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In the Commodore and coin-op days, the joystick was the controller, with occasionally the trackball (for Marble Madness) and the paddle (for pong and similar concepts, e.g. Arkanoid). The use of the joystick remained alive in Amiga, and with the analogic joystick to some PC games.

Then suddenly the joystick disappeared, replaced by the gamepad. For the SNES/PSX era, joystick was simply a relic of the past. With the PS2, the thumbstick appeared, as a comeback to the joystick advantages, but still within an acceptable size.

My questions is: why did the full-stick joystick disappear?

Additional "opinion question": Would you be able to envision playing your games today with a full-stick joystick controller?

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As far as "why did it phase out", that is not really something we are suited to addressing here. The choice to migrate from full-stick joysticks was one made by the game companies, and while we gamers can provide educated and logical conjectures as to the reasoning, only the developers have the real answer. You might consider asking on the Game Dev SE for what some actual game developers think about it. –  Grace Note Jul 27 '10 at 14:36
    
@Grace Probably if there are ergonomic reasons, a gamer's opinion is most likely. I don't play a lot anymore, only occasionally. –  Stefano Borini Jul 27 '10 at 14:45
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Also, the engine is not quite suited for "opinion questions", please refer to the FAQ for more information –  jmfsg Jul 27 '10 at 14:45
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Even if gamers might have caused the change, it was the developer's decision to carry it out. And Juan covers the point about your secondary question, we're not really designed for opinion questions. Rather, we're a system for questions that can be solved. –  Grace Note Jul 27 '10 at 14:48
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How exactly is this off topic?! I disagree this is a matter of game development, sorry. –  badp Jul 27 '10 at 17:29

4 Answers 4

up vote 9 down vote accepted

why did the gamepad take over from the joystick?

Many reasons!

My tuppenceworth: I guess once the NES pad came out, people making gaming hardware just copied it.

Firstly, from a business point of view, it has less plastic in it than an old style 8-way joystick, and offers the same precision of movement. Gamepads are significantly more compact and less bulky to store than old school joysticks too. Cheaper to make, smaller, better for business.

Personally, I think the main reason is one of optimal interaction within the constraints of the product - you don't need to rest it on a table, it takes up next to no space, and it can be more or less covered in controls as long as the user can reach and use them all comfortably.

IMHO gamepads represent an evolution of the old school joystick, (where the fitness function includes cost, ergonomics, and functionality available at your fingertips) and so they've naturally taken over from joysticks.

Sure it's less buttons than you'd need for a PC flight sim (every button on the keyboard anyone?), but you just don't need that many buttons for the vast majority of games.

TBH, the thumbsticks on an X360 pad offer the same angular resolution as any typical flight stick; so the only real reason for the massive flight stick still existing is that players want to have a joystick that makes the experience feel as close to how they imagine the real thing as possible - certainly that's why I bought one of those massive flight yoke things with the throttle controls and about a billion hat-switches to play Apache Gunship in 2001 :)

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Yeah, console games just don't need all the buttons you get on a PC. If they did, then keyboards and other fancy controls would be common on the consoles. –  GalacticCowboy Jul 27 '10 at 16:56

This really depends what you're playing - platform and game style. I doubt we'll ever see, or really want, a full-size joystick for console gaming. However, the joystick is alive and well for PC games, where it is used for everything from FPS to flight simulation. On that platform, its advantages are that it is more precise than a gamepad and supports more axes than a gamepad. On the other hand, it is primarily a one-hand control vs. the gamepad that is operated with both hands. On a PC this makes sense since you would often have keyboard commands or a throttle control as well. On a gamepad, all of the controls are right in front of your fingers. It's a trade-off of convenience vs. simplicity, since only a small set of commands can be represented.

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Well actually for the gamepad you only need your thumb to steer, which gives you a better reaction time.

With a joystick you have to move your hand much further to get to the opposite direction, which is in fast games relevant. Plus: This actually makes you to afford more power than necessary, so that Joysticks have to be built much more robust.

Just my two cents

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This is the real reason. Try playing Super Mario Bros with a joystick and you'll see how much speed/accuracy you lose in movement. –  MGOwen Aug 17 '10 at 1:53
    
I agree with this: moving your thumb all the time is also a lot less work than moving your wrist all the time. –  BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Dec 2 '10 at 10:04
    
Not necessarly the case. Playing MK2 in the arcades, people learned quickly not to hold the stick but to put it between your thumb and index finger. Gave you much better control and easier to tap out the movies. –  Andy Jun 12 '11 at 18:21

There is a simple reason, the need for more buttons in a smaller place.

Generally, in the coin-op/commodore days, you had two choices:

  • the big cabinet with a full joystick and multiple buttons.
  • a smaller joystick featuring one or two buttons.

as you can guess, there is no way you can sell an home console, that need a coin-op controller strip, if you want to bring those multi-button arcade titles to the home users.

This can best be seen in the design of the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis control pad specifically created with first three action buttons, which were good enough for games like Golden Axe, and later on even 6 action buttons, to cater for games as Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat.

Now, there were of course other types of controllers before with a notable example from Atari: the Atari 7800 Pro-Line Joystick.

enter image description here

It is notable here for a specific reason: the ergonomic issues it had led Atari to release this:

enter image description here

(the stick is removable too)

Now, naturally, this isn't answer isn't complete without noting the controller that started it all: the Famicom controllers from Nintendo using a design from their handheld Game & Watch.

Source: The Wikipedia Gamepad article.

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Sorry, this is wrong in a number of ways. Several multi-button controllers had been on the market for years before Nintendo had a console. In the C64 years, there were already a number of other options: the Atari 5200, Colecovision and the Intellivision already had controllers with many buttons and smaller (or nonexistent) sticks. Nintendo didn't invent the multi-function controller by any means; they simply paired it with a system that caught on. –  Dave DuPlantis Jul 3 '11 at 1:41

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