No matter how wonderful and perfect a particular video game, the pleasure of playing it can be completely spoiled by poorly thought out controls. The gamepad or the combination of the keyboard and mouse in this case are important guides to a fantastic virtual world, which should never be underestimated. However, during the formation of the industry, some controls have proven to be the most stable, and without them it is already difficult to imagine the gameplay of absolutely any game.
Nintendo, as you know, started work back in the very distant 1889, and 76 years later, in 1965, its staff was replenished by a man named Gunpei Yokoi, who eventually gave the gaming industry many inventions, including the Game & Watch, Game Boy portable consoles. , and, of course, the famous cross on the left side of almost any gamepad — D-Pad.
Initially, Yokoya’s primary responsibility at Nintendo was to manage and maintain the assembly machines that produced Hanafuda playing cards, the sale of which has long been the company’s business. However, in 1966 Yokoya was transferred to the engineering department to help design the perfect product to sell for the Christmas holidays. It was then that he established himself in the eyes of Nintendo President Hiroshi Yamauchi by designing the Ultra Hand toy, which he designed in his spare time. Ultra Hand was a huge success, selling 1.2 million copies at launch. Yokoi later continued to work on the Ultra series with Ultra Machine and Ultra Scope.
In the 70s, video games began to gain momentum, and Nintendo decided to keep up with the trends. In 1977 the company introduced the Color TV Game 6 with different versions of Pong, and then the Color TV Game 15 with separate controllers. At the same time, Nintendo’s bosses made it clear to Yokoi and his team that she needed to stand out in a young industry by offering new gaming formats.
To solve this problem, Yokoi decided to take some of the technology behind electronic calculators and offered gamers Game & Watch, handheld consoles built around a variety of titles in the Nintendo library.
Initially, apart from the game itself, Game & Watch included only a clock, an alarm clock, and two buttons. However, the ideas became more and more complex, requiring more variation in character control.
At some point, Yokoi was tasked with porting the famous arcade game Donkey Kong to the Game & Watch, and his team ran into a problem. While most Game & Watch games used only the horizontal axis, which required only the left and right buttons, in Donkey Kong the protagonist also moved along the vertical axis in an attempt to save the princess from Kong.
Considering that the joystick could not be placed on such a small console, it was decided to place a button for each direction. However, such an interface forced players to regularly glance at the buttons, thereby distracting from the gameplay, and as a result, it was temporarily abandoned.
Finally, Yokoi came up with a handy cruciform plastic piece with a ball joint on top of the input buttons. The resulting «Directional Pad» was intuitive enough to operate and also quite miniature, which allowed the portable console to close in principle.
At the time, Gunpai called his little invention «plus controller» because of the resemblance to the symbol for the addition operation. The engineer wanted to place the D-Pad on the right side of the console, but decided not to upset the arcade gamers who are used to wielding the joystick on the left side of the machine.
At the time, Nintendo had no idea how revolutionary their innovation was within the gaming industry. Even after the release of Donkey Kong, there were other Game & Watch games like Super Mario Bros., Climber, and Balloon Fight that had those same four buttons on the left side instead of a D-Pad.
The next home of the D-Pad was the evolutionary continuation of the Game & Watch in the form of a portable Game Boy console, and in 1983 Nintendo released its 8-bit Famicom console in Japan, and Yokoya technology found a place on its controllers. Initially, no one thought to use the D-Pad, until the engineer Takao Sawano remembered Gunpai’s invention. The Famicom and its US version of the NES were a hit, and in the future, Nintendo continued to use the D-Pad on controllers for all of its consoles with the exception of the Switch, which came out in 2017. True, you can also purchase a Pro controller with a D-Pad for it.
Nintendo filed a patent for the «Multi directional switch» on August 5, 1983, and the company held exclusive rights to use the technology for twenty years. Competitors in the face of Sega, Microsoft and Sony were forced to use similar control mechanisms on their controllers.
For example, Nintendo’s main enemy in the 90s, Sega, called their control stick «D button» and placed it on the Genesis controllers. The device works exactly like the D-Pad, however, tiny engineering changes made it possible to bypass the Nintendo patent. Sony also did not stand aside and found a way out of the situation — it attached an analogue of the D-Pad inside the controller case.
When the patent expired in 2005, any company could take advantage of Nintendo’s developments, and the D-Pad can even be found on the recently announced Steam Deck console. At the same time, as many may have noticed, the famous cross is used not only in the gaming industry. D-Pad was often found on various handheld computers, control panels for various equipment, and even smartphones.
As for Yokoya himself, he worked at Nintendo until 1996, having managed to produce a large number of video games and participate in the development of such legendary devices as ROB and Virtual Boy. Unfortunately, the engineer’s life ended in a very tragic way — the year after leaving Nintendo, Yokoi was hit on the highway by a passing car. Until that moment, he managed to found a new company, Koto, and developed the WonderSwan portable console for Bandai.
Dennis «Thresh» Fong may not have been the first to use the WASD key combination to move around in shooters, but he is credited with popularizing it by winning a Quake tournament in 1997 and becoming a celebrity in the nascent esports. Then, with the help of WASD, Fong navigated the Castle of the Damned map, on which he defeated his main competitor Tim «Entropy» Kimsey, after which he was awarded John Carmack’s Ferrari 328 GTS. Not surprisingly, after this, many Quake fans began to look up to Fong and imitate his game.
“When I was hanging out with Carmack at various events, fans would often come up to me and ask for the details of my config. This happened so often that eventually Carmack added his settings to Quake 2 for everyone to use, ”Fong recalled.
Interestingly, before his triumph in Quake, Fong was often beaten in Doom by his brother Lyle, despite the fact that Fong became the champion in this game at the Judgment Day tournament in 1995. While everyone looked around with the arrows on the keyboard, Lyle used the trackball . At some point, Fong got tired of losing, and he decided to tame the computer mouse, which in turn forced him to move his left hand to WASD for convenience.
“Once I switched to a mouse, my skills have increased several times. You can say after that I didn’t lose at all,” Fong admitted.
In general, in the 90s, players used a variety of layouts. At the same time, some developers set unpopular default layouts in their titles, such as ASDK in System Shock, WADX in System Shock 2, and AZQE in Descent. The same Phong used WADX for some time and claims that one of his friends used ZXCV on a regular basis.
Nevertheless, by the release of Quake 2, even without the help of Fong’s config, WASD was already the most popular combination. Also a significant role in its distribution was played by Half-Life, released in 1998, in which the WASD layout was the default.
Then the example of Half-Life was followed by such games as Starsiege Tribes, Quake 3, Daikatana. In 2004, WASD was already so popular that it even appeared in World of Warcraft, reaching over ten million people in the first few years.
It’s funny, but the head of Valve, Gabe Newell, does not recognize everyone’s favorite layout.
“Personally, I don’t quote WASD because she takes her hands off the typing position. I have always preferred ESDF,” Newell said.
It is believed that the very first version of the computer mouse was introduced by the researcher and inventor Douglas Carl Engelbart, together with engineer Bill English, in 1964. Two metal wheels under a wooden case have been described in the patent office as «XY position indicator for a display system». The device was called a mouse because of the wire, in the overall picture resembling a tail. By the way, Engelbart’s achievements are not limited to the mouse — he also made a significant contribution to the development of the graphical user interface, hypertext and the computer network.
Interestingly, in 1968 the German company Telefunken also discovered a computer mouse, but she didn’t think to register a patent.
One of the first computers to use a mouse was the Xerox Alto, released back in 1973. The same Bill English, who works for the Xerox Parc research center, was responsible for the design of the new mouse on the wheel.
Around the same time, the development of the trackball, which is a ball fixed in the body, began. In fact, trackballs had long been used by the army by that time, for example, in controlling the radar system, and the very first copy was developed by scientist Ralph Benjamin.
At the same time, the mouse gained at least some popularity only in the 80s as part of Microsoft, Apple, and Atari computers. In 1984, Apple entered into an agreement with Xerox, under which the latter received a part of the company of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak for the opportunity to use their device with Macintosh computers.
As for the optical mouse, a patent was registered for it in 1988, and the authors were Lisa Williams and Robert Cherry of the Xerox Microelectronics Center. For ordinary users, however, an optical mouse became affordable only by the end of the 90s. In 1996, the device acquired a wheel, and in 2004, Logitech released the first laser computer mouse.
Of course, the subtleties of video game control will always remain one of the key elements of the entire gameplay, no matter what form they take. And while it’s unlikely anything will displace the D-Pad, the mouse, or even the WASD key combination anytime soon, it’s interesting to imagine how we’ll interact with video games in the future.