Let Me Draw An Analog-y

If you think gold alloys and a carry handle on your cobalt blue car make it look cool, you're a moron

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.

The Konix Speedking... every reassuring click ensured it was impossible to "sneak game" while parents slept

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.

FIFA... thanks to the analog stick, you no longer need a drinking problem and a vacuous WAG to look like a twat.

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.

Take two bottles in to the shower? Not me, I just stand underneath this slobbering Cotto boxer dood and hope for the best. At least I'm ripped. Power pill, anyone?

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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6 Comments

  1. Rook says:

    The Nintendo 64 and Mario 64, how times did I start the game outside the castle and push the analog stick forward slowly to see the difference between tip toeing to walking to jogging to running. They have certainly changed the way we play our games, but as you mentioned, I still prefer the 3 click method for golf games.

    I was following the article nicely until you started talking about the football tactics and then I just read words but did not follow their meaning. If it’s not Microprose Soccer then I haven’t played another football game.

  2. MarkuzR says:

    I miss my Speedking. It was the greatest joystick I ever owned… not only did you have to learn an entirely new way of using it (ie holding it in the palm of your left hand and using your LEFT index finger for the trigger on the right hand side of the stick while your right hand controlled only the movement with a tiny stick) but it told you that you’d moved it by making this thunderous clicking noise every time you tripped one of the microswitches. You try playing a game like Track And Field on a stick like that and you’ll have the Noise Abatement Society coming around your house to install a limiter in no time.

    Thing is though, even though the Quickhots, the Pythons etc were all the most commonly used sticks at the time… they just didn’t feel right. They moved freely and had no give to them whatsoever so you COULD be moving the stick to northeast and wonder why it’s not making any difference…. well it’s because you’ve not moved it enough to regsiter, but the Speedking… DAMN you knew when you’d hit northeast because there’d be another almighty click.

    I love my XBox 360 controller though, but it’s likely because of the type of game that I play. It doesn’t necessarily need to produce precise movements for RPGs and so that’s probably why I’ve never had a problem with it. Having only ever used a keyboard or a joystick before getting my first XBox (original), I had never used a D-Pad before so I don’t have that basis for comparison as a means of movement. I can imagine that the loss of precision would be a nightmare though, especially in games where pixel perfect precision is required.

  3. The Preacher says:

    I can agree with some of what you’re saying, but not all of it. For one thing, I liked Gran Turismo, I love realistic driving games like GT and Forza, and I also played the first two in the series with the bog-standard d-padded Playstation controller, because I never had the analog Dual-Shock. I never really felt the need for the analog pad either, and it wasn’t until my Gamecube that I had a control pad with analog sticks. So I don’t see that Gran Turismo should take the blame for people being stupid or lazy and rushing out to get the analog controller because they simply sucked at the game.

    The best way to play a golf game is on PC; all the best golf games are PC games, like Links. Tiger Woods is fucking shite anyway. So the simple solution there is to simply buy a PC golfing game and use the mouse. Actually, same applies to people who can’t get along with analog control pads for FPS (a group I count myself in with, having grown up playing shooters on PC) or RTS or anything else. Mice and keyboard controls will always be superior to analog control pads for those kinds of game.

    You mentioned Super Street Fighter IV; easy answer to that one is if you’re that serious about the game, get one of the special controllers, either the pad or one of the arcade sticks, to play it. The arcade stick seems like a hefty outlay for one game, and it started off that way, but I now use mine for all fighting games on the 360, and there’s actually quite a lot of them around now. All the retro titles on XBLA, Street Fighter IV and Super Street Fighter IV, BlazBlue, Battle Fantasia, and soon also Marvel vs. Capcom 3. The only fighting game that really doesn’t work with it is Soul Calibur IV, so if you play a lot of fighting games and are serious about them, it pays for itself in the long run to have the proper controller. In fact, the arcade stick is cheaper now, they’ve reissued a new non-limited edition version of the Tournament Pro stick with a different housing design and cheaper packaging, to coincide with Super Street Fighter IV’s release this week, for just over £100, as opposed to the £160 I paid for the original version.

    In some cases, analog controls are definitely superior too. I play a lot of flight sims, and I’ve always known the value of a good analog flight yoke. If you get a cheap analog stick, or try to play with a d-pad or a mouse and keyboard in a flight sim, you’re just making life difficult for yourself, and it’s detracting with the simulation part of the genre in that people don’t fly planes that way in real life. You can control the sensitivity of the yoke, and actually, it is much much more precise for that kind of game. The old Microsoft Sidewinder Pro 2 ForceFeedback is the king of all flight yokes, and one of the best controllers generally, and I was mad as fuck when Microsoft decided to stop making them and didn’t bring out any new versions.

    Conversely, d-pads or micro-switch directional controls aren’t always that great. I have a football game on my Atari ST, which of course has 80s style micro-switch joypads, and it’s atrocious. Not because of the game so much, but because of the controls. You can’t get the depth of ball control where you’re forced to only ever shoot in 45 degree increments. It becomes predictable as anything for the defending player to position his keeper the correct angle away from your striker so that you cannot get past him without a great deal of luck in your favour, or, my favourite tactic, stealing the other guy’s joypad and kicking him away when he tries to retrieve it. A tactic that is sadly ineffectual against the AI.

    Analog and digital controls are like anything else. Each has its uses and its strengths and weaknesses, and the problem isn’t so much with the actual controls as with how developers implement them, and how people use them. Unfortunately, they are kind of skewed recently by the simple fact, as you pointed out, of d-pads on modern console controllers being utter shit. I loathe the Xbox 360 controller’s d-pad with a fierce and abiding passion. If manufacturers could make controllers with excellent analog and digital directional controls both present, then developers would be better able to implement the right one for the individual game they’re making.

  4. richie says:

    For sure there are alternatives and heading over to PC gaming land is the obvious choice (although playing anything on this old bastard is like kicking it in the balls), but for me it’s more about the console games and a general shift away from digital to analog, even if both options are supported.

    The best example is Tenchu, it felt precise and perfect on the PS1 and ever since it’s been analog all the way with the d-pad just selecting weapons that you are actively encouraged to not use (there’s a score bonus for using no items).

    I do have a Fightpad (unopened) and a Hori stick but any game’s controls can feasibly be improved by bringing out different hardware I guess. I used to own on SF2 on my old Snes pad. Well not own, but I could pull off a Dragon Punch without jumping around like a flid.

  5. Adam says:

    The Anger in this had me laughing all the way to work Richie, Loved it :D

    I was a D-pad purist untill Timesplitters on the PS2 and then the love affair ended.

    Still, got nothing on WASD.

    Much <3 Richie!

  6. Lorna says:

    Another great post Rich :) Loving the anger ;) Thankfully I don’t tend to play fighters and the like so the joys of the 360′s D-pad have yet to make themselves known to me. I remember the good old days of the Kempston joystick controls…and teh big red button which would get stuck down as it aged.

    Though I never used the N64 a great deal, I loved the controller – great design too. The 360 controller is fine and I have no probs with it, but I’ve gamed with a chatpad attatched to it for so long that it feels like shit if I have to switch to a different controller now…the weight is all off.

    Getting used to the anaog stick for some players can be tricky if they aren’t used to it…my sister, trying the 360 for the first time couldn’t get used to having a thumb on the right stick while playing Fable 2 and as such, the camera was all over the place. Must say that it has become pretty much second nature now, so that if I don’t use it, it throws me off a little.

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