By Jared Newman | Tuesday, August 31, 2010 at 2:23 pm
Since the dawn of the gamepad, console makers had to make a tough decision with each new iteration: Disc-shaped directional pad, or traditional plus shape?
Microsoft thinks it can choose both with a new wireless controller for the Xbox 360. Like the existing Xbox 360 controller, the new model starts in a disc format, which is ideal for sweeping motions that connect one direction to the next. Players can also raise up the plus-shaped portion of the D-pad by rotating it, allowing for more distinct directional presses. This is intended to appease fans of fighting games like Street Fighter IV, who need the accuracy when stringing together button combinations.
Chances are the D-pad isn’t something you think about very often when playing video games. The vast majority of games nowadays rely on analog sticks instead, and I can’t recall the last time I used the D-Pad as the primary means of control. Frankly, I even couldn’t remember off-hand what kind of D-pad the Xbox 360 used.
Still, Microsoft’s announcement brought back memories. In the 16-bit era, I loved the circular D-pad of the 6-button Sega Genesis controller, because it was easier on the thumbs than the Super Nintendo’s callus-inducing plus-shaped pad, but it was also more responsive than the Genesis’ original 3-button controller. The circular pad of the original Xbox, however, was rigid to the point of uselessness, giving Sony’s Playstation 2 the edge. As for the current Xbox 360 D-pad, it’s a little too loose, probably causing some complaints leading to the new model.
The overall design and feel of a D-pad is probably more important in the end than its shape, but at least Microsoft is giving a choice to people who really care. They’ll have to pay a premium, though; the new controller, available only with a Play and Charge battery kit, will cost $65 when it goes on sale November 9.