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Tactility and Ergonomics


Sam P
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From the power switch to the controller to the loading tray, much of the direct interaction between user and game machine happens through our fingers. The sense of touch is no doubt crucial in the link between man (or woman) and machine.

 

It is safe to assume that tactility and ergonomics are both heavily researched aspects of console design. Which is why I find the lack of general attention to the subject surprising. Though little thought is reserved for these interactions (certainly you don't think about how you're going to push the power button or how the button will respond), it is these subtleties that define much of our experience with a particular machine. This is ever more important in the controller.

 

I'm not simply talking about the functional. Things like pressure sensitivity, analog control, and adequate button selection are important, yes, but I'm talking about the general pleasure associated with operating the controller itself.

 

What are some things that you look for in a controller?

 

Here are some examples that immediately crossed my mind.

 

For non-pressure sensitive buttons, I like them to respond crisply, without any uncertainty. When they are pushed in, I want to feel a delicate "click" and I want them to stop firmly and without ambiguity. Some buttons feel like they can be pushed in forever, as if there was a layer of mush below the surface. Many MS Sidewinder pads are like that and they are wretched. I want to push the button in and feel a brick wall.

 

For example, the buttons on the GBA SP are very good. Just the right amount of travel, clicks satisfyingly with very solid stops. However, they have a little too much lateral play. Otherwise they're close to perfect. The original Game Boy buttons were far from this good.

 

If I can recall my experiences with the original X Box controller, the X, Y, A, B buttons feel very good, though they aren't shaped correctly. The contours of the buttons protrude sharply outward and don't feel natural. The Controller S I have now has superb X, Y, A, B buttons, though they could use slightly more 'click'.

 

What about directional buttons?

 

Analog sticks I love. As long as the weighting is good and it has enough travel, most times I can't ask for more. Xbox, DC, PS2, (haven't spent much time with the GC) all excel with their analog sticks.

 

However, I find that the digital directional pads are easy to get wrong. Xbox's directional pad doesn't feel too great. I don't like how when you press the pad directly in the center the whole thing can be pushed in. That's ambiguity, and it's something I despise. The PS2's directionals are great, except when you use the "across" directions.

 

Pressure sensitivity is a great thing functionally, but the buttons don't tend to offer the level of sureness I like. They tend to be mushy, like the PS2's controller.

 

Another thing I like in the "feel" of a controller has much to do with the overall build quality. The Xbox decimates the competition. The case has a thick, impenetrable feel, it doesn't flex, and it feels heavy. You get the impression it can take alot of abuse. The PS2's controller doesn't give the same sort of suggestion.

 

Please add your thoughts! Perhaps list other aspects of controller design that affect it's pleasure (for you), and give examples of great controllers in the present or past and describe why. Or just chime in with anything regarding controller tactility!

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I find that my posture changes radically when I play my Gamecube versus Xbox / PS2. I am always relatively centered to the 'Box and PS2 because I am holding what amounts to an anchor. I find myself standing up and wandering around the room while using the Wavebird - also draping my legs over the chair and laying in different spots on the floor, all because I can! I look forward to just about any Cube game because the controller feels like an extension of my hands and is just that darn cool.

 

I would really feel liberated if I could play Live games with no wires.

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Originally posted by Ktulu@Sep 9 2003, 12:34 PM

With proper design sore thumbs are completely avoidable.

That reminds me of an ad in a very old issue of GamePro. It was for a device that was essentially a rubber thimble that the gamer would supposedly wear over the thumbs to prevent "gaming finger". I don't remember the game that they associated with the product but it was a space shooter like Phalanx.

 

So that I'm not completely off-topic, I also love a good solid stop to a button. A small click is nice, but not necessary. Regarding analog sticks I can compare and contrast the N64 stick (horribly flimsy feeling) to the GameCube stick (solid, sturdy, feels like it could take a beating). While I don't own a PS2, my PSX sticks are solid but have more play than I'd like. I like a good amount of tension in my analog stick.

 

I find that I rarely use a D pad anymore due to the proliferation of analog controls, but I like it to be of a decent size. The GameCube D pad is too small for my taste. I like the PSX D pad for it's no-center design. A click would be nice here, or a very limited range of movement.

 

I'm with Bryan in that the Wavebird grants me freedom that no other controller does, and it tends to change my ergonomic posture.

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I've found that I prefer the offset analog sticks that the xbox and Gamecube have, as opposed to the PS2 sticks that are evenly right next to each other. It's much more comfortable for me, especially in a FPS.

 

One thing I hate is dpads that have any kind of sharp edges

 

While I also dislike the sharp edges of a dpad, I really don't like the dpad on the xbox "Duke" controller which has NO edges. It's too hard for me to be accurate with.

 

I also wish Microsoft and Sony would make official wireless controllers. I love my Wavebird! If it had a better dpad and rumble, it would be perfect.

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I also wish Microsoft and Sony would make official wireless controllers. I love my Wavebird! If it had a better dpad and rumble, it would be perfect.

 

Im surprised they dont make a larger variety of 'official' controllers, seing as how they rape the consumer on the cost of every other peripheral they could be missing out on some coin.

 

I wouldnt mind having a slightly larger ps2 controller. Even if it was just the underside or the 'handles' that were larger I think it would help reduce fatigue. After sitting at a computer all day I notice videogame controller fatigue way more than I used to, come to think of it five years ago the thought wouldnt have crossed my mind :).

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I hate the Z-button on the Wavebird and don't really like the yellow nipple either. I modded my Wavebird by swapping out another control stick from the original controller and replacing the C-stick with it. The Z-button wouldn't be so bad if developers mapped lesser functions to it, say, the map, but having to repeatedly tap it in Tiger Woods Golf 2003 to affect the spin of the ball, for example, is inexcusable.

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The Cube controller is probably the best controller I've ever had the pleasure of using. It looks like the most unwieldy device ever, but when I pick it up it feels like it was poured into my hands. I love the way my fingers can dance over the controls quickly and easily.

 

Two problems though: The D-pad is a microsized useless POS. And the z-trigger is cumbersome as hell to use. Definitely things that need to be fixed up on the controller, but otherwise I like it.

 

The Dual Shocks a nice pad too, especially for playing Smash TV ;).

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I like big controllers. Ones that have smooth handles so I can get a nice firm grip on them. I don't like the Sony controllers because they actually feel overloaded with buttons. Aside from those little stubs they have, it's practically impossible to hold them without touching a button and I don't really like that. The Gamecube controller isn't bad but I don't like small size and the button design isn't something I've gotten used to in the admittedly few times I've used them. So I like the Xbox controllers a lot. Even though I liked the original controllers, I like S-controller just as much because even though it's billed as being smaller than the original Xbox controller, it's still pretty big and has a solid grip on it.

 

I also love it when a controller feels solid. The ultimate example of this is probably the NES gamepad, which was so solid that it felt like you could throw it off a cliff and still plug it in and and play on it. I never liked the Geneis controllers because they were fragile compared to Nintendo's controllers. I don't think I ever knew a Genesis owner who didn't own at least one ruined controller, with stuff rattling around inside and the buttons all screwed up.

 

Another thing I like, but which probably won't ever happen again due to the rise of trigger buttons, is the ability to lay the controller on my knee or on the floor and use the face buttons almost like a keyboard. I used to be really good at mashing buttons very accurately and very quickly because I was using all of my fingers instead of only my thumb :)

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Regarding analog sticks I can compare and contrast the N64 stick (horribly flimsy feeling) to the GameCube stick (solid, sturdy, feels like it could take a beating).

 

Good call on bringing in the N64. It has a pretty lousy analog stick - full of friction, too much on-center play, and an unpleasant feel to the tip. Adding insult to injury it also wears out like nothing else. The rubber tips of the PS2 analog sticks I really like. The X-Brick's are also great in that they have slight indentations to guide your thumbs.

 

I haven't spent much time with the Gamecube pad, other than trying demos at stores, but those are pretty poor representations of what a properly working pad should feel like.

 

I wouldnt mind having a slightly larger ps2 controller. Even if it was just the underside or the 'handles' that were larger I think it would help reduce fatigue.

 

I think that's mostly a function of hand size. The PS2 controller fits mine superbly, but my hands are rather small (as an aside, there is no scientific correlation between hand size and, you know, the other size). The Xbox original controller felt like holding on to a tree trunk, and the controller S is about perfect. A teeny bit smaller wouldn't hurt, though.

 

I also like the concept of the breakaway cable for the 'Box controllers. A nice touch. I remember having yanked the featherweight N64 around before a few times by the controller cable.

 

The Dual Shocks a nice pad too, especially for playing Smash TV .

 

Or playing "smash Mark's head". :twisted: :D

 

is the ability to lay the controller on my knee or on the floor and use the face buttons almost like a keyboard.

 

I used to do it alot playing the original Soul Calibur. You know, A+G, A+K, things like that.

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Wait, is Smash TV an actual game, or was Mark being witty by implying the PS2 controller is good for nothing more than venting rage?

 

:lmfao: Nurse, we need 20 ccs of classic gaming, stat!

 

Big Money! Big Prizes! I love it!

 

Smash TV is the spiritual successor to Robotron and is in fact played with two joysticks in the arcade. One to move your character, the other to shoot his gun in direction X. Williams released an excellent port on their arcade classics disc for the PSOne. The Dual Shock is perfect for replicating the arcade control to a t.

 

Great bit of fun. I do own a PSOne Sam ;).

 

A true arcade classic, and heaps of fun. Utterly bizarro humor. Watch out for the flying eyeball! But if you have ever wanted to blow up a cyborg tank to see its underwear, Smash TV is your type of game :P.

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Originally posted by Pharmboy@Sep 9 2003, 07:21 PM

Williams released an excellent port on their arcade classics disc for the PSOne.

And don't forget in about 2 months we'll have Smash TV for all the new consoles, along with the following games on ONE DISC for only $20 bucks....

 

Spy Hunter, Defender, Defender II, Gauntlet, Joust, Joust II, Paperboy, Rampage, Marble Madness, Robotron 2084, Bubbles, RoadBlasters, Blaster, Rampart, Sinistar, Super Sprint, 720, Toobin', Klax, Splat!, Satan's Hollow, and Vindicators.

 

discussion here: Midway Arcade Treasures

 

Heck Ya!

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But if you have ever wanted to blow up a cyborg tank to see its underwear, Smash TV is your type of game.

 

Boy, I've always wanted to do that! ;)

 

Right.

 

I know it would be far more appealing had I played it in the arcade. Old arcade games are those things you always remember fondly.

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Originally posted by adamsapple:

I modded my Wavebird by swapping out another control stick from the original controller and replacing the C-stick with it.

 

That's actually a pretty damn good idea. I think I may try this out with one of my own GameCube controllers. My biggest gripe with that controller has to be the C-stick. I'm okay with it for most games, but for anything requiring a dual analog control scheme like a FPS, I absolutely hate using it for any period of time. I love that the Xbox controller S has two analog stick that are exactly the same. It's much more comfortable. If I could fix that for the Cube, I may be more inclined to play FPS games on it.

 

Do you have any advice to share before I attempt to do this mod, adamsapple?

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It was actually pretty easy, you're just swapping the sticks. The hardest part is the screws, they're those proprietary Nintendo tri-wings. Either use their special screwdriver (you'd probably have to order this online), or use a 1/16" or 2mm flat-head screwdriver. I read about this mod somewhere, but I can't find the link anymore. The guy also lengthened his sticks so he had really minute control, but I didn't see the need to go that far. I'll post some pix in this thread.

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