Controller Hell! (Or Heaven?) Evaluating 100's of pads...

As you know I've been preparing for MGC. I have an absurb amount of controllers, especially for Genesis, and they're all different.

It's amazing how many different 3rd party controllers there were. And there was clearly a surge in controller innovation in the late NES through Genesis era. There are numerous 3rd party controllers of wild designs for both of those. But after that, nothing. Saturn, Dreamcast, and Playstations saw either few 3rd party controllers, or the 3rd party controllers offered nothing different from the originals other than cheaper prices.

Well, I've been going through all of my controllers to test them for correct operation, and for performance quality. Obviously I don't want to keep for myself or sell controllers that are faulty in any way, so I need to identify all problems. And I want to make sure I keep a couple of the best performing ones for myself as well.

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Contents

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Variety

-NES

-Genesis

Problems

-Electronics Busted

-Action Worn

-Thumb Goo

Performance

-Button Action

-D-Pad Across Action

-D-Pad Diagonal Action

-Joystick Action

Some Picks

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Variety

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Just a sample of the variety of controllers:

NES:

Competition Pro Individual auto/turbo, slow, LEDs

Epyx 500XJ Joystick All-turbo

NES Advantage Joystick Individual turbo, speed, slow, 2 players

Nintendo

Nintendo Nes Max Individual turbo-buttons

Nintendo Power Pad NES-028

Nintendo Zapper Light Gun NES-005 Light gun Red

QuickShot QS-112 Joystick All-turbo

QuickShot QS-126 All-turbo

QuickShot QS-128N Joystick All-turbo, slow, 2 players

Sinsei Hyper Individual turbo, speed

Genesis:

American Laser Games GameGun Light gun Mortar/gun switch

asciiWare asciiPad MD-6 6-button Trigger C&Z, individual auto/turbo, slow

asciiWare asciiPad SG-6 6-button Trigger C&Z, individual auto/turbo, slow

asciiWare Fighter Pad 6-button Add'l trigger C&Z, Individual turbo, auto, slow

AsciiWare Fighter Stick SG-6 Joystick Individual turbo, auto, speed, slow

AsciiWare Power Clutch SG Joystick Individual turbo, slow, speed

Beeshu Striker Individual turbo, slow, stereo jack

Capcom Pad Soldier GS 6-button Grip-style

Competition Pro Series II Box only

Game Handler GH-002 Joystick All-turbo, slow, gyro D-pad

High Frequency Individual turbo-buttons, slow

High Frequency 6-button Individual auto/turbo, slow

High Frequency Clear 6-button Individual auto/turbo, slow

Konami Blue Justifier Light gun

Konami Pink Justifier Light gun

Performance Super Pad 6-button

Performance Super Pad 6-button All-turbo, slow

QJ SG ProgramPad 2 6-button Programmable, individual turbo, slow

QuickShot QS-150 Joystick A/B turbo, slow, speed, 2 players, flightstick

QuickShot QS-177 Joystick All-turbo

Sega

Sega 6-button

Sega Arcade Power Stick Joystick Individual turbo, speed

Sega Mega Mouse Mouse

Sega Menacer IR Unit Extra

Sega Menacer Light Gun Light gun Sight, shoulder, receptor

SG ProPad Individual turbo, speed, slow, programmable shoulder

Turbo Touch 360 Triax Turbo, touch-pad

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Problems

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There are three basic kinds of problems:

Electronics Busted:

I've encountered many controllers where something in either the PCB or IC is damanced. For instance, sometimes an autofire will be stuck on, or none of the buttons work, etc. In one case I actually found a fracture on a lead on the PCB and could solder bridge it, but usually these go into the "parts" bag.

Surprisingly, nearly every 3rd party SNES controller I've found is busted. By contrast usually only a few controllers for other systems are busted. Also, 1st party controllers are rarely busted.

Action Worn:

The most common problem is bad action on a button press because the rubber action pad is overused and no longer presses or bounces well, or it sticks. Other times, it can take a really hard press to get a button to register - for reasons unknown to me, this often happens with Start buttons, despite the relative infrequency with with the start button is pressed. This problem is usually easily fixed by borrowing a good rubber button pad from one of the busted controllers in the "parts" bag. In the case of Atari 5200 controllers, you have to erase the oxidation off the contacts sometimes.

Thumb Goo:

It's a fact, people who play video games have dirty sticky thumbs. A lot of controllers have sticky buttons just because there's thumb goo mucking up the sides of the buttons. This is easily fixed with some cleaning.

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Performance

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Performace is not as easy to gage as the other problems. At first it seems really subjective, but I've found some ways to objectify and test it.

Really the best way to test performance is by trying out special moves on fighting games. Of all controller molesting, these have the most precise, unforgiving requirements. 1/8 of a second to perform a perfect D2sec+DL+DR+F+A+C. It's amazing how much different a controller can make on this. Using a controller with poor performance, you can try all night and not pull off some moves. But they flow like butter over a knife on a good controller.

Of course, not all systems have a good fighter (especially earlier systems), and it can take a while to evalute this way. With so many controllers, it was beneficial to find a quicker way. I decided upon the following elements. I can test them out using the BIOS on most systems, and certain games (like Columns III/PuyoPuyoII) which have controller test functions.

Button Action:

The frequency with which you can rapidly tap a button means a lot for quick combo response. You can tell this pretty easily. A poor response happens when the range of motion between a press and release is too wide, making it too slow or awkward to press rapidly. Also, if the action is too hard (requires extra pressure to "snap" the button in), this hampers action as well. On all systems with shoulder buttons, the shoulder buttons are notoriously bad in rapid action. Probably due to the wide button with a single point of contact, and the fact that many of them use clicker chips, rather than rubber action pads.

D-Pad Across Action:

This measures how easily it is to move left and right quickly without accidentally touching up or down. This is quite hard, but often required for many special moves. On some systems' controllers, like SMS, NES and 3DO, this is no problem, probably because they didn't make use of diagonals much. But systems like sega and saturn that make more use of diagonals for fighters make it harder to properly switch left-right quickly without accidentally hitting up or down.

D-Pad Diagonal Action:

This measures how naturally the controller registers diagonals. You should be able to lean down from a right or left press and have it register a diagonal. But some controllers have a very small diagonal register, and you can't just lean down, you have to hit the diagonal distinctly. Some controllers have too large a diagonal register, and you can accidentally register diagonals while holding left or right.

All PoS-style controllers have worthless diagonal action. This includes PS1, PS2, and PSP (haven't tried others yet). This is because instead of having a fully-raised D-Pad (like NES), or having a floating D-Pad (Genesis, Saturn), it has a sunken D-pad, with only the cardinal directions exposed. There is no pressure point to activate a diagonal unless you can work your thumb over two cardinal directions. The analog joy-stick (dreamcast too) can often be used for directional motion. But the analog joystick doesn't have the same solid feel as a d-pad - it's a bit too loose.

Joystick Action:

All joysticks and arcade sticks have very good across and diagonal response. Where they vary in is the strength of the "click" and the range of motion. Some arcade sticks use rubber action, so there's no audible, and often no physical feedback when you activate a direction, which is how regular d-pads usually work. It feels more natural. But some arcade sticks use clickers, and some have really loud clicking sounds when you activate each direction, which can get annoying. Also, some require you to move very far left/right to activate the direction, which can slow you down. Lastly, some arcade sticks have rotating sticks, rather than fixed ones, which probably emulates an arcade feel better, but subjectively, feels kind of weird.

While arcade sticks are excellent for fighters due to the stick response and button placement, joysticks are usually used for 1st person action games (flying, driving, shooting), and as such the requirements for fighters/shooters don't apply.

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Some Picks

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Just some particularly interesting controllers:

The Turbo Touch 360 Triax (Genesis) is quick unique. It's like the I-Pod controller, only it predates it by a decade. You just touch on this pad area with your finger and it registers directions, and it's very accurate and responsive, and doesn't require any pressure.

The Game Handler GH-002 (Genesis) is also unique. It has gyroscopic action. You just angle the controller (shaped like a joystick handle) left/right/forward/back to register the D-pad. Depending on how far you lean, it performs taps on the d-pad faster and faster (like "steering control" on the Tyco Power Plug). However, the range and hysteresis is a bit too wide.

The QuickShot QS-150 (Genesis) is my favorite design. It's a flight stick with throttle-controls that control the A/B turbo speeds, and it has a thumb switch you flick to open up a panel to reveal the B/C buttons for missle launching - realistic! Action is kinda clicky, but it's just such a fun design.

The Naki Pro Player is fun arcade pad that it supports both the Genesis and SNES at the same time, and also has a really good d-pad action. It's good to bring those shoulder buttons into button-action, since shoulder buttons have notoriously bad action.

The Nyko Cobra Light Gun (dual Saturn/PS support) is the best gun action I've ever had on any system. It's sight and stability is dead on (unlike dreamcast), and it has a rapidfire speed selector that lets you go from auto-pistol to auto-vulcan cannon. There's little in life more pleasurable than double-handing two vulcan cannons in Virtua Cop.

Despite Dreamcast gun technology sucking hard, the Hais Pistol I found is the coolest of the lot. It's shaped like a small 9mm, and has excellent action and feel, and built-in vibration.
 

ExCyber

Staff member
Maybe this is too subjective for what you're trying to do, but I'd say that tactile feedback is an important factor. What I mean by this is, in short: is there some transition that you can readily feel between the pressed and released states, and how well does it correspond to the controller actually registering that state? I don't usually have this problem with gamepads, but it's a huge problem for me with e.g. cheap keyboards...
 
ExCyber said:
Maybe this is too subjective for what you're trying to do, but I'd say that tactile feedback is an important factor. What I mean by this is, in short: is there some transition that you can readily feel between the pressed and released states, and how well does it correspond to the controller actually registering that state? I don't usually have this problem with gamepads, but it's a huge problem for me with e.g. cheap keyboards...

Yep, I tried to cover this under Button Action:

A poor response happens when the range of motion between a press and release is too wide, making it too slow or awkward to press rapidly. Also, if the action is too hard (requires extra pressure to "snap" the button in), this hampers action as well.

I tried to quantify the "tactile response" in terms of the range of motion required to press, relase, and press again, and the force required to press. Similar to a keyboard, if the keys/buttons press easily, they require little force, which is easier on your hands, and if you do not have to press way down and release way back up for multiple presses (range/hysteresis), it feels more responsive.

Some buttons you can press rapidly just by a small thumb twitch - very light and very little hysteresis. Some buttons have a hard click and a longer range.

Interestingly, the shape of the button also factors in. For reasons unknown to me, the official Sega 6-button controller has regular buttons (concave-up) for A-B-C, but uses smaller, rounded buttons (concave-down) for X-Y-Z. Even though the action is good the buttons are less ergonomic, and moving from one button to another can be slightly more error prone.
 
One thing I forgot to mention under D-Pad Diagonal Action, is that all PoS-style controllers have worthless diagonal action. This includes PS1, PS2, and PSP (haven't tried others yet). This is because instead of having a fully-raised D-Pad (like NES), or having a floating D-Pad (Genesis, Saturn, which by the way is the undisputed champ of fighter d-pads), it has a sunken D-pad, with only the cardinal directions exposed. There is no pressure point to activate a diagonal unless you can work your thumb over two cardinal directions. I can't even play a shooter with a PS pad because I always go diagonal to evade bullets and it doesn't work. Luckily most games support the analog joy-stick for directional motion. But the analog joystick doesn't have the same solid feel as a d-pad - it's a bit too sloppy.

Another thing I forgot to mention was about joystick d-pad action. I have several arcade sticks for various systems. They all have very good across and diagonal response. Where they vary in is the strength of the "click" and the range of motion. Some joysticks use rubber action, so there's no audible, and often no physical feedback when you activate a direction, which is actually good, because regular d-pads don't have this either. It feels more natural. But some joysticks use clickers, and some have really loud clicking sounds when you activate each direction. Also, some require you to move very far left/right to activate the direction, which can slow you down. Lastly, some arcade sticks have rotating sticks, rather than fixed ones, which probably emulates an arcade feel better, but subjectively, feels kind of weird.
 
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