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Game Design Essentials: 20 Unusual Control Schemes
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Game Design Essentials: 20 Unusual Control Schemes

December 6, 2007 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 12 Next

5. Dual Joystick (movement), a.k.a. Tank Controls

Representative games: Battlezone, Vindicators (Atari Games), Katamari Damacy (Namco)

Control description:

Two levers control treads/legs independently. That is, press up on the left lever or down on the right one to turn to the right, and vice versa. Press up on both to move forward, or down to move backwards. Pushing the levers in opposite directions turns quickly in place.


Katamari Damacy itself is a console adaptation of this scheme. The PS2's analog sticks work nicely as the necessary levers, and they also provide a bit of extra side-to-side control that Atari's tank games lack.

The scheme in use:

This style is used precisely because it doesn't allow for perfect control. Instead of ease, this scheme gets used for the feeling the player gets when using it. Tanks are heavy equipment with an unusual style of propulsion: independently controlled treads. Back in Battlezone's day this provided for an early form of "experience game." (In addition, the game used a periscope-like viewer to the player had to look into to see the action.) Vindicators, on the other hand, used an overhead view, but the tank controls lend the player's small vehicle a sense of weight it would otherwise lack.

Katamari Damacy's use of the style is more whimsical, but uses it for the same purpose as Vindicators, to lend weight to the player's movements. Since the player can ultimately manipulate great balls of stuff over 800 meters in diameter, anything that supports that feeling of weight is useful. The controls also help to remind the player that he's not controlling the ball itself, but a tiny agent who is manipulating it with his hands... an easy thing to forget when the ball towers over mountains but the Prince is still 5 centimeters tall.

Design lesson:

What lesson? There's little that can be offered through using two sticks for movement that one won't do. Game design is ultimately about figuring out what the player can and cannot do, so nothing has really changed.

But from the point of making the game into an experience as well as a game, driving a tank is an activity that few people will ever get to try, so tank controls are novel and lend interest to the game. For more mundane tasks this might not be such a good idea; no one wants to play a game in which he must manipulate a soldier's legs independently step by step. The unusual operation also makes it a good match for Katamari Damacy, a game that relies heavily on the absurdity of its setting.

6. Discrete Button Thrust & Rotation

Representative game: Toobin' (Atari Games)

Control description:

A ring of buttons allowing the player to Paddle Left or Right, each Foward or Backward. Similar somewhat to Tank Controls, pressing one button provides rotation as well as thrust, so two buttons must be pressed in concert with each other to provide consistent forward motion. A final button fires projectiles.


Moderate. Controllers that use dual joysticks can be configured, in Midway Arcade Treasures' emulation of Toobin', to create makeshift tank controls, but most players will probably opt to use the same configuration menu to create one-to-one joystick control instead. Since the controls are a major part of the game it could be argued that this isn't really Toobin', but neither is playing it with two joysticks, really.

The scheme in use:

Another product of Atari Games' '90s experimentation with control styles, Toobin' in the arcade had a unique control style that only used buttons. In the game the player (and maybe a friend, with his own set of buttons on the other side of the control panel) controlled a guy sitting in an innertube that floats down a variety of rivers. The buttons were arranged in a sort of circular pattern, four of them corresponding to each of two feet and two hands that dipped into the water.

Pressing the hand buttons propelled the 'tube forward, and pressing the foot buttons sent it backward. Each button press also rotated the innertube a bit from that limb's side, so creating consistent thrust required hitting the buttons in pairs, either both hands or both feet at once, or alternating in rapid succession. The result was a kind of discrete, impulse-based version of tank controls. The innertube could rotate all the way around and be driven backwards if the user wanted, which sometimes made it easier to aim projectiles at enemies chasing from behind.

Design lesson:

This is a prime example of a game that's purposely made more difficult by its controls. If the player had perfect control over his innertube, the game would be too easy; there really aren't that many enemies on-screen at once, and pinpoint movement would make it much easier to "swish" gates for high scores. Its press-event focused control could be seen as a predecessor of the more recent game Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat (see below).


Article Start Previous Page 4 of 12 Next

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