The Evolution of Video Game Controllers

There is not much going on recently and I’m swamped with some boring work. But look at this cool poster I found:

It is a beautiful chart illustrating the evolution of video game controllers. I’m especially fascinated by the upper part of that chart. I have never seen an Odyssey but the weird controllers already caught my attention before. The Odyssey was a far cry from a “real” video game so it’s fascinating how much it resembled a console superficially. The idea of a hand controller was kinda there. But it was just an awkward box. The designers didn’t seem to have any clear idea how people would use it. At least it’s not obvious. A good review of the Odyssey I can recommend is the one by the Angry Video Nerd. The “Nerdy Turd” bit may not be his finest moment but the video gives a very good idea of the Odyssey and especially it’s controller.

Another interesting controller is the one from the Intellivision and ColecoVision. The interesting part is that both controllers are very bizarre, yet very similar. They both feature a numerical keypad which I’m guessing was a standard module that could be bought in large quantities. The Intellivision one features a weird rotating disk. There are some additional buttons but they are all over the place. Again, as with the Odyssey, it seems like the people that came up with them had a clear idea on how players are supposed to hold them. As with the Odyssey, the Nerd has a video on both, the Intellivision and ColecoVision. I recommend both.

Intellivision and ColecoVision Controllers

Intellivision (left) and ColecoVision (right) controllers.

Technically, the process shown by the poster isn’t evolution. Evolution usually refers to a process without a conscious designer. On the other hand, design was as still is rarely recognized as a vital consideration in the creation of products. In many ways, the process has an unconscious, random quality to it. We’ve come a long way, baby.

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

2 responses to “The Evolution of Video Game Controllers”

  1. Nick LaLone

    Man do I love me some Intellvision. I own 3 of them. Dragonfire is a model all videogames should follow!

  2. vbnfgh

    Evolution is the change over time in the proportion of individual organisms differing in one or more inherited traits. I find the use of this word in the poster very appropiate.

    We could think deep about how process implies design and how design implies consciosness.


The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


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