Released in 1977, the Atari 2600 joystick featured just one button and was only 4 way directional. This joystick became the predominate input device for the system and had a large impact on the development of future console joysticks within the 2nd Generation. It wouldn’t be until 1985 when Nintendo released the two button controller that multiple button pads would be the norm.
The third generation of video games brought some major changes to gamepad design. In 1985 Nintendo launched the NES controller in NA, introducing Nintendo’s patented cross-shaped joypad. The new D-Pad design offered gamers a new and more universal way to play games, and their dominance continued throughout later generations.
Four years later in 1989 the Genesis would be the first major console to bring us 8 way directional input, and additional action buttons so that arcade ports like Golden Axe could be easily replicated for home console use. Later a six button layout would be designed specifically for advance fighting games like Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat.
The Super Nintendo Entertainment System featured a controller with a more rounded dog-bone like design than that of the NES and added two more face buttons, “X” and “Y”, arranging the four in a diamond formation. Another addition to the SNES controller was the “L” and “R” shoulder buttons, which have been imitated by most controllers since.
The Nintendo 64 was the first console to be released with a thumbstick. This design revolutionized the gaming industry and would ultimately become the standard control for all future gaming consoles. The new thumbstick allowed for a larger range of motion and control, ideal for 3D environments which Nintendo made popular with games like Mario World and Zelda Ocarina of Time.
The Dreamcast released in 1999 introduced advanced dual trigger buttons, and included a VMU (Vitual Memory Unit) which served both as a memory unit and a virtual screen that displayed animations during gameplay and were able to play minigames when played as standalones. The original Xbox controller that proceeded would adopt many of the Dreamcast’s original designs.
All photos are from Artist Brandon Edgar Allen. His Deconstructed series walks us through each generation of gaming consoles and dissects each design showing us the technological advancements each gamepad provided over its predecessor. To see more video game controller art from this series, head over to his website.