D-pad - History

History

A precursor to the D-pad was the four directional buttons used in arcade games such as UPL's Blockade (1976) and SNK's Vanguard (1981). A precursor to the standard D-pad on a video game console was used by the Intellivision, which was released by Mattel Electronics in 1980. The Intellivision's unique controller featured the first alternative to a joystick on a home console, a circular pad that allowed for 16 directions of movement by pressing it with the thumb. A precursor to the D-pad also appeared on Entex's short lived "Select A Game" cartridge based handheld system; it featured non-connected raised left, right, up and down buttons aligned to the left of a row of action buttons. Similar directional buttons were also used on the Atari Game Brain, the unreleased precursor to the Atari 2600, and on some early dedicated game consoles such as the VideoMaster Star Chess game. A controller similar to the D-pad appeared in 1981 on a handheld game system: Cosmic Hunter on Milton Bradley's Microvision; it was operated using the thumb to manipulate the onscreen character in one of four directions.

The modern "cross" design was developed in 1982 by Nintendo's Gunpei Yokoi for their Donkey Kong handheld game. The design proved to be popular for subsequent Game & Watch titles, although the previously introduced non-connected D-pad style was still utilized on various later Game & Watch titles, including the Super Mario Bros. handheld game. This particular design was patented and later earned a Technology & Engineering Emmy Award. In 1984, the Japanese company "Epoch" created a handheld game system called the "Epoch Game Pocket Computer". It featured a D-pad, but it was not popular for its time and soon faded.

Initially intended to be a compact controller for the Game & Watch handheld games alongside the prior non-connected style pad, Nintendo realized that Gunpei's updated design would also be appropriate for regular consoles, and Nintendo made the D-pad the standard directional control for the hugely successful Famicom/Nintendo Entertainment System under the name "+Control Pad". All major video game consoles since have had a D-pad of some shape on their controllers. Sega coined the term "D button" to describe the pad, using the term when describing the controllers for the Mega Drive in instruction manuals and other literature. Arcade games, however, have largely continued using joysticks.

Modern consoles, beginning with the Nintendo 64, provide both a D-pad and a compact thumb-operated analog stick; depending on the game, one type of control may be more appropriate than the other. In many cases with games that use a thumbstick, the D-pad is used as a set of extra buttons, all four usually centered around a kind of task, such as giving commands to friendly non-player characters. Even without an analog stick, some software uses the D-pad's eight-directional capabilities to act as eight discrete buttons, not related to direction or on-screen movement at all. Jam Sessions for the Nintendo DS, for example, uses the D-pad to select music chords during play.

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