Wrote the following response to a post arguing against the Wii-mote.
Original argument is here: http://www.videogamevs.com/argument.php?192
I admire your efforts in surrounding controllers with a historical context. Controllers I think, are a terribly underrated component contributing to the success or failure of games and consoles alike. To me, they're kind of like the power supply of a PC. Probably not the first part of the overall system to get an upgrade, but deceivingly one of the most vital in terms of enhanced performans.
There's a few things I'd like to add to your analysis, however, and if you agree with the points, then perhaps you might not be so quick to cast off Nintendo's new controller for all time.
First, I don't think SNES family is an accurate way to characterize the controller lineage you have described. I do agree with you that the SNES controller was well-made. I don't think I'd go so far as to say it was groundbreaking. It certainly didn't bring anything as revolutionary to controllers as did the original NES. I say this, because with the NES controller, the gaming industry was introduced to crosshairs.
For the controls needed for the new 8-bit games of the day, this proved to be a revolutionary advancement. First and foremost, it improved on the poorly constructed, and easily worn out joysticks of the Atari era. The Nintendo crosshairs involved fewer moving parts, and a more compact design that enabled it to withstand a ridiculous amount of abuse. I still have memories in the late eighties, of one of my friends smashing his Nes-controller against the wall of his parent's basement, while cursing Mario for having missed a jump off a platform. That same controller is probably still working today, and proof of their resiliency rests in the vast numbers of them you'll find floating around at second-hand shops across the globe.
In terms of gameplay, the crosshairs provided a hitherto unprecedented synergy of 8-directional mobility, and precision. Not only was diagonal movement greatly enhanced by this advancement over the joystick, the 4-singularly shaped points which enabled the user to accurately press only one direction at a time. Previously, joysticks, if held in any manner other than absolutely straight, we less likely to point in truly one direction, rather than along an undesired tangent, than was the Nes crosshair.
During the revitalization of the video game industry, and the onset of the great 8-bit console wars between Nintendo, Sega, NEC, and later Sony, all players were quick to adopt Nintendo's ground-breaking design. The crosshairs, however proved relatively difficult to emulate perfectly, since Nintendo's patent prevented any of the other companies from copying them outright. This is why both the Sega Master System controller, along with the PC-Engine and TurboGrafix 16 employed an inferior D-Pad design, which unfortunately for them, negated the accuracy advantages over the joysticks of the previous generation, by including surface area between the four points which could be pressed accidentally, careening the game character off diagonally, rather than the user-desired straight.
This point is best demonstrated by playing Streetfighter 2 on a SNES controller, (which included the original NES crosshairs) and the Sega Genesis controller, (which improved on the poor design of the Master System controller, but was never able to reach Nintendo's level of accuracy.) In the Genesis version, a player's character was far more likely to jump straight up when the intention was to jump forward or backward, and visa-versa.
With the production of the original Playstation, Sony attempted to eliminate the inaccuracies of crosshair-clone controllers by developing a D-pad which appeared to be composed of 4 separate buttons, each of which represented a corresponding direction. This was definitely an improvement in accuracy over the Sega and NEC versions, but it lost a litlle in fluidity of motion. Very simply, with no surface area between any of the four directional buttons, the player's finger wasn't able to slide from direction to direction as easily
This can again be demonstrated by comparing Street Fighter 2 on the SNES with an original Playstation version. Moves requiring fast combinations of sequential direction-buttion presses were more difficult to pull off. This led to the common practice by many Playstation owners to place the material of their shirt between their thumb and the Playstation direction-pad to cut down on friction, allowing greater ease in the execution of fireballs and dragon punches.
At face-value, the addition of dual-shock sticks represented less of an innovation as it did a reversion back to the joystick format. The case could be made that a good deal of influence in the creation of dual-shock in fact came from the controllers of the Atari-era, Coleco vision. Interestingly, some connections could also be made between the SNES should-pad buttons and the side buttons on that same Coleco controller.
The innovation contained in the Coleco controller didn't end there either! Since it contained an entire keypad of buttons on it's face, from a game-developer's perspective, the Coleco controller might be considered one of the first console-based programmable controllers.
If the inclusion of analog sticks wasn't an innovation perse, then one might at least argue that the addition of variable speeds to its movement, based on the extent to which the user pressed it, perhaps was. Though this addition, particularly in Playstation games didn't fundamentally change the way we played video games, it did introduce a higher degree of control, (walking vs. running) to the existing directional enhancements of the 8-bit era. But in all actuality, when put in the context of the industry's history, the creation of the dual-shock controller was really just the fusion of the Nintendo crosshair design with the joysticks of the Atari era.
As such, I think it would be more accurate to include the controllers you have described in a group termed the "NES-family."
"Crosshair/clone family" might also work, or you could divide the history up into three groups,
1. Joystick-era controllers
2 Crosshair-era controllers
3. Joystick/Crosshair Fusion controllers
or something to that effect.
And if you're able to look at things that way, then I think it's easier to view the new Wii-mote as one of the first potentially industry-changing innovations in a long time. Of course, I'll be the first to admit that it's still a bit early to decide whether or not the Wii-mote is such an innovation, or simply a relatively impressive gimick. The reason it's a tad early, is that ultimately, as always, it will be the software which determines the staying power of the Wii-mote. If developers have a difficult time finding applications for the unique characteristics offered by the Wii-mote, then it simply won't replace the established form of video-game control. And for this to come about... I think there will have to be a serious change in the type of games developed. If this change takes place, it would be a change I'd welcome. I'm one of what I think is a growing number of gamers who are becoming increasingly weary of cookie-cutter FPS and sports games which offer only marginal changes year in and year out. The trend of sequel-after-sequel, ad infinitum is not a trend unlike the movie industry, and over time, I think it will hurt both if it continues.
The vast majority of innovation takes place in the gaming industry when small-time programmers, with less to lose financially than the bigger-fish developers, take a chance to distinguish themselves from the crowd, and come out with something completely different. Even this formula is often stunted however, when after initial success, the small start-up is bought up and acquired by one of the larger companies who yearn to capitalize on its success by pumping out umpteen identical sequels until the formula begins to induce vomiting, rather than positive sales figures. The Lara Croft series, until very recently is a perfect example of this.
Nintendo has been put in the unique position, perhaps out of necessity due to their 3rd place standing against extremely well-financed competitors, of being a relatively large fish who has introduced what may prove to be a particularly ground-breaking initiative. Perhaps so groundbreaking, that it's once again caught the attention of older gamers like myself who, for nearly a decade have been turned off by a game industry which has gotten a lot shinier since Microsoft and Sony joined the party... but certainly no more innovative.
But to address your initial complaint about Nintendo's decision to require the "waving" of one's arms, or the subtle flick of one's wrist over what you've described as your preferred method of calm button pushing, I would say that you have been far from abandoned. As an older gamer, I've found myself increasingly interested in the burgeoning retro-game culture. I think increased interest in retro-games is in part due to the high number of shiny cookie-cutter games characterizing the industry over the past few years. A growing number of gamers in response have found themselves going back to the older games which weren't produced on budgets larger than the average movie... but were rather furiously coded by one or two maverick programmers with little to lose but sleep.
Nintendo has re-established this maverick nature to the industry, and has reminded many of us what it was like to play games for the first time. And ti help in the facilitation of this goal, they've developed these wacky motion-sensing Wii-motes... if when turned on their side, resemble almost perfectly... the original NES Crosshair controller!
Missing your shoulder buttons? They've got that covered too... with the Wii Classic controller... perhaps the most skillful fusion of Crosshairs, Analog sticks, shoulder buttons, simplicity. To top all that off, they've enabled the emulation of classic NES, SNES, Genesis, TurboGrafix 16, N64, and MSX games to the mix.
And who's to say that the motion sensing capabilities have to be included in every Wii game developed? I think certainly, most developers, Nintendo and third party, are going to showcase them in games for the first year or so of development. It's a new technology, and it will be a novelty for some time yet. However, by the second wave of titles... I think we'll begin to see developers utilize the new capabilities only where they are intuitive, and less because they're gimicky. If this is the way events transpire... I think you'll find an affordable system with a diverse range of capabilities for people of vastly differing tastes.arguing against the Wii-mote.