Let Me Draw An Analog-y
Gran Turismo has a lot to answer for. Firstly, it sucked the fun right out of driving games. Let me buy new cars, yes, that’s a good thing (especially if they shoot homing rockets at evil ice-cream vans) but don’t make me fuck around with the exact settings on the suspension or pick the exact flywheel for the Nuremburg Rally or whatever it’s called. I haven’t got the time for all that and true petrolheads shouldn’t be catered for anyway. They’re all out driving their Subarus at 90mph outside the local primary school while listening to Meatloaf/Red Hot Chilli Peppers/Bass Apocalypse Vol. 12 (dependent on age).
Also, don’t forget that old shepherd’s saying “Feeder on the soundtrack? Your game be well wack.”
Mainly though, it ushered in a complete paradigm shift when it comes to how we control our games. You see, Gran Turismo was the primary reason why everyone wanted the Dual Analog PlayStation pad. From this moment, the humble d-pad that I’d known and loved ever since I owned Donkey Kong II (the Game & Watch version) was doomed. Doomed to spend its remaining days allowing you to switch between frags and flashbangs or switching on your infra-red goggles.
These days, the left analog stick is unquestionably the default movement controller for pretty much every genre even on XBLA and PSN, which are retro-fuelled services that hark back to an era where it was d-pads or micro-switched joysticks all the way, but even the facia buttons now often take a back seat to the right stick and while it’s a smoother control method the precision is often lost.
Who do we blame? Well Sega firstly. I mean fucking hell, I loved the Dreamcast but the d-pad was Fritzl-esque in its hatefulness. Also, you need to play to your strengths sometimes which means not trying to put Unreal Tournament, MDK2 and Quake 3 on your system and asking me to look around and aim using the facia buttons.
Then we have Microsoft, who decided that after creating a joypad large enough to use as desk for their first console, they then followed it up with one of the all-time worst d-pads of all time. Indeed, even the simple task of switching weapons with the 360 controller usually results in your thumb sliding off and piercing your retina, while the d-pad retains roughly the same responsiveness as a sponge at a Coldplay concert.
Finally we have EA, who for better or worse, are the biggest advocates of the analog sticks, crowbarring them into every genre conceivable.
Firstly they came for the golf games but I wasn’t a golf game, so I did nothing. Instead of the sheer perfection of the three-click method that we all grew up with, suddenly I’m using the analogue stick to mimic swinging a club. This invariably ends up with me driving off rather less well than Princess Diana’s chauffeur. What was wrong with the likes of PGA Golf? I’ll tell you. NOTHING.
Then it was the hockey games. This didn’t bother me too much as hockey games are shit for one reason. The shooting. Trying to aim a tiny projectile that is heading towards me at roughly the speed of light into a goal the size of a carton of milk has always been an action more based around luck than skill. However, it wasn’t just the shooting that they changed, suddenly all your skill moves were mapped to the right stick and while it wasn’t too noticeable in the high-speed world of hockey games, moving your skill set to the right stick would come to change another sports genre forever.
Football, now that’s a sport worth simulating. From Match Day and SWOS to FIFA and PES, every system needs a great football game. The Dreamcast didn’t have one and look what happened there. When it comes to the last few generations, football has been all about Pro Evolution Soccer and the FIFA series.
Recently, FIFA has upped its game and is widely regarded as the connoisseur’s choice. Pretty much everything that happens in the world of football is covered in FIFA (apart from y’know racism, violence and alcoholism). On the pitch there are literally a staggering amount of moves to choose from. From spins, fakes and flicks to the more audacious skill moves that only the likes of Messi and Ronaldo can do, everything is modelled and accessible with a twiddle of your right thumb.
The problem is, most of it doesn’t work very well. Don’t get me wrong, FIFA is tremendous these days (albeit they seem to be treading water now rather than continuing to innovate) and almost perfect if you just play a passing game, but when you’re running at speed towards a defender and you twirl that right stick to pull off a move, the chances are you’ll do the wrong one and even if you get the right one, you’ll be losing the ball. In PES (when it was good), you could, with just the d-pad, shimmy from left to right, successfully selling the defender the dummy. Skinning a player in real life is about body movement and dropping your shoulder. Rotating your foot around the ball like you’re Michael Flatley just makes you look a twat. An impressively skilled twat, but a twat all the same.
Analog controls can work well though. Fight Night for example used the analog sticks to accurately bob and weave as well as letting you deliver all your punches from the right stick. Hooks, straights and uppercuts were all easily accessible and, more importantly, it felt satisfying. Dodging your opponent’s incoming haymaker and then, in one continuous motion, delivering your own remains one of the best feelings you can get in a fighting game but all too often analog controls are just there to be different. SKATE deservedly took the skating genre trophy from Activision’s Tony Hawk series and felt like a breath of fresh air after ten years of the same Bam Margera infested shit but anyone trying to pull off a laser flip and instead hitting a fucking pop-shuvit for the twentieth time in a row will miss the days where square flipped and circle grabbed and your d-pad was the modifier.
Analog is supposed to offer precision, but unless you’re adept at pushing one of the sticks twenty percent forward, everyone knows that repeatedly tapping up on the d-pad is better for micro-adjustments. A quick play of the original Tenchu will reveal that, even if it does make Rikimaru look like Michael J. Fox at times.
With shooters, racers, flight sims, beat ‘em ups and everything else now adopting analog as standard, the horse has pretty much bolted and d-pads will continue to be a relic of a bygone age but when you’re playing Super Street Fighter IV and your attempt to pull off Eddie Honda’s Torpedo move sees you jumping, ineffectually, towards your opponent, remember that it wasn’t always this way, kids.
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