Evolution of the Console Controller – Fairchild Channel F and Controller (1976)

The Channel F, built by Fairchild Semiconductor, is the world’s first cartridge based game console. Technologically the Channel F is very basic, outputting 102 x 58 visible pixels and displaying a maximum of eight colors. It was able to produce AI for players to compete against; previous consoles required a human opponent. It came with two built-in games, both similar to Pong, and cost the modern equivalent of about $680.

The Channel F controller is unlike any modern controller. The video game industry had no standard controller at the time so the controller’s engineer was free to design it from scratch. The controller is a long stick, intended to be held in one fist. On top of the stick is the input grip, held with the other hand. It can tilt like a joystick, the top can be pushed down or pulled out of the body of the controller as an action button, and the top can also be rotated like a paddle, although the rotation arc is only about 90 degrees and returns to center via a spring. The stick design can be held in either hand.

Moving a small shape made of a few pixels around the screen and either bumping into, avoiding, or shooting other pixel blocks was typical gameplay. At the time almost all previous home games were variants of Pong, and the Channel F’s 26 cartridges (some with multiple games included) offered a huge variety by comparison.

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Gift of Ton Chan Luong, 2012.020.001