Reviews - Updated on April 14, 2022

Manufacturers of modern consoles have done everything possible to make the gamer play comfortably – well-thought-out ergonomics, the traditions of several generations of gaming devices … But how did it all begin? In the first part of our impromptu series, we will talk about the history of the DualShock, one of the best gamepads ever made for game consoles.

Necessary background

A soldier, as you know, may or may not dig, but the controller must always work. Have you ever wondered how all those flat rectangles with buttons came to be? Has there always been a single standard? The answer to this question is simple – no, not always. In the mid-second half of the 70s, when Atari was just about to conquer the home toy market (Pong is not considered), there was simply no consensus on how a gamepad should look like. Each product has its own controller. No matter how ridiculous it may sound, the fact remains that outside the world of Pong consoles, everyone was perverted in their own way.

For example, the standard device for the Atari VCS (2600) resembled an aircraft joystick. The only difference is that there was no talk of any “analogity”. In a small black box, the usual “digital mechanism” was hidden. Turned left – the command “left” worked. Turned to the right – the command “to the right” worked. No intermediate provisions.

The controller from Atari VCS (2600), of course, is a cult one, but by modern standards it looks just … nothing. Fortunately, the choice of gamepads did not end with this magic wand – there were other solutions.

Manufacturers of competing set-top boxes lived in a similar paradigm. They did not try to radically change something – only the form differed. How do you like, for example, a gamepad that looks like a handset of a radiotelephone? A bunch of digital buttons, a small control element, overlays on buttons with a description of actions in a particular game? All this brought confusion to the world, which, on the contrary, was supposed to be understandable to everyone. After, as you know, the traditional industry “collapsed”, and Nintendo entered the market. An outsider company, in whose “cartridge VCR” no one initially believed.

Standard, standard, standard

Employees of (sometimes ex-) Nintendo of America love to remember how they were laughed at at all technology exhibitions in the mid-80s. Someone behind his back, but more often still in the face. It was extremely difficult to believe that a Japanese company could achieve anything in a market that survived the collapse of the classic Atari. People asked a logical question: “Why do we need this NES of yours, what’s her name, if we have home computers like Amiga at hand?”

Understandable skepticism, don’t you think? History judged somewhat differently. However, within the framework of this text, it is not how popular the NES has become that matters. Nor are the frauds with licenses and onerous contracts that literally destroyed the 8-bit SEGA Master System. Let’s just take it for granted: in the “arms race” of those years, Nintendo won an unconditional victory. The important thing is that the NES itself was equipped with revolutionary gamepads for its era. And their importance can hardly be overestimated.

A pure classic of the genre, the NES gamepad is one of the main inventions of the Big N.

Largely because it was Nintendo that set the industry standard. The controller is literally a “game board” with buttons. And nothing else. At a time when the Famicom/NES was just entering the Japanese and US markets, slot machines were very popular in those countries. Moreover, some of the games of the early years for the NES were banal ports from these systems – take Mario Bros. or Contra. Therefore, there is nothing surprising in the fact that, purely outwardly, the Famicom / NES controller resembled an arcade cabinet panel cut to the state of 1 player. A, B, Select, Start, D-pad are classics.

During the days of the 16-bit Super Nintendo, a couple of “shifts”, the X and Y keys, were added to this set. The shape of the device itself has also changed. But not so much that the corporate identity of “Big N” is not recognizable. All this prelude was started by us for only one thing – to bring Sony to the fore, which initially did not think of doing its own PlayStation.

It is this gamepad that can rightfully be considered the prototype of the PlayStation controller.

Exhibitions and Drives

When Nintendo announced onstage that it was going to make a CD drive for the SNES by Philips, the Sony bosses almost had a heart attack. Most lightning metal Ken Kutaragi (Ken Kutaragi) – an ambitious and moderately daring engineer. It was he who managed to convince the bosses of the company, who did not consider the gaming industry seriously, to release their own console. Completely autonomous, 32-bit and with a rate on CD – in those years, the advanced format of storage media.

The further fate of the PlayStation is known – millions of sales, a bunch of revisions, dozens of the most popular games. Within the framework of this story, we are much more interested in the period of the early 90s. Then Kazunori Yamauchi, the future author of the cult Gran Turismo, joined the PlayStation development team. In addition to creating his own game, Kazunori took an active part in testing the hardware of the device, and in particular, its gamepads.

A few years ago, photos of their prototypes surfaced on the Web. Just by looking at them, you can understand what exactly Sony was focusing on. Of course, we are talking about Super Nintendo. Almost the same form, a similar arrangement of control elements – the difference was only in the symbolic system and the presence of a fundamentally different digital cross. Yamauchi tested various versions of the gadget on schoolchildren. The result was the first version of the PlayStation controller. Surprisingly, outwardly it still resembled a 16-bit ancestor. The difference was in the number of “shifts” (four versus two) and the presence of a couple of handles, which are affectionately called “horns” in our fan party.

DualShock: the story of the gamepad that changed the industry.  Part 1

A clear illustration, so to speak.

greatness is coming

The PlayStation era was a turning point for the entire industry. Gradually, the games were moving away from their 2D past and overgrown with polygons. Of course, with the advent of new technology, there were also problems associated primarily with management. How to make the character move as smoothly as possible in three-dimensional space? Everyone solved this problem in their own way. The developers of Resident Evil, for example, made 3D models move across pre-rendered backgrounds in well-defined directions. The solution, frankly, is not perfect, but at least effective.

Other authors had even more difficult. Most accurately, the experience of interacting with a three-dimensional environment on the classic version of the controller from Sony can be described as follows: “steering” the hero with his help was like trying to pass a camel through the eye of a needle. However, few people complained – largely due to the fact that for the gamer of those years, any 3D game was perceived as a novelty and there were almost no examples for comparison.

Unfortunately for Sony, this is “almost” what Nintendo signed up for. Her Ultra 64 has attracted buyers since the announcement on the pages of the branded Nintendo Power. Yes, the console used an obsolete cartridge format, but it was created by an illustrious company with an almost impeccable reputation, and Nintendo’s best hits were supposed to appear on it, and in full 3D.

For the conditional John from Texas, these were reinforced concrete arguments. In addition, the console was equipped with a revolutionary controller. Its whole essence lies not at all in a very strange layout of the basic buttons. Significance is in the analog stick. A seemingly simple invention drastically influenced the feeling of those who played Super Mario 64 or Rare’s later GoldenEye 007.

It’s all about honest “analogue” control. It was corny more convenient than all the old schemes. Largely because a sufficient number of people rushed to study the Mushroom Kingdom. Sony seriously thought about the need for change and began to prepare its response to the “Big N” – and not only on the “iron” front.

Mama Mia, I can do it too

The first attempt to step on the heels of Nintendo was a somewhat unprepossessing controller called Dual Analog. Rightly judging that one stick is good, but two is better, Sony engineers released a device that became the prototype of the famous DualShock. In any case, this is how gamers born in Russia and the CIS often imagine the history of the evolution of the famous gamepad. The actual chain of events is somewhat less trivial.

PlayStation Analog Joystick in person. It did not last long and remained in the memory only of the most stubborn “soniboys” and connoisseurs of history.

It began in 1996, when the Japanese released the so-called PlayStation Analog Joystick. Outwardly, it resembled an arcade controller – a fairly wide base, two joystick knobs, a number of classic buttons (cross, square, triangle, circle, L1, R1, R2, L2, Select, Start). The device had two modes of operation: the first repeated the “digital” keystroke, the second was analog. The problem was not even in the quality of performance (it just did not cause any complaints) – the high price and the small number of supported video games actually put an end to the mass distribution of the device. However, it was precisely this that gave birth to Dual Analog, which many mistakenly call the first analog controller from Sony.

Unlike the later DualShock, this gamepad supported three modes of operation: digital, analog, emulator. The latter copied the control features of the PlayStation Analog Joystick – according to fans, not as perfect as we would like, but for the money it’s pretty good. The second major misconception about the Dual Analog has to do with its lack of vibration. In fact, it was, but only in the Japanese version. Residents of Europe and the USA could well put the vibration motor on their own (fortunately, the device made it possible to do this), but there was not much point in such actions. In order to experience the full benefits of feedback, they would have to order Japanese versions of video games that support this feature.

For its time, the PlayStation Dual Analog was a very interesting gamepad. Yes, it is similar to the later released DualShock, but only externally.

The next step from Sony is the release of the first full version of the DualShock. In addition to some external changes related to the length of the “shifts” and the shape of the analog sticks, vibration motors were built into the gamepad by default. All this led to one, but extremely important feature for our current history – due to the widespread distribution of DualShock among gamers, manufacturers were finally puzzled by the full support of the manipulator.

It didn’t work out for everyone. For example, Resident Evil 2 just disgustingly worked with the novelty. On the contrary, the exclusive Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back from the masters of Naughty Dog was perfectly friendly with the updated controller. Spyro the Dragon from Insomniac Games and Siphon Filter should also be added to the same piggy bank, which turned out to be even more convenient to pass in Analog mode than on a standard digital D-pad.

The line about analog controller support is twofold. On the one hand, yes, the game supported him. On the other hand, it’s bad.

However, those are exclusives. The main problem with the games of the early DualShock era is the desire of manufacturers to sit on two chairs. Realizing that the novelty from Sony is in demand, they included support for the analog mode of operation in their releases, but in reality it copied the standard digital layout. That is, no smooth view with the stick: the camera went in four directions – left, right, up and down. Thus, the developers managed to kill two birds with one stone – to stay on the crest of progress, but not to bother themselves with the creation of two fundamentally different control schemes.

This approach is especially visible in the Medal of Honor cycle from Electronic Arts. The analog mode not only did not simplify the passage – it made it several times more difficult due to the oak camera and not the most convenient layout. We have what we have.

***

How did the PlayStation 3 era turn out for Sony? Why did the original gamepad look like a boomerang, but grenades in Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune hurt? Find out in the sequel to the DualShock story!

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