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Gamepad: Everything You Need To Know About


A gamepad is a type of game controller that is held in two hands and uses the fingers (particularly the thumbs) to provide input. They are commonly used as the primary input device for video game consoles.

Gamepad Explained

Gamepads typically feature a set of buttons controlled by the right thumb and a directional controller managed by the left thumb. The directional controller, historically a four-way digital cross (also referred to as a joypad or D-pad, never as arrow keys), has evolved with modern controllers often incorporating one or more analog sticks.

  • Shoulder buttons, also known as “bumpers,” and triggers positioned along the edges of the pad (shoulder buttons usually function in a digital on/off manner, while triggers are typically analog) are common additions to the standard configuration. Additionally, centrally located start, select, and home buttons, along with an internal motor for force feedback, contribute to the overall design. Analog triggers, as seen on controllers like the GameCube’s, are pressure-sensitive. Games can utilize the degree of pressure applied to these triggers to control the intensity of specific actions. For instance, the force with which water is sprayed in Super Mario Sunshine can be determined by how firmly the trigger is pressed.There exist joysticks that can be programmed to replicate keyboard input. Typically, these joysticks were developed to address the absence of joystick compatibility in certain computer games. An example of such a joystick is the Belkin Nostromo SpeedPad n52. Various software programs enable gamepads to emulate keyboard and mouse actions. These programs include both free and open-source options, such as Antimicro and Enjoy2, as well as proprietary commercial solutions like JoyToKey, Xpadder, and Pinnacle Game Profiler. These software tools facilitate the mapping of gamepad inputs to simulate keyboard and mouse actions, offering greater versatility and adaptability to different gaming experiences. Gamepad History

First Gamepad As An Analog Joystick

In 1962, for the control of the video game Spacewar!, initial input was managed through toggle switches integrated into the computer’s display. Due to the inconvenience and discomfort of using these switches, Alan Kotok and Bob Saunders undertook the creation of a distinct control mechanism for the game. This pioneering device is often referred to as the “first gamepad.”

Modified Variant Introduced In The Gaming World

It took several years for the gamepad to gain popularity, as joysticks and paddles dominated the video game controller landscape during the 1970s and early 1980s. However, some Atari joystick port-compatible pushbutton controllers were also available during this time. The video game market underwent significant changes during the third generation of video games, leading to the ascendancy of gamepads as the dominant controllers.

  • Nintendo introduced a gamepad device with a directional input feature called the D-pad for their Donkey Kong handheld game. This cross-shaped D-pad design was adopted for their “Game & Watch” series and console controllers like the standard NES controller. D-pads gained traction due to their compactness, making them suitable for handheld games, and their enhanced comfort compared to joysticks. The D-pad became a standard component of console gamepads, although most controller manufacturers utilize a cross in a circular shape for the D-pad to avoid infringing on Nintendo’s patent.
  • In 1985, the first gamepad was introduced, initially by Nintendo and later by Sega for their respective video game systems. Since then, various types of gamepads have been developed and marketed, but they all adhere to the same fundamental design.


nintendo gamepad

Gamepads On the Rise With Continued Improvements

The Sega Genesis/Mega Drive control pad initially featured three face buttons, though a six-button pad was later introduced. Similarly, the SNES controller boasted six action buttons, with four face buttons arranged in a diamond pattern and two shoulder buttons positioned for use with the index fingers. This design, which many controllers have since adopted, was influenced by the popularity of the Street Fighter arcade series, which employed six action buttons.

  • Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, analog joysticks dominated as the primary type of PC gaming controller, while console gaming controllers primarily utilized digital controls. This dynamic shifted in 1996 when all major console manufacturers incorporated analog controls as an option. The Sony Dual Analog Controller featured twin convex analog thumbsticks, the Sega Saturn 3D Control Pad included a single analog thumbstick, and the Nintendo 64 controller integrated both digital and analog controls in one unit. This marked the trend of having both an analog stick and a directional pad.
  • Notably, despite these developments, gamepads largely continued to follow the template established by the NES controller: a horizontally oriented controller with two or more action buttons situated for use with the right thumb, along with a directional pad positioned for use with the left thumb.
  • Outside of the home console market, gamepads have encountered challenges in gaining significant traction, notwithstanding the popularity of various PC gamepads, such as the Gravis PC GamePad.

Gamepad With 3D Control

Even as three-dimensional games gained popularity in the mid-1990s, game controllers remained primarily designed for two-dimensional movements. To navigate with six degrees of freedom in these games, players had to hold down a button to toggle the directional pad’s axis, allowing movement along different axes one at a time, rather than simultaneous control along all three axes. The Fairchild Channel F, one of the earliest gaming consoles, did have a controller with six degrees of freedom, but the console’s technical limitations prevented any software from utilizing this capability effectively.

  • In 1994, Logitech introduced the CyberMan, which was the first practical controller offering six degrees of freedom. However, it faced poor sales due to its high cost, subpar build quality, and limited software support. Industry insiders suggest that CyberMan’s prominent failure and high price point played a role in the gaming industry’s limited interest in developing 3D control solutions in the following years.
  • The Wii Remote, introduced by Nintendo, presented a different approach. Resembling a television remote control, it included tilt sensors and three-dimensional pointing capabilities, enabling the system to detect movements and rotations along all axes . The controller also boasted multifunctionality, with an expansion bay that could be used with various peripherals. The “Nunchuk,” an analog stick peripheral, also incorporated an accelerometer. However, unlike the Wii Remote, it lacked pointer functionality.

Gamepad Uses

Gamepads are not limited to gaming consoles; they are also used with personal computers. Some examples of PC gamepads like the Asus Eee Stick, the Gravis PC, the Steam Controller etc. To use console gamepads on PCs, third-party USB adapters and software can be employed. Controllers like the DualShock 3 & 4, DualSense, Wii Remote, and Joy-Con can be utilized with third-party software on systems.

Additionally, USB connections can be used for the DualShock 3 and DualShock 4. Microsoft offers official drivers that support Xbox 360 and Xbox One controllers on Windows PCs. For wireless connectivity, a dongle can be used, or the controller can be directly connected to the computer via USB .

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