Evolution of the Console Controller – Atari 2600 Paddle Controller (1977)

Unlike later D-Pads and analog sticks, paddle controllers use a wheel and buttons for input. Wheels allow for quick and accurate motion along one axis, as in moving a paddle up and down in arcade Pong (1972), the first videogame to use paddle controls. Paddle wheels do not free spin; they have a maximum rotation point in each direction beyond which the wheel cannot turn. Generally they allow for about 330 degrees of twist. Free spinning controllers, such as Atari’s Driving Controller, were used less frequently.

Warlords, one of the Atari 2600’s most popular games, appeared in both arcade and Atari 2600 home versions. The basic gameplay is bouncing a “fireball” between up to four castles (one for each player), attempting to knock down enemy castle walls and strike the enemy avatar within. Each player has a paddle-controlled shield that can catch or deflect the ball. The Atari 2600 version was written by Carla Meninsky, one of Atari’s earliest female engineers.

Warlords has received a port and modernization on modern consoles, but the game is uniquely suited to paddle controls. Note that even though each player’s shield turns a corner on screen, the shield requires only one axis of input to control. This input is not easily emulated on a D-Pad or analog stick.

Up to Classic Era – Back to Vectrex – Forward to D-Pad Era

On loan from Bill Kendrick