The Evolution of the PlayStation Control Pad

It's perhaps the most iconic design in the world of game controllers, and definitely the longest-serving. Today in Total Recall, we look back at over 15 years of PlayStation control pads.

The primary PlayStation controller's basic appearance has survived with only minor changes since it accompanied the first console to the marketplace all the way back in 1994. Considering some companies radically change their pads every console, which can mean every 4-5 years, Sony's persistence (which some will call stubbornness) has resulted in a controller design which anyone familiar with a PlayStation pad since the mid-90s can pick up and be instantly at home with.

Alongside its iconic "handlebar" shape, PlayStation controllers have also become known for their use of symbols to mark their face buttons in place of letters. Sony's Teiyu Goto, the man who designed the controller, says "Other game companies at the time assigned alphabet letters or colors to the buttons. We wanted something simple to remember, which is why we went with icons or symbols, and I came up with the triangle-circle-X-square combination immediately afterward. I gave each symbol a meaning and a color."

"The triangle refers to viewpoint; I had it represent one's head or direction and made it green. Square refers to a piece of paper; I had it represent menus or documents and made it pink. The circle and X represent 'yes' or 'no' decision-making and I made them red and blue respectively. People thought those colors were mixed up, and I had to reinforce to management that that's what I wanted."

Scroll through the gallery below to read up on the history of those controllers, from the very first pad from 1994 right through to those used today. Note that only primary PlayStation control pads are included, not optional peripherals or controllers like light guns or the PlayStation Move.

Total Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.
(Top photo by kennymatic | Flickr)

The Evolution of the PlayStation Control Pad

PlayStation Controller - The first PlayStation controller released alongside the PlayStation, obviously, in 1994. Beginning the trademark "handlebar" design that persists to this day, the original PlayStation controller seemed designed with one eye looking forwards (with the inclusion of shoulder triggers) and one eye looking back (the only primary inputs remained a d-pad and four face buttons, exactly the same as the Super Nintendo). It lasted from 1994 to 1997, with only one minor revision being released in 1996 (which made slight changes to the controller's cable).

The Evolution of the PlayStation Control Pad

Dual Analog Controller - An experiment of sorts, the Dual Analog Controller was Sony's attempt at improving camera and directional controls in a 3D game by giving the player more precise input than a d-pad and trigger buttons could afford. Featuring two thumbsticks, it also included a central "ANALOG" button that, should a PlayStation game support the pad (earlier games obviously weren't coded to take advantage of the technology), when pressed would enable this improved control.

The Dual Analog Controller didn't just introduce new controls, though. Its first release in Japan also introduced rumble to the PlayStation controller family (again, though, only for titles which supported it), though the feature was quickly removed when it was found that the rumble engine used was highly unreliable. The Dual Analog Controller was first released in early 1997, yet was off the market only a year later.

The Evolution of the PlayStation Control Pad

DualShock - The reason the Dual Analog Controller had such a short life was because Sony had come up with what it felt was a superior take on the design: the DualShock. While it kept the same general design as the Dual Analog Controller, it had a number of important changes. Firstly, with the inclusion of two rumble engines (hence the name "DualShock"), the feature was able to be retained and released across all markets.

Secondly, while the Dual Analog Controller's plastic thumbsticks had inverted recesses for the player to rest their thumbs on, the DualShock's pads featured protruding rubber tips. Thirdly, the Dual Analog Controller's trigger buttons were "ridged", a small plastic bump helping players know where their fingers were resting; on the DualShock, this ridge was removed. And finally, the DualShock's handles were a full 1.5cm shorter than those found on the Dual Analog Controller.

The DualShock first entered the market in 1997, and while originally an optional accessory, it soon became the "official" PlayStation controller, included with all new consoles.

The Evolution of the PlayStation Control Pad

DualShock 2 - With the release of the PlayStation 2 in 2000 came a new DualShock, though at first glance, you wouldn't pick it. The DualShock 2 was almost identical to the DualShock in appearance, the only real differences being that the DS2's face buttons were pressure sensitive. Aside from that and some colour differentiations, though, they really were almost exactly the same pad; you could even use DS2 controllers on a PS1 and DS1 controllers on a PS2.

The Evolution of the PlayStation Control Pad

The Boomerang - When the PlayStation 3 was first shown off to the public, the most interesting thing about it wasn't the console's size, but the design of the controller, which with its sweeping curve looked set to be Sony's first major control pad overhaul in over a decade. Sadly, the company scrapped this design in favour of something more traditional by the time the console actually reached the marketplace in late 2006.

The Evolution of the PlayStation Control Pad

Sixaxis - A public relations disaster for Sony, the Sixaxis was the controller originally shipping with the PlayStation 3. While again almost physically identical to the last two DualShock controllers, the Sixaxis omitted rumble technology in favour of cramming some basic motion control functionality into the pad, a move which upset many users.

This Sixaxis wasn't a complete write-off, though: it did introduce Bluetooth wireless connectivity to the PlayStation family of controllers.

The Evolution of the PlayStation Control Pad

DualShock 3 - With the Sixaxis a bust, Sony was quickly forced to revert to a more trusted design, and in 2007 revealed the DualShock 3. Again using the same basic design as all previous controllers, the DualShock 3 packed the wireless and motion sensing tech of the Sixaxis, but also found room to squeeze rumble back into the pad. It remains Sony's primary control pad to this day.

The Evolution of the PlayStation Control Pad

DECEMBER 2013 UPDATE - Hi Reddit! In case you missed it up top, this article was originally written in 2011. Which is why there was no DualShock 4. But hey, let's fix that!

The DualShock 4 is the first complete overhaul of the PlayStation controller design in the history of the brand. Pretty much everything has changed. The trademark "ice cream cone" handle design is gone, the triggers have been improved, there's a giant touchscreen in the middle, a glowing light at the top and the "start" and "select" buttons are gone.

The best and more important modifications are those made to the thumbsticks, though; by raising them and reducing their deadzone, the dreaded "PlayStation claw" is now a thing of the past.