A wavebird of nostalgia: the history of the Nintendo GameCube controller
August 28, 2014 8:43 PM   Subscribe

“Our target user for this controller is not very specific, it’s very general, as even a beginner who has never touched the controller can use it, your grandmother can use, or even children with small hands can use it." Shigeru Miyamoto devoted more time and energy into the GameCube’s controller than any of Nintendo’s previous controllers. The NES controller was the first controller to add a D-Pad, the SNES controller would be the first to add shoulder buttons, and Nintendo 64′s controller introduced the analogue stick to 3D consoles. How would Miyamoto be able to top his previous three achievements? The Pressure to Create the Perfect Controller, from Dromble.com's Emily Rogers.

Previous Dromble and Emily Rogers on Metafilter: A Dolphin's Tale: The Story of GameCube.
posted by porn in the woods (32 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
The GC controller was so much better than the N64 controller. The N64 controller was such a bizarro compromise. Kudos for introducing the analog stick but you can tell they didn't quite know where it should go yet.
posted by zsazsa at 8:58 PM on August 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

The link isn't loading for me, but I just wanted to say that I'm amazed that each Nintendo console controller incorporated the previous generations controller in it, up until the Wii. Things got a bit crazy with the GameCube; their addiction to tradition came up with the weirdest 2nd gen 3d console controller, which is also in the running for weirdest controller ever.
posted by Yowser at 9:00 PM on August 28, 2014

The Wavebird is the best controller ever made. It's so fucking sensible and perfectly wireless. The Gamecube controller is so endearing that they're making a converter for them for the Wii U for SSBB4.
posted by Talez at 9:01 PM on August 28, 2014 [6 favorites]

Don't understand the love. The GameCube controller was so bizarre that I would forget the controls to Smash Bros, literally the day after a college Smash Bros get together.
posted by Yowser at 9:04 PM on August 28, 2014

So much love for the GameCube controller. The current-gen controllers are okay, but the GC controller just melts into your hands. The button placement of the A,B,X,Y buttons is so much more comfortable than the diamond pattern of the MS or Sony controllers. I'd still be using a GC controller on my PC if Lik Sang hadn't gone under. :(
posted by xedrik at 9:25 PM on August 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Such a satisfying controller. xedrik, "just melts into your hands" is the perfect description. And those shoulder buttons! *squeeeeezeCLICK!* The only thing that fell short was the d-pad.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:30 PM on August 28, 2014

A towering achievement which will never be eclipsed.
posted by kjh at 9:35 PM on August 28, 2014

Though the N64 controller gets a bit more flack than it deserves. Definitely had some major issues, but it felt so right once you got used to it, to the point that anything else felt wrong to me in that generation. The Wii nunchuck feels weird to me because it's basically the middle portion of the N64 controller but my brain always has this moment of thinking that it should be heavier.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:35 PM on August 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

Really interesting, but I don't really like her writing style... Kind of relentlessly focused, I guess. Interesting enough to keep reading, though.

After snes I never owned a Nintendo, but I coveted the wavebird for sure. Genius design compared to its contemporaries.
posted by Huck500 at 9:38 PM on August 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

The hierarchy of buttons on the Gamecube controller's face was my favorite part of the design, and I'm sad that its brilliance was disregarded by everyone. When I get on-screen instructions for an XBox or PS game, I generally have to look down. A diamond of identical buttons with arbitrary colors and symbols doesn't help me much. But a Gamecube game shows you a big green button or a little red one, and I can work that out immediately, even by touch.
posted by buriednexttoyou at 9:51 PM on August 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

It's like Smart Design made an OXO Good Grips game controller but actually better than the controller Smart Design made for reals.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:53 PM on August 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

For the people who think the GameCube controller is the best, Nintendo has your back: concurrent with the release of Smash Bros. Wii U, they're releasing an adapter to connect GCN controllers to the system. You can get the game, the adapter, and a brand-new controller in a bundle for $100.
posted by NMcCoy at 9:57 PM on August 28, 2014

Talez, I agree so much. The weight and heft were so absolutely perfect; the Wavebird was an utter joy to use. I honestly think it may be the single best game controller of all time.
posted by Itaxpica at 10:01 PM on August 28, 2014

For my money, the N64 controller has never been improved upon. Holding the ergonomic grips while blasting the perfectly-placed Z trigger for a kill in Goldeneye or Perfect Dark while strafing with the equally perfectly-placed yellow c-buttons just feels so damn right. If you ask me, the modern xbox/ps controllers, by comparison, feel like the original blocky and un-ergonomic NES controllers, the only improvement being the analog stick itself feeling less flimsy than their N64/Gamecube counterparts
posted by Perko at 10:10 PM on August 28, 2014

I seem to be in the minority here. Maybe I should pick up a GameCube wired or Wavebird controller again. Perhaps as a true adult I would be able to figure out what on earth the buttons are doing.
posted by Yowser at 10:15 PM on August 28, 2014

The Wavebird is the best controller I've ever used. Perfect shape, perfect weight. I should pick up a USB adaptor at some point and see if I can get it to work with computer- I like the 360 controller, but its D-pad is way too imprecise and it's too easy to accidentally press a diagonal instead of a cardinal direction.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:27 PM on August 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Don't understand the love. The GameCube controller was so bizarre that I would forget the controls to Smash Bros, literally the day after a college Smash Bros get together.

It's stars with the perfect analog stick. Not only is it responsive and just grippy enough but it's got this ingenious 8 way rim to make it easier for amateur gamers to function in 3D space.

Then we move onto the d-pad which is just SNES to perfection. Sadly the Saturn d-pad design is dead and buried, resurrected partially into the zombie fucking corpse of the Xbox 360 controller but the SNES d-pad is certainly the next best thing. And if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Then the C stick. Perfectly placed for being a 4-way move stick. What some of us discovered in the N64 days playing Goldeneye with 1.2 Solitaire style controls suddenly became oh so obvious (except to Retro who were obviously smoking crack. If it wasn't for L lock-on the whole Metroid Prime series would have been absolutely ruined). It moved the Nintendo generation firmly into FPS ready territory.

A button. Stuck right in the middle. Press this for the most useful thing. Dead fucking simple. It almost invites you to press it to see what it does in a game because usually, it'll be the most important thing.

The kidney X and Y buttons. Perfect idea. Compliment the large A button and are in just the right spots for your thumb to lean over and hit. The B style smaller button and red color are an instant "get me the fuck out" for getting through gaming interfaces. It's just all so intuitive.

Then we come to the Pièce de résistance. Those godlike triggers. Equipped with not only one of the best pressure sensitive mechanisms ever made, but also have a click mechanism built into them to use them as a secondary function. Absolutely ingenious. And their shape. It cradled your fingers. It was like having a lump of wet clay ready to mould underneath your fingertip.

And the wavebird? Take all of this, give it some nice heft, low latency RF controls and ridiculous fucking battery life off two AA batteries.

Prior to the Wavebird if you asked me what the perfect controller was I probably would have said either Dreamcast or Saturn analog. But the Gamecube controller was so utterly perfect it replaced that in an instant.
posted by Talez at 10:56 PM on August 28, 2014 [9 favorites]

I feel like everyone who remembers the GameCube trigger buttons fondly probably never played Luigi's Mansion or Super Mario Sunshine for more than, say, an hour at a time.

Still the ideal Smash Bros. controller, though.
posted by DoctorFedora at 11:36 PM on August 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

The thing about the modern Xbox controller that mystifies me is the trigger placement. The controller feels great in my hands when my index fingers are on the analog triggers. But then there's those digital ones above the analog triggers, so I either have to awkwardly move my index fingers up and down, or I shift the controller so my middle fingers are on the analog triggers (and my index up on the digital ones) which makes the entire controller feel like it doesn't fit in my hands correctly.
posted by straight at 2:05 AM on August 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

I like the gamecube controller, my main issue with it is a manufacturer's issue. When used enough, the A button would stick horribly. One solid play through of the first two Metroid Prime games would make the A button practically unusable.

This applies to both 3rd party and stock Nintendo controllers.

But the feel/sound of the trigger buttons is one of my favorite things.

(Also, the playstation dualshock controller is the best controller ever made. As evidenced by the fact that it hasnt really changed much in 17(!) years. I love my Nintnedo consoles, but sorry Nintendo.)
posted by Twain Device at 4:15 AM on August 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Perfect??? It was virtually unusable for lefties.

(Weirdly, I used to have this argument against the PlayStation controller. For some reason, subsequent iterations of the design (or, how games employed the controls) eventually evolved to the point where it became one of my favorites)
posted by schmod at 6:30 AM on August 29, 2014

(Also, the playstation dualshock controller is the best controller ever made. As evidenced by the fact that it hasnt really changed much in 17(!) years. I love my Nintnedo consoles, but sorry Nintendo.)

I'm sorry but that's not a virtue. The dual shock d-pad is a terrible piece of garbage and automatically eliminates it from best controller ever made.
posted by Talez at 6:33 AM on August 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

The original d-pad was horrible no doubt. I recently played an old psone game that didn't have joystick support and the memories of sore thumbs came rushing back.

However, the advent of the joystick on the Playstation controller(starting with the dualshock, shown above) fixed that issue. Granted the game developer had to support it, but that didn't take to long (by my recollection, which could be flawed I'll admit)
posted by Twain Device at 6:38 AM on August 29, 2014

You can't play a 2D fighter on a dualshock d-pad. I ended up buying a Saturn USB pad for the PS3 to be able to play MvC3. On the 360 side I was forced to grab a Mad Catz fight pad because the Xbox 360 d-pad is even worse.
posted by Talez at 6:47 AM on August 29, 2014

*Ctrl-F "c-stick"*

I am disappoint
posted by wikipedia brown boy detective at 7:28 AM on August 29, 2014

It goes : 360 -> Gamecube -> Dreamcast. I would put dreamcast higher (as at the time it was the greatest ever), but it's too "straight" and the triggers were slightly cheap. I would love to see a refined DC controller, a little more ergonomic.
posted by symbioid at 7:46 AM on August 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

I can't support the notion that the 360 is the best controller. Not after trying (and failing) to play SFIV on it.
posted by Talez at 11:39 AM on August 29, 2014

OK, fair enough - the d-pad on the 360 isn't good. I guess I'm thinking ergonomics and the analog sticks.
posted by symbioid at 12:17 PM on August 29, 2014

The XboxOne controller is amazing - they changed the d-pad to a proper one, finally.

I really want it for the PC now that they released the Windows drivers for it.
posted by littlesq at 4:33 PM on August 29, 2014

The Wavebird is my favorite controller ever - perfectly balanced and designed. And the battery life is absolutely bonkers - I can't remember changing the batteries in this thing more than once. Been loving it for over 8 years and it's a real shame Nintendo discontinued it right before the Wii came out - used ones are pricy.

I jam Midway's Arcade Classics for GC and Robotron 2084 and Paperboy play like a dream.

I'm voting Wavebird in 2016
posted by porn in the woods at 6:00 PM on August 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Totally on Team Wavebird--such fond memories of using it to play Pikmin. There's something about that design that reminds me a bit of the Sega Saturn 3D controller.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 11:23 AM on August 30, 2014

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