This graphical representation of the evolution of game controllers is neat.
The hands shown in each image are of a consistent size meaning that the controllers are to scale. But more notable is the stat rundown underneath each image revealing how the number of sticks and buttons gamers have had to contend with over the years has multiplied.
From the stark simplicity of the Atari 2600′s controller through to the WiiMote’s thicket of plastic protrusions, lasers and motion sensing technology, our videogame interfaces have never been so complex.
By contrast, take a look at this chart to see how handheld gaming’s physical complexity has grown at a much slower rate. There seems to be a direct correlation between graphical capabilities and user interface complexity. For example, the most complex handheld (in terms of raw button statistics) is Sony’s PSP, a system that is also the most technically powerful.
Perhaps there’s an expectation amongst players that the more realistic a game’s visuals, the greater the number of ways one should be able to interact with them.
Of course, none of the highlighted examples come anywhere close to the dizzying, showboating complexity of Steel Battalion’s mecha control panel design.
With 40 buttons and a nest of switches, levers and twitching LEDs it is the most ostentatious interface that console gaming’s ever known, an accolade that will likely remain unchallenged for many years to come.
I wonder how much Steel Battalion’s core mechanics would have to be distilled so that the game could be controlled with an Atari 2600 single stick and button configuration? And would doing so make the game more or less enjoyable?
NOTE: I found the interface charts at LIFTlab where their design is attributed to Damien Lopez.