Why Can’t We Have Nice Controllers?
As a fan of the Street Fighter series I wish there were more controllers available that have six face buttons. None of the controllers from major companies and very few third-party controllers have what I need, forcing me to contort my hands in an awkward fashion or play combo-light characters like grapplers. And playing certain characters in, say, Super Street Fighter IV without a fightstick means that you can’t pull off many of their moves consistently. The rapid button taps required for Chun Li’s lightning legs or holding buttons for Juri’s chargeable fireball is a chore on a typical controller with four face buttons. THERE’S GOT TO BE A BETTER WAY!
But I’m sure if any of the major companies started putting six buttons on their controller faces, many users would complain that they are worthless in most games and it’s easy to accidentally hit the wrong ones. And the complainers would be right. Four seems about right, you know? It works tactilely. Your right thumb can fit squarely between all of them so you can access them with ease. Why should the majority change what they’re used to to accommodate a small amount of whiners? You don’t need six face buttons for Madden, so there’s little chance of six-buttons becoming the standard. But at least I can still acquire one, right?
Unfortunately, there aren’t many third-party controllers that offer what I want. There are a few “Fightpad” controllers but the huge majority are lacking the dual analog sticks present on all other models, rendering them not only useless for anything but fighting games but sub-optimal for those. (Rolling motions, for example, are generally easier with a joy/thumbstick than a D-pad, and players should have the ability to switch between them on the fly.) The only one I can find that has everything I need also has a host of reviews saying it breaks very quickly. So am I simply screwed?
The best setup I’ve seen is a Dreamcast controller that had two extra face buttons that mimicked the triggers (a little redundancy can’t hurt) as well as the ability to remap buttons. I’ve never seen its like since the Saturn came and died. It works for all genres, not just fighters. And I just realized that I am at this instant using an interface with a gargantuan amount of reprogrammable buttons. However, computer keyboards aren’t specifically designed for playing games, and fighting games in particular have a tough time running on them; they need those shallow, easily depressable buttons with space between them for the greatest control. Kind of like a joystick, of which there are many. So should I buy a joystick?
Here Comes A New Challenger
Most joysticks are made for fighting games so they typically come with six or even eight face buttons with select/start and menu buttons in the corner or on the back so they don’t accidentally get hit easily. So at first glance it would seem that you could just make a joystick with a million buttons on it. But you need a good solid base to keep the joystick from moving around during use; therefore joysticks aren’t as portable as regular pads. Plus you probably have decades of experience using a D-pad. I know I make all sorts of mistakes when trying to use a joystick in games of any genre, though almost all professional fighting gamers use them. Then again, I’m not a professional and I’ll never have the discipline to be one.
On the positive side, if you do use a joystick they are much easier to modify than any other type of controller. Tons of space inside means you can position sticks and buttons to suit your whims if you know how to solder or you can hire someone who does. It can get expensive, but your options are many and there are lots of places online that will sell you parts or construct the sticks for you. You can get simple affairs with whatever type of button and joystick tops you prefer, you can get a heavy steel box with an X-shaped button setup for Tekken, or you can get one of the monstrosities pictured on the right that has controls for practically every arcade game from the past 40 years.
But there are genres other than fighting games and arcade action games. Trying to use a joystick to play something like Command & Conquer or Team Fortress Classic would be laughable. And dual thumbsticks for first-person shooters are so clearly inferior to a mouse and keyboard that console versions of many shooting games have auto-aim to make it possible to hit what you’re looking at. In contrast, you can set your mouse to a high sensitivity and make minute movements with your wrist for phenomenal control. How many times have I played a first/third-person shooter on a console where it took several seconds to make a complete turnaround? That would be fatal in Faceball 2000, let alone Quake III Arena. Mouse and keyboard is pretty obviously the best for real-time strategy and first-person shooters. But have you ever tried playing Super Mario Bros. 3 on a keyboard? (Of course not; owning ROMs of commercial games that you don’t own physical copies of is against the law and therefore no one in the world does it.)
So some people try to reinvent the wheel by creating custom keyboards with more scattered buttons than the dog from Animaniacs after it swallows a grenade. This might be tolerable after you spend a length of time acclimating yourself to it, but why bother with gimmicks? Have you ever heard of a tournament-winning player of any game who uses one of these things?
It’s Us, We Are the Ones Being Controlled in the OP
The only conclusion I can come to is that there is no ultimate controller, no one size fits all contraption that makes everybody happy all of the time. This is the second-most important reason why almost every new console has a new controller (the most important, of course, being marketing). There are different tools for different jobs. You wouldn’t use a military drone to drive in a nail and you wouldn’t use a claw hammer to blow up civilians in third-world countries. So you can use whatever controller you need for whatever game you’re playing, right?
Not while patent attorneys still have their jobs. Ben “Mana Bar” Croshaw spoke of the deliberate obfuscation and arbitrary lockouts that are forced upon players by the console manufacturers. For no reason other than pure moronic greed it is against the law for someone to sell a controller that works on an Xbox 360 and a PlayStation 3. Sure, you could probably get some electronics guy on Craigslist to make one for you, but why should we have to cower? Why can’t I legally purchase a device that runs most every game smoothly? Don’t controller manufacturers want more of my money? Wouldn’t it be more profitable to give players options rather than corralling them into tiny cages?