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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 5 of 12 Next

7. Dual Joystick (climbing)

Representative game: Crazy Climber (Nihon Bussan)

Control description:

Another dual joystick system, but unlike Robotron's, this one really only saw use in this one game. The player's character is trying to scale a tall building. The left joystick controls the placement of his left hand, and the right joystick controls the right hand. Once the player has both joysticks so that they have a solid grip, holding both left or right shift the climber horizontally across the building, or alternating them up/down then down/up causes him to rapidly ascend the building. It's a subtle system that takes some getting used to, but is oddly satisfying once mastered.


As with Robotron, very good, but Crazy Climber has seen little in the way of ports, possibly because of the relative obscurity of its publisher. They exist though. One port is for the Super Famicom, which presumably uses the controller's four buttons as a makeshift second control pad.

The scheme in use:

The building is a regular grid of open windows, and the player must place his hands skillfully to make upward progress. The game ensures that the player cannot fall off the building just by moving the joysticks; a hand will not move if it's the only one resting on an open windowsill. This sometimes causes frustration, since it may seem like the joysticks don't work if the player moves them without care, but it's for the best.

All over the building, windows are constantly closing and opening. A window that closes on a hand doesn't cause it to visibly move, but it does break its grip. Sometimes smiling lunatics appear in open windows and drop things on the player, or other objects may appear from above. If one hits the player he doesn't, typically, die immediately, but one of his hands gets shifted from its grip, and if that unseats the only hand with a grip the climber takes a fatal plunge. If the player is hit once, but can regain his grip before another object hits him, he can continue up the building without penalty. As the game continues larger objects fall from above, which can potentially knock off both hands, and if the player dallies too long in one spot the game will start to close windows around his location to force him to move on.

Design lesson:

This is another scheme where the fun comes from learning and mastering a unique set of controls. To proceed up the building the player must shift his grip constantly, but this puts him in danger of getting killed if he is struck at the moment he shifts hands.

8. Non-centering Joystick

Representative game: 720 Degrees (Atari Games)

Control description:

A standard digital joystick with one important change: it cannot be centered, effectively creating a simple rotary controller.


Pretty good, considering. 720 Degrees was included in the Midway Arcade Treasures compilation, and while the game is unusually difficult to play with a control pad due to the fact that the player must often twirl his board rapidly (imagine how badly your thumb would be banged up by playing a fighting game with a control pad where the entire game is one gigantic special move), playing it with an analog stick makes for a reasonable recreation of the arcade control.

The scheme in use:

A non-centering joystick may be considered just broken hardware by some, but in fact it's a brilliant way to turn the physicality of manipulating the controls into an important aspect of game play.

At its core, 720 Degrees controls like a kind of skate park Asteroids. The player can rotate left and right, and the "kick" button is similar to Thrust. But instead of buttons controlling rotation, the game uses its joystick to directly indicate facing. This means that the player's turn speed is limited by the speed by which he can twirl the stick, and it also means that turning in mid-air, in order to perform tricks, carries a hand-smashing physical aspect.

If the player jumps he can spin the joystick to do tricks in the air, but he must return to a proper direction before landing to avoid collapsing and earn points. For the most part, this is all a trick is in 720 Degrees; there are some other cases, but spins are very important. And the game's unique structure means that performing tricks isn't just way to earn rewards, they are needed to survive. The chain of effect is long but simple: mastering spinning the joystick lets the player earn points quickly; earning points earns the player tickets; earning tickets lets the player enter skate parks; and entering parks resets the overworld timer.

If the player is in the overworld hub for too long without entering a park, the game's infamous bees arrive and, before long, end the credit. The only consistent way to earn points, thus tickets, thus additional time, is to perform tricks. In this way, mastering the controls becomes the entire point of the game; the game is exactly as hard as how hard it is to perform tricks.


Design lesson:

The unusual game structure, which forces the player to constantly be earning tickets --sixteen of them in a full game -- forces the player to adapt to its controls to be successful. The player cannot just muddle through and do well at the game, and since this is an arcade game, it is all about mastery anyway. 720 Degrees is a game that's received far more than the average number of console ports, yet most of these versions are subtly different from the arcade game because spinning a control pad is not the same as spinning a joystick. The arcade had a large, arcade joystick; home versions have used control pads, digital joysticks and analog thumbsticks. The raw speed with which the player can manipulate the stick directly determines how difficult the game is, so in a sense, it isn't playing the real game if the player isn't doing it on an actual machine.

Schemes Intended to Test Physical Skill

The prior control schemes mix up the game's interpretations for player action either to make the game easier or to lend it a kind of realism. The following games, on the other hand, are much more reliant on the human player's physical skills, such as asking him to spin a trackball as fast as he can, press buttons rapidly, or skillfully manipulate a motion-sensing wand. Because of the sensitivity needed to detect a wide range of performance, they all necessarily use analog inputs.


Article Start Previous Page 5 of 12 Next

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