In 1997 Sony’s Teiyu Goto designed what became the standard for video game controllers. The DualShock controller used a curved design that fits more comfortably in player’s hands. And the inclusion of two analog sticks allowed for a greater range of controller input. Sony’s DualShock controller ushered in a new standard for video game consoles. Now, almost all controllers look the same. Following is a transcript of the video.
Narrator: You’ve probably seen this before. It’s a PlayStation 4 controller. This layout is almost identical to the original DualShock controller, released in 1997. Sony has kept the PlayStation controller the same while competitors like Nintendo and Microsoft have dramatically changed their designs. And ultimately, competitors ended up on a similar design to Sony’s. So, what did Sony get right that others didn’t? When video games first entered the home in the ’70s, they were based on arcade games. Game design was simple and so were the controls. A joystick and a button were plenty for most consoles. But the Nintendo Entertainment System changed all of that.
TV: Incredible Nintendo Entertainment System. – Two controllers, zapper gun, and two game cartridges – Now you’re playing with power!
Narrator: Fast forward to 1983. The NES brought us classics like Super Mario Brothers and The Legend of Zelda. These games were more complex and required a controller to match. But unlike complicated controllers with bulky keypads, the NES separated inputs into two clearly defined groups, movement, and action. Turns out it’s not just the gamers who love the NES.
Neil Mansfield: I love the NES controller. It’s really lightweight and it’s really simple. You can pick it up and you know what to do. You don’t need to read a manual to understand it. It can mean you can have a very clean, clear gaming without having to get all of these fancy features.
Narrator: Nintendo followed up the NES with the Super NES in 1990, adding shoulder and X and Y buttons. The increased complexity enabled games like Super Metroid to add new abilities to the characters. Thanks to the shoulder buttons, Samus could aim up and down instead of just shooting straight. Sony owes a lot to Nintendo, but it was the DualShock controller, unveiled in 1997, that took Sony and gaming in general to the next level. Teiyu Goto worked on the first three PlayStations and his design was revolutionary. But what made this controller so special? Compared to the Super NES, the DualShock controller offered players a relaxed and comfortable gaming experience. It was wider, but not thick, and the handle design allowed players to grip the controller easily.
Neil Mansfield: It’s still got that familiarity so people were able to engage with it immediately. But it had those extra buttons in it. It’s a beautiful piece of design. There’s a lot of subtlety to it, and it isn’t trivial to position those controllers in that position. The angle, how you hold it, how it falls into the palm of your hand on either side. The angle of that control – it is in a natural position. And it’s key to get that correct.
Narrator: Just like the NES, you still had well-defined zones of movement and action. And the decision to put two analog sticks on a controller opened up new possibilities for game designers. Other companies rushed to mimic Sony’s design and the DualShock controller helped usher in a uniform layout.
Neil Mansfield: You will still see a PlayStation, Xbox type of controller in 20 years time. It was the recognition that you need to design for the user. That was actually, I think, what revolutionized controllers.
Narrator: There’s a reason why Sony’s controllers look almost identical 21 years later. Good design lasts, and this is what gamers and non-gamers have come to recognize as a controller.