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Vintage Video Game Controllers

Since our readers are mostly all members of the video game generations, I thought it would be cool to post this awesome collection of vintage video game controllers, collected, photographed and captioned by zadoc. Some of these I’ve used, most of them I don’t even recognize, let alone have any idea what to do with. How exactly did one play video games with a keypad? I don’t know, but it must have been fun at the time. With the speed at which technology advances these days, it’s amazing to see how rudimentary the video game industry 40 years ago. We’ve gone from a joystick to virtual reality vaginas in my lifetime, and it kind of makes me feel like my grandparents do when they reminisce about their first radio and bitch about the internet. Check out zadoc’s collection of vintage controllers…

1972 – Magnavox Odyssey


The very first video game controller. It has three knobs. One that controls vertical movement, one that controls horizontal movement, and one that give english to the ball. It also has one button.

1976 – Fairchild Channel F


The controller features 8-way directional movement and for actions; twist left, twist right, plunge, and pull up.

1977 – Atari Video Computer System (2600)


The VCS made the joystick the golden standard.

1977- Atari VCS (2600) paddle controller


For games like Super Breakout this controller was necessary.

1977 – Bally Astrocade


The controller is in the shape of a pistol handle, complete with grip. It has 8-way movement, a knob, and a trigger.

1978 – Magnavox Odyssey 2


The Odyssey 2 controller is a clone of the 2600 controller with better analog.

1978 – APF TV Microcomputer System


Commonly referred to by its model number, either M-1000 or MP-1000, the controller has a joystick, one fire button on top, and 12 face buttons. APF was a major player in the first generation of consoles, and before that they made calculators. Could you tell?

1979 – Mattel Electronics Intellivision


Mattel also thought a number pad would be handy. It could be used for selecting game variants or difficulty settings, and when used with an overlay it could also be used in the game. The “disk” is kind of the precursor to the d-pad. The controller also had action buttons on the side.

1981 – Texas Instruments TI-994/a


Okay, not a console. It was a popular computer in the early 80s. Basically a terrible version of the 2600 controller.

1982 – Coleco Industries ColecoVision


The ColecoVision controller has two action buttons, a 12 digit keypad, and a joystick. It’s a pretty solid joystick, but the controller is almost too large to fit comfortable in your hand.

1982 – Atari 5200 SuperSystem


This is the first time a start, pause, or reset button was featured on a controller. The innovation stops there. Its joystick stick doesn’t recenter and requires too much left and right action for fast paced arcade games, like Pac-Man or Mario Bros., but is well suited for Missile Command. It too has side action buttons and a number pad. It’s also very comfortable to hold. Unfortunately, the joystick puts it in the running for worst controller of all time.

1982 – GCE Vectrex


The controller features a center analog stick. It’s also the first in history to put directional controls on the left. Each button is analog too, another first. Vectrex creator Jay Smith explained the decision to put the directional controls on the left and not the right was modeled after military aircraft.

1985 – Nintendo Entertainment System


Nintendo had already been using the d-pad on its Game & Watch LCD handhelds. Now it came to a home console and became the de facto industry standard.

1986 – Sega Master System


The SMS controller is a copy of Sega’s SG-1000 Mark II controller, which is a copy of the NES controller.

1986 – Atari 7800


The 7800 was meant to be released in 1984. The controller design really reflects that. Two buttons and a centering joystick. Atari would later release a controller with a d-pad.

1987 – Bit Corp. DINA 2-in-One


Also called Telegames Personal Arcade. It plays Sega SG-1000 and ColecoVision games. The controller is a clone of the SG-1000 controller.

1987 – Worlds of Wonder ActionMax


The console only plays light gun games.

1988 – View-Master Interactive Vision Television System


Forget what I said about 5200. This is the worst controller ever.

1989 – Sega Genesis


The Genesis features a stiff, responsive d-pad and a third action button. At the time critics were worried that three buttons would be too confusing for gamers to use.

Sega Genesis 6-button controller


In 1993 Sega made the 6-button controller standard. Games like Mortal Kombat II were virtually unplayable without it. Pictured is the infrared model.

1989 – NEC TurboGrafx-16


A clone of the NES controller, but adds turbo switches as a standard.

1991 – Super Nintendo Entertainment System


The SNES upped the ante by adding a fourth face button and two shoulder buttons. The diamond configuration would become the industry standard.

1993 – 3DO Interactive Multiplayer


The standard 3DO controller has three face buttons and two shoulder buttons. Some games actually also use the X and P buttons, which are like start/select. A 6-button controller would also be released that adds them as face buttons.

1993 – Atari Jaguar


Like 3DO, the Jaguar controller is inspired by Genesis. It also adds the classic number pad, which was convenient for games like Alien vs. Predator, so you could change weapons on the fly without scrolling through inventory. Games that supported it came with overlays.

1994 – Sega Pico


In addition to the stylus there were also buttons on the console, but the pen was used for most things.

1995 – Tiger R-Zone


The four face buttons are connected, which feels really weird.

1995 – Sega Saturn


The Saturn controller is the Genesis 6-button minus the mode button and with the addition of L/R buttons.

1995 – Sega Saturn 3D Pad


The 3D pad adds an analog stick and makes the triggers analog as well. It was shipped with NiGHTS… Into Dreams and some other games make use of it.

1995 – Sega Saturn


I guess people hate the original U.S. Saturn controller. Sega replaced it with this one, which is a little smaller, has differently shaped L/R buttons, and a more traditional (but IMO more loose) d-pad, but is otherwise identical.

1995 – Sony PlayStation


Having worked with Nintendo previously on the SNES-CD project, Sony decided they preferred the Nintendo diamond configuration to the Sega 6-button format. Sony also added two L and R buttons. Pictured is the “DualShock” controller, which features two analog sticks and a rumble feature. Further, the analog stick could be pressed in for L3/R3 features. The original controller lacked these features, but I don’t have it. The pictured DualShock actually became available in 1997.

1999 – Sega Dreamcast


The Dreamcast controller is an updated version of the Saturn 3D controller, except Sega decided that they better use a diamond configuration instead of six face buttons. The controller’s memory card, the VMU, contains a liquid crystal display that is used in some games. For instance, in D2 it’s a compass. In NFL 2K it can be used to select plays. It can also be used independently to play mini games.


Written By

Meghan MacRae grew up in Vancouver, Canada, but spent many years living in the remote woods. Living in the shadow of grizzly bears, cougars and the other predators of the wilderness taught her about the dark side of nature, and taught her to accept her place in nature's order as their prey. She is co-founder of CVLT Nation.

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