The N64 controller was a bizarre however important introduction to joysticks

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Within the annals of gaming historical past, there’s no controller higher identified than the three-pronged piece of plastic that shipped with the Nintendo 64. That’s possible for a number of causes. There’s the distinctive design, which renders it immediately and unmistakably recognizable because the N64’s gamepad. There’s the recognition of the console, which helped cement Nintendo as one of many definitive names in gaming.

However crucial a part of the N64 controller isn’t the design or the field it hooked up to: it was the joystick, which launched hundreds of thousands to a brand new manner of controlling video games and paved the best way for contemporary 3D gaming that’s just about customary as we speak.

Nintendo didn’t invent the joystick or the thought of utilizing it for video games, nevertheless it did popularize the joystick as a default management choice for mainstream 3D video games in a manner that nobody else had achieved earlier than. Previous to the N64, joysticks have been restricted largely to flight simulator fanatics in search of essentially the most practical platform to reflect precise flight (though earlier consoles just like the Atari 2600 did function a joystick enter, albeit for 2D gaming.) However the N64 controller provided a joystick as the primary management scheme for each sort of recreation and positioned it entrance and middle in gamers’ fingers.

One motive for that call was the shift to 3D gaming, a change Nintendo helped usher in with the N64. Transferring round a polygonal three-dimensional world meant gamers wanted the flexibility to navigate extra freely than what a conventional D-pad (designed for grid-like pixels on previous consoles) would enable. It’s one thing mirrored in my favourite design cue of the N64 joystick: the octagonal properly it rests in, which subtly cues gamers towards the eight cardinal instructions they will tilt the stick and subsequently transfer their character on-screen. (It’s additionally a element Nintendo caught with on its succeeding consoles up till the Wii U.)

However the magic of the N64’s controller is how Nintendo used the design to show gamers tips on how to use the brand new joystick and navigate in new planes. The strange-looking third controller grip allowed the N64 controller to be held on the 2 exterior grips like a “common” controller, however the center-mounted stick encourages gamers to view it as the first management scheme. And the textured rubber grip rests naturally beneath your thumb, making it simple to tilt it in any path.

The joystick additionally allowed for extra delicate motion than a conventional D-pad. In Tremendous Mario 64, gamers are launched to the concept they will push the joystick arduous to run however tilt it flippantly to stroll. In a while within the recreation, they will even use it to fly freely in three dimensions.

The {hardware} had points. The mechanism was susceptible to carrying out and loosening over time, requiring that they be correctly maintained, lubricated, and changed. Nevertheless it’s vital to keep in mind that it was additionally a first-generation product, launched at a time when Nintendo’s largest opponents, the unique PlayStation and Sega Saturn, solely had shipped with old school D-pads. (Each would later launch controllers with joysticks after the N64 was launched.)

The N64 controller can also be very clearly a transition level. Its design seems virtually like an SNES controller grew some additional appendages, and the path pad and face buttons nonetheless simply enable for builders and gamers who have been uneasy concerning the new management scheme to keep away from it. There was solely the only analog stick, making digital camera management a frustration in some video games.

It wouldn’t be till Sony launched the Twin Analog Controller in 1997 that the fashionable double-analog stick design that’s nonetheless used on just about each main controller and gamepad as we speak would arrive. Even Nintendo would go on to supply its personal model of PlayStation’s face button / D-pad / dual-stick / triggers structure with the GameCube, the Wii Traditional controller, the Wii U, and the Swap.

However the N64’s lone joystick was a place to begin, a bridge from the pixelated consoles of the previous to the ultra-powerful PlayStations and Xboxes now we have as we speak — instructing generations of gamers a brand new manner to consider gaming and shifting in a digital house.

Replace August thirtieth, 12:30pm: Added point out of the Atari 2600 as predating the Nintendo 64 for console joysticks.