now felt out of position having gotten to the 360 layout, and I can’t say I liked the position of the PS button, having to take most of my hand off the controller to reach it. The worst part about these controllers though was the trigger buttons R2, L2. Large buttons that felt squishy with no sense of sensitivity. They didn’t feel responsive in many games and for some reason, most games at the time still required L1 and R1 to aim and shoot, which no longer made much sense. In Dualshock 3, it did include a motion sensor in the controller, but wasn’t really used in games, and when was, usually a pain having to flap the controller around whilst holding it two handed. The Wii at the time, as we know went on to do their own thing, launching a tonne of handheld devices to be used with the system. The most popular being the Wii motion controller, the wireless lightsaber that could detect user arm movements, used for many party games alongside the nunchuck. I loved the name of the nunchuck, it just planted that idea in your head of what you were supposed to use it for. This setup worked fine for most games, with Zelda making full use of the controllers and for more serious gamers, there was pro controllers that resembled PS controllers, though felt quite plasticky for the ‘pro’ status and a pain having to plug it directly into the Wii motion controller, running the batteries down rather than being able to plug directly into the Wii, which was atleast background compatible with wired Gamecube controllers.

On to the final generation at the moment, and having purchased the PS4 first, I feel that that hasn’t actually influenced my decision in naming the PS4 controller the best one I’ve ever used. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have some flaws, but I feel that it does outperform all the overs. So the differences between my original favourite the Xbox 360 controller and the PS4, is that the sensitivity is more accurate on the PS4, picking up the most minute of movements on the sticks, which for HD+ games, really makes the difference having to move your aim just a few pixels. I think Sony took a leaf out of Microsoft’s book, and decided to finally reshape the controller to feel much more friendly in the user’s hands, expanding on the wings to allow for a good grip. There is a rechargeable battery built-in rather than having to buy a standalone kit. The PS4 controller uses a micro USB port for recharging and being able to connect it up for wired play, which then allows it to connect to a PC. Now I’ve found that I do need to have additional software installed to get it to work perfectly in all games, but other than that, it works fine for PC and PS4, plus the fact that it doubles up as a regular bluetooth controller for mobile etc. I do like the idea of the touchpad, offering some additional functionality, which can even be used as a trackpad which is probably needed in this day’n’age. The ‘options’ button, whilst I’m not a fan that it took up the place of the ‘select’ button which has more or less been moved over to the trackpad, I do like having a fast access button for saving videos and screenshots of gameplay. The thing that I like the most about the PS4 controller is just simply the light bar, especially on the newer version of the controller which contains a sliver of the light bar on the touch pad. When I’m playing on PC, I set the colour to a very dull orange, which means it doesn’t become invasive of my sight but looks really good and matches the colour scheme of my PC. On PS4, it’s functional in certain games like Rocket League, flashing in celebration when a goal’s been scored, whilst seamlessly working in tandem with Playstation VR, which I think is a great innovation of PS4, bring cheap VR to the masses. I like the inbuilt headphone port for plugging a headset in and being able to wireless send the sound of the game to your controller. It might not be the best quality, at something like 36Khz, but it’s certainly useable when doing some midnight gaming and not wanting to wake the whole house up. The only niggle that seems to have transferred over are the trigger buttons. Now they are more sensitive and not squishy at all, the only problem is that when putting the controller down, it rests on it’s trigger buttons, activating these buttons which is a pain when watching a video as it usually fast forwards through it.

The Xbox One controller on the other hand, just wasn’t the sequel the 360 controller deserved. The controller was made too bulky, reminiscent of the original Xbox controller. The triggers are wider than traditional triggers, which don’t properly sit flush any longer with the case when depressed in, leaving a horrible gap for grime and dust to get inside the controller. The analogue sticks have a stupid indent in the top of them, which doesn’t help with having grip of the sticks with the tips of our thumbs, and another place where I seem to find grime build up in. The ‘A’ button on mine feels squishy after only something like 10 hours gameplay and the d-pad is nothing to write home about. The worst part is how the plastic frame has been constructed, with seams now down the middles of the handle sections that you use to grip the controller, so now the case depresses in within itself if you squeeze too hard, making a god awful racket of plastic popping in and out-of-place. It also feels like it’s an attempt to weaken the case, so that it will definitely break if the controller is ever dropped, requiring you to buy a new one. For the owners of the original One controller, you need an adapter to be able to plug headphones up, whereas I was lucky in the sense that I got the Xbox S controller which does finally include one. I can’t say I’ve even touched the Wii U pad, with the built-in screen, but in my opinion, having played remote play on my PS Vita which was slightly laggy, I can’t imagine it would be a brilliant experience other than when the screen is used in a second screen capacity rather than as the main screen.

So, I’ve finally covered most of the mainstream controllers in mine non-exhaustive list and come out with the decision that the PS4 controller currently sits as King of the Hill. That’s not to say that at some point, it won’t be knocked off it’s perch by a new contender, maybe it’ll be the HTC Vive motion controllers when I finally get into VR, or something that only requires the powers of our thoughts to operate, who knows where we’ll be in the next 5 years of interacting with games. What I can comment on is that I think the handheld consoles that Nintendo and Sony have put out essentially utilised the features that made their controllers what they were at their peak, with the 3DS and the SNES controller-esque layout and the PS Vita having the revolutionary two analogue sticks, making for some excellent gaming experiences on something that is essentially the size of their console controller counterparts.

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