Anyone who has read my previous posts knows I’ve been obsessed with game controller design for a long time. My obsession has led me to three overall questions/conclusions:
- The Japanese SEGA Saturn controllers (and the genuine SEGA-produced Genesis 6-button controller modeled directly after its internal design) have the best D-pad ever designed — but why?
- The “transforming d-pad” on the new 360 controllers works bettter but still has some problems — why?
- Convex-shaped analog thumbsticks are superior to concave-shaped analog thumbsticks — but why?
I have analyzed each of these topics with OCD-like attention and have come up with some explanations/answers that are actually very interesting. This post will address points 1 and 2, because they are related.
The one remaining problem with the “transforming D-pad” on the new xbox360 controllers is that it is still a tip-prone teeter-totter. Meaning, as you are trying to cleanly switch from pressing “left” to “right”, it’s all too easy for the d-pad to accidentally “tip” up or down enough to erroneously activate one of those vertical directions. This is what still infuriates many players of games like PacMan CE DX, which require accurate split-second 4-direction controls.
SEGA solved this problem in the 1990s with their D-pad design for the 6-button Genesis controller (same design used in the Japanese Saturn controller). They eliminated the tip-prone nature of the d-pad by eliminating the central pivot point altogether! See the following illustration:
I bought an old 6-button Genesis controller (the good SLS-manufactured ones, not the crappy knock-off ones manufactured by Jalesco or whoever it was and rebranded with the SEGA logo) off eBay and took it apart. I also bought off eBay a pair of the new (2009) SLS-manufactured and reissued-only-overseas “Saturn” controllers that are USB for use with PCs, and took one of them apart. The controllers are cosmetically different on the outside and have a slightly different feel, but they use the same D-pad design as illustrated above. The Saturn USB controllers, when used with emulators like MAME or KEGA Fusion, are far more accurate and “less frustrating”-feeling than the D-pads on either the PS2 or Xbox360 controllers I also hook up to my PC. The SEGA pads truly are the best design, even after all these years.
Which leaves me wondering, why don’t all the modern game makers use that design? Surely whatever patent(s) (if any) SEGA held on the design have expired by now. Maybe it’s just because the engineers at Microsoft and Sony and various third-party controller makers are unaware of this design.