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Let's Talk Video Games

What About The D-Pad?

For many years, until the arrival of 3D printers, there was an occasional expression in computing that, had printers evolved as fast as other technology, we’d have instant magazine quality reproduction at dirt cheap prices by now. Instead we had awkward, temperamental, unintuitive and often illogical pieces of beige plastic.

In the gaming world, the closest conundrum we have to that is the humble dpad. Now I don’t know if it’s just me, but after being around for 30 years, why is it that only one company (Nintendo) appears to be able to make a decent one, and even then they haven’t nailed it on a home console since 1992?

Why must it be that in an age that can produce graphics and physics of unbelievable detail and quality, we are still largely at the mercy of ineffectual design and fate when it comes to using a dpad to control anything.

I bought Streetfighter IV at launch for the 360. Fighting games rarely feel natural with analogue sticks, but after a few days of having my down presses mistaken for diagonals, and my diagonals mistaken for left or right I just wanted to throw my controller out the window. I went crawling back to the analogue sticks asking for forgiveness and a second chance like a cheating lover.

It isn’t just Microsoft, after the beautiful precision of the NES, Gameboy and SNES pads, the Gamecube and Wii direction pads felt too small and too imprecise. Sure they were better than the 360, but they could have been so much better. I tried to do “The World’s Most Well Known Cheat” (Up, down, left, right, A and Start) the other day on a Gamecube pad, and I kept having to reset the game because it was too imprecise to read it.

I don’t know if you recall the dpad on the Master System, but it was absolutely hopeless, probably the worst one ever made, and to be worse than the Atari Jaguar on controller design is quite some achievement. The pad was a squishy mess that felt like trying to be precise with a wodge of jelly, and the 360 one isn’t a huge amount better. Anyone who has ever bought a PC gamepad will know what I am talking about too.

Sony have been the closest to recreating the SNES magic, the Playstation dpad design was solid, but still prone to the odd misplacement. Sadly I’ve always found their analogue sticks to be weak, which spoils things somewhat, and the less said about the PSP nub the better.

Oddly, the often forgotten NeoGeo Pocket got close, with an interesting clicky dpad that gave you confidence. However the clicking was liable to drive anyone sat in your vicinity to acts of spontaneous violence.

Why is one of the simplest bits of gaming technology so incredibly difficult to get right? All I really want is a dpad that when I press it, I feel like I know what direction it is actually going to register. I’m sick of playing games and having no confidence in the controller registering what I actually want it to.

So in the unlikely event that someone in the R&D departments of Sony or Microsoft read this (It’s too late for the WiiU now), please give us a proper trustworthy dpad. I love having 800billion polygons, textures with the detail of DaVinci, and 50 speaker surround sound, but what I really really want, is a dpad I can rely on.

Is it really too much to ask? (Or maybe it IS just me.)

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Rob is an advertising strategist and author of 'The Ad Pit' blog. Rob has been playing games for 25 years - which makes him feel very old. He used to have a victory ratio of 40:1 in Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, but that was a long time ago! #dogyears

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  1. The very worst dpad has to be the one on the CD32…it wasn’t too bad on its own, but when you glued the stupid plastic thing on it was just a joke

    • @Simon Burns Oh I remember that! Crazy contraption. Will be hard to be less precise than the Master System though, if a game required more than left or right you were screwed!

  2. The Mega Drive’s controller was pretty decent.

    • Yeah, quite liked the megadrive one, actually quite underrated

    • It was definitely a huge step up from the Master System, I never found it as accurate as the SNES though.

  3. Just got the Wii u. Dpad is nice and big but slightly loose

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