I read somewhere (or even a few places) that the dual stick genre is relatively young, and that it has exploded onto this generations downloadable services. But is it really a new genre? Where did it come from? What innovations have led us to where we are today?
We commonly call them dual-stick shooters today, because that is our method of controlling them on todays consoles; we use the left stick to control the movement of our avatar, and the right stick to control the direction that it shoots on a 2D plane. Once we adopt the term multi-directional shooters however, we can see that the basics of the genre have been around for many years - probably before a decent number of readers were born. The key feature that warrants this description is the ability for the players character/avatar to be moving via one control input, while being able to shoot in different directions with another input (as opposed to using one input to move, and a button to shoot in the direction you are moving).
Robotron : 2084 was released in the arcades in 1982. Players used the left joystick to move, and the right joystick to shoot; the game had no buttons. It played very much like todays dual stick shooters, albeit limited to 8 directions of fire. Players were tasked with clearing the enemies on a single screen while attempting to save humans. Once a wave was cleared, the next wave spawned.
Brief research only turned up one more game that used the control method (if you know of any more, feel free to let me know). Smash TV was released in 1990, which played much the same as Robotron (Eugene Jarvis, the creator or Robotron, lent a hand), with higher production values, two player simultaneous play, and a basis for a story; players were contestants in a hyper violent game show. Once in an arena, enemies poured through doors until the area was cleared, and at times players were allowed to choose which arena they wanted to play next as they made their way to the bosses.
Ikari Warriors, released in 1986, was the first arcade game to introduce rotary joysticks. Whereas the dual joystick shooters fired as soon as you pushed them in a direction, Ikari Warriors sported only one joystick and a shoot button. As well as the joystick having 8 directional movement to control the players movement, it was shrouded in a knob that could also be turned with 8 degrees of movement.
This method may seem slightly inferior to dual joysticks; you still have to aim and them press the shoot button. Having not played Ikari Warriors myself, I don't know how this affected gameplay. I did however play Heavy Barrel (1987) and Midnight Resistance (1990) at the arcades. These games used the same rotary joystick, but also had limited ammunition for upgraded weapons. In my experience, this gameplay mechanic was better served by rotary joysticks than continually tapping a second joystick in a direction to conserve ammo.
Tron introduced the rotary dial to arcades in 1982. It had a joystick for moving, a button for firing, and a rotary dial to control the direction of fire during certain modes. Forgotten Worlds is another arcade game that used the rotary dial, which was also a button. It could be turned, but required you to push down on the dial to actually fire. I could not find information on how many degrees of fire these allowed, but footage of the games would indicate more than 8 directions.
There were console ports for many of the above listed games at or near the time of their arcade release. Due to the limitations of the controllers at the time, some of them lost the seperation between movement and firing; players could only shoot in the direction they were travelling. Smash TV for the SNES was perhaps the most faithfully ported game of those listed above. It allowed for movement with the D-Pad, and the face buttons to determine direction of shooting (pressing 2 adjacent buttons to fire diagonally). The same method is available in the XBLA version, as it is a port and not a remake that takes advantage of the controllers dual analog sticks. Robotron 2084, the game to start it all, is also available on XBLA, but it too has only had a facelift, no changes to the original controls.
As I recall, the Forgotten Worlds port on the Master System did away with a fire button altogether, had you firing at all times, and the two buttons rotated your character clockwise or counterclockwise. While this had the minor effect of slowing down how fast you could turn, it did give you more than 8 degrees of fire.
Personal Computers have had the controls available since day 1 for multi-directional shooters; 4 keys for movement and 4 keys for fire direction (holding two for diagonals). This limits it at 8 directions (unless you want to assign a cumbersome number of keys), but has been possible for decades. I'm sure it has been done, but I don't specifically recall any games that adopted this method.
The mouse has been much more effective at giving more degrees of fire. This is a little different than aiming in a general direction and firing, but the in-game effect is similar enough to bear mentioning. The first game I recall to use this method was Abuse, released in 1996. The keyboard moved your character, while the mouse was used to aim where you wanted to fire, and left mouse button fired your active weapon. I don't recall the control scheme becoming a raging hit, but I have seen it used since in some flash games (Unreal Tournament flash, for example).
A similar system to this has been adopted this generation by Nintendo systems, the DS and the Wii, using the stylus and pointing the remote instead of using a mouse, in the likes of Monster House for the DS, and Geometry Wars Galaxies for both systems.
Why suddenly so popular?
Given that the first dual stick shooter was released in arcades in 1982, why does it seem like it has taken until this generation of consoles for it to really take off and have more than a few dozen titles in under 3 years? The first thing I pondered was whether it was due to the limited degrees of fire, which are possible with todays analog sticks. But if it was only that limitation, we would have seen a proliferation of arcade games if the demand was there; I don't see any reason why Geometry Wars could not have existed in an arcade cabinet over 10 years ago. Even in the home, I don't recall any such games for the Playstation 2, which introduced dual analog sticks as standard. If there were, they certainly weren't heralded like those that belong to this generation.
Is it other in-game technology? I don't think so. Apart from prettier graphics, I don't see how any of todays dual-stick shooters could not have been made for the Playstation 2. I don't know much about what happens under the hood, but I'm sure the PS2 could have handled Geometry Wars simple shapes; potentially the large number of enemies might have taxed the system, but generally the gameplay could have remained intact. The newest thing added this generation is leaderboards. That however is not universal to the appeal of all these titles, and I doubt it was the one factor that pushed them in the stratosphere.
Which brings us to price, the only other item I see as being a potential factor. People obviously DO want to play these games, otherwise we wouldn't see sequels like Geometry Wars 2 or Assault Heroes 2, and the plethora of other dual stick shooters that grace todays consoles, and continue to sell. However, the vast majority of them are downloadable games that cost US$10/AUS$15 or less. The only retail games of this nature I recall this generation are the previously mentioned Monster House and Geometry Wars Galaxies. Monster House may have sold more copies based on its licence (and it's actually a decent game) and Geometry Wars Galaxies probably got a boost by awareness of the previous game. However all of those games sold less than 100,000 units (according to http://www.vgchartz.com/), and I imagine without the licence or brand awareness, they would have performed worse.
But do I have it right? Or is there another factor? Some perfect storm? Perhaps with Geometry Wars being a launch title for XBLA and so cheap, people purchased it to test this newfangled downloadable service and became hooked by the gameplay. Perhaps the combination of its initial sales, critical acclaim, and use of leaderboards had people talking about the game and brought the genre to the forefront? Or perhaps ease of distribution made developers more interested in attempting their own take on such a simple (yet enjoyable) concept, making the genre more well known simply by weight of numbers?
In any case, the basic tenets of the genre have been around for over 25 years, so it is certainly not a new genre. That said, I still think it is an underdeveloped one when compared to other genres like fighters, platformers and first person shooters which have had hundreds of games developed for them. I look forward to seeing what the gaming community can come up with in the future; while the basic controls will remain the same, I see plenty of room to lay varied and interesting gameplay concepts on top of them. Are there any particular innovations you would like to see?
Disclaimer : I'm no video game encyclopaedia or historian; I don't think I've ever seen a Robotron 2084 or Tron cabinet, let alone played one. While I did some research I may have missed some other relevant games or information; let me know about them, and I will edit them in.
Sources : Information and images mainly obtained from individual game pages on wikipedia and www.klov.com (Killer List of Video Games).
For those interested, Robotron 2084's unique control scheme resulted from the creator of the game, Eugene Jarvis, breaking his right hand in an automobile accident and making accomodations for himself that ended up forming the basis of one of the greatest arcade shooters of all time.
Dude, I remember playing Smash TV back when I was in junior high, it was a great game that was so much fun to play, what I don't remember is which was first the game or the movie (running man)?
@endocrine You could have something there. Look forward to the next vesion of Qub3d! (GTA 4 mini-game if no-one understood the reference) @Ork Ah, just checked some footage and read the wiki page. I was going to say I don't recall any recent games in the genre that have enemies that react to each other, until I remembered back holes in Geo Wars. Still something that could be explored a lot more, the concept of 'competing' with enemies for kills and score seems compelling. @zerointeruppt You forgot to mention the game name... but I wouldn't have mentioned it anyway, as I wasn't talking about first person shooters. I was talking about 2D multi-directional shooters. I'm a bit surprised by the number of people who seem confused in this respect. Maybe I didn't make it clear enough, or maybe the genre is not as well known today as I thought it was. Perhaps many automatically associate 'dual stick shooter' with first person shooter.
Actually yall forgot one more, . This was the first FPS I ever played. It used the standard WASD control for movement, pressing the numbers to change your weapons, and left click fire right click reload. It even allowed to to allocate the various actions to specific keys.
There was one other dual-stick arcade shooter like Robotron: Black Widow. I'd almost forgotten about it until I dug out my PS2 Atari compilation.
Geometry Wars could have played on the PS2, but since it came out as a side game in PGR2 on the original XBOX it would have never been ported to the PS2. The reason why geometry wars was so popular on XBLA was because it was so popular in PGR2. Dual analog games have been around forever, and every generation of gameplay and consoles has seen their share. Many of these games are more of cult classics than blockbuster games because of their relatively simplistic, although addicting, gameplay.
@DeomonoftheAbyss A bit unecessarily harsh there. @signboy77 I wasn't aware of that (though now that I check, it is right there in the wiki page, but it doesn't mention control scheme). Was that the only way you could play, was there no option for using one controller (supposedly with lack of the move one way fire in another feature)? @PolskaKing I'd say I'm a fan, but that said I haven't played a huge number of them yet. I enjoy a lot of genres, so it is hard for me to fit in every game in the genre. @beanofengland I was only talking about the dual-stick 2D shooters like Geometry Wars, not how dual-sticks pioneered console FPS. Unless you were responding to a poster above who mentions them. You could play Goldeneye with two controllers? I never knew that. @mohfrontline Glad you got something out of it.
i used to love playing n64 fps games. There were two (or three for lefties) control standards it seemed on the N64. Games like goldeneye and Perfect Dark (both made by the rare, PD sorta being a spiritual sequel of sorts) used the analogue stick for movement and turning, while the c-buttons were used to strafe and aim, which by todays standards seems pretty strange as all movement is left and aiming is right. Goldeneye really took is controls seriously and gave you loads of different control schemes seemingly for the fun of it, as you could play the game using two analogue sticks at once by holding two control pads at once! I used to rock that control scheme all the time and it made you feel like a god... Turok and a few other games used the whole analogue stick to aim and the c-buttons to move, still a very good way to play fps games and was leftie compatible (if that was ever even a problem?) by allowing the player to use the d-pad for movement. Turok 1 and 2 were awesome games... shame about the recent sham of a game they crapped out... viva la n64
Nice article. I recall Smash TV coming out on the NES and you had to use two controllers to move the character and shoot. You would hold the controllers sidways in each hand, with the A/B buttons facing the screet. I remember that using that control scheme on the NES felt really awkward and feeling that it didn't quite replicate the arcade experience.
adam of the nerd, you should probably realize that he is not talking about fps. its an entirely different genre of game, and to all those who agreed with u, u guys are stupid and your parents dont love u
@Foolz3h I didn't go back as far as PS1 because the dual analog wasn't standard for the platform (here we go again with Wii Motion Plus). They were of course possible. @kevin091 I didn't know some of it until I looked it up for this article, sometimes research can turn up interesting things. @yoshicookie I don't believe I've ever played a version of Tron. Nice as it is to see it as an innovation for its time, I just don't think I would enjoy it today. @miker1167 Nothing was really plagiarised. I looked up the information mainly from wikipedia and www.klov.com and just typed up facts, a few hazy memories, and some opinions. I'll edit that I used those sources into the article. @DukeBriggs I somewhat disagree. I don't prescribe to any sense of elitism for knowing more about a subject than someone else. As noted, I'm certainly no game historian, and a few other posts here have taught me a few things. Some people like to wonder about the history of games, and others just want to play todays game rather than read about it. Either way is fine. But you do make me wonder about how much history game journalists should have to be considered 'in the know'... obviously they can't have played every game, but we do expect them to have a decent amount of knowledge to be credible. @X-PlayKid I'd welcome an updated version of Smash TV. Certainly had fun with it back in the day, but the mechanics feel dated to me compared to todays dual-stick shooters. @reckeweg Agreed, it usually does only take a minute or less for someone not accustomed to the genre to get reasonably acclimated to the controls. Some games, like Geometry Wars, could still be daunting to a newer player; making Deadline the first mode in the second game, where players get to play for 3 minutes no matter what, was one of the best design decisions of that game. @705H1r0 Those were a couple of games I thought about when writing this article. They don't adhere to the basic concept of 'left stick moves, right stick shoots', but it does seem they may have had some inspiration from the genre (actually I have played an earlier freeware version of Every Extend on PC, so perhaps the R4 mode was inspired by rising popularity of dual-stick shooters rather than vice versa?) Is Schizoid the first game that let's you control two avatars on a 2D plane though? It is the only one I know, but I'm sure it must have been done before now. @Intellectual I don't think I'm up to the task! It depends on what you consider a FPS. Does it need to render in true 3D? Doom was released on the Jaguar and 32X in 1994, which was not true 3D, though it was probably the best approximation at the time on consoles, but I could be wrong. Other games could have done just as good a job at the same time or even prior in terms of 3D looking graphics. No doubt games played from a first person perspective (using graphical tricks to give that illusion) on consoles pre-date the NES. First FPS truly rendered in 3D on consoles? I have no clue at all. @Salt The Fries You learn something new every day :) Was it just environments that were rendered in 3D? i.e. were enemies sprites like in Doom, or were they 3D models? @grafkhun I knew there had to be some from previous generations, but I didn't turn up any in my searches. @btstlouis Thanks @Ork Blaster had a 49 way optical joystick, wow. Seems like a very weird number. I've heard the name before, but never seen it; might have to look up some footage later. @MrSmiley I imagine slamming around two full joysticks would feel kind of odd today. Interesting what you say about the thumbsticks; I recall the coverage for Pac Man Championship edition, where they invited Pac Man champions from years past. They held the top of the analog stick between their thumb and two fingers, like they were holding a joystick of old.
@Salt_The_Fries: I'd argue that Blaster's contribution was much more important than UO's, since it pioneered the FPP shooter. Without it (quasi 3d or not) there likely wouldn't be a UO or Doom. I do stand corrected on my statement, though. I missed the "true 3d" part of your original comment. Sorry. :)
There are definitely still some good DSSs coming out now and then, like Undertow, it may be an XBLA game, but it still holds it's own as a game. But you can't find many now for good reason. Dual-stick shooters never really took off like FPSs because of their limitations (e.g. being 2D), because games like Undertow need to take features and concepts from modern shooters just to be playable in a sea of other great genres. (also NOTE: DSSs were not really responsible for the evolution of the FPS in any way really, you guys have the IBM compatible PC to thank for that.)
I think the big thing you're missing is that analog sticks that are meant for your *thumbs* are popular now. All of the examples you mention from way back when are meant for your *whole hands*. Sure you could use your whole hands for your PS2's analog sticks, or your thumbs for those arcade joysticks, but it would be really awkward.
@ OrkHammer007: I was talking about true 3D perspective, environment and capabilities, such as looking up and down. It was one of the first true 3D games and was also one of the first to pioneer the now-familiar mouse and keyboard movement design. There's no way one can deny that. Quasi FPP view doesn't count.
@Salt_The_Fries: Actually, the first game to offer a first-person perspective (2d or 3d) was Blaster, in '83. It was the last game released by Williams/Vid Kidz before the Video Game Crash of '84.
Good summary of the multidirectional shooters history. First time I ever played a dual joystick shooter was in 1999 on the PS1, Ape Escape had a mini-game that was a dual-joystick shooter.
You could run, jump, fly, swim in the water in Ultima Underworld: Stygian Abyss, and it used a mouse also.
Oh, and before someone will try to tell me I'm retarded, I know that Ultima Underworld: Stygian Abyss was a RPG game, but in FPP.
For your information, first true 3D FPP game was Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss in 1992. I mean oferring true 3D before Wolfenstein and Doom which didn't offer a 3D experience were released. That game is criminally underrated and largely overlooked. It was many years ahead of its time, I recommend doing some research on it. Other breakthrough title in regards to technology was System Shock which continued innovations of Ultima Underworld: Stygian Abyss (both titles were made by the same people). It even offered a proto-WSAD controls on keyboards, and lean left / lean right option back in 1994 where you could hardly look up and down in FPP games (not to mention you can free-look in System Shock just like in Ultima Underworld). Etc...
good history lesson ..... but now can you write an article about the history of the FPS genre on consoles ?? I think it started with Goldeneye on the N64
Don't forget about E4! The core game doesn't use the other stick to shoot, but the R4 mode does. Another one to consider may be Schizoid, that doesn't use the other stick to shoot, but to control another ship. And didn't Shred Nebula just come out? Yea, their popularity is definitely on the rise.
Great post dude, yes dual stick shooters are fantastic and I think its due to their accessibility for non-hardcore gamers and challenge to become great at them.
this is a fantastic post. i think it's important that those who consider themselves real gamers know their history, just like any other profession out there.
Well written and seems through, but in the future please list references from where you obtained the data you did so as not to plagiarize other writers. Also if you listed you sources it would allow us to look into the same sources you used, good article with some strong points.
@Adam the Nerd I wasn't referring to first person shooters, just the 2D shooters. I think first person shooters, at least truly 3D ones with freelook in all directions, were pioneered on PC's. Though I am now wondering what control method was used for those early games. In my searches, I did hear someone rag about the 2D dual-stick shooters, claiming they were stupid and were just simple versions of 3D shooters with the camera overhead so that stupid people could play. I found it a little funny. @dkdk999 I think nostalgia plays a part. I remember loving Smash TV when I was younger. I played the demo on XBLA and it was enough nostalgia for me, I didn't need to buy the full game. I guess I am used to the finer controls offered by the likes of Assault Heroes and Geometry Wars to put up with 8 way limitations. @aDhAmMe13 Nintendo would disagree with you :) Obviously a lot of genres have been built on controllers that have been standard for quite some time though. @Smoov B & Ork Very nice finds/memories. The game Smoov refers to is called Tank; according to Tanks wiki page, Battlezone is a spiritual successor that brought the game into 3D via vector graphics. I'd call them honourable mentions; they had two joysticks per player as a control method, but the gameplay doesn't fit the 'left stick moves, right stick shoots' gameplay mechanic. @majorflyswat As said earlier, I enjoyed Smash TV a while ago, but it doesn't warrant a purchase from me today. A new game in the series that took advantage of todays controllers and added a few new things probably would though.
Smash TV remains one of my favourite games to this day, mostly because of the game show type theme, and that awesome host- "Big money! Big Prizes! I love it!"
The game Smoov_B may be referring to is Battlezone, which (if memory serves) came out at least a year before Robotron. There was one other dual-stick shooter like Robotron and Smash TV: Total Carnage (another Williams arcade machine). It, too, was worked on by Jarvis. The Tron (and Disks of Tron) machines had a trigger for a fire button (and Disks also had a shield button, if memory serves). Wow... brings back memories... :D
I don't remember the details but I remember playing some kind of tank game on my 2600 that used both joysticks. In trying to find it on the intermets I came across the original [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tank_(arcade_game)]Tank[/url] that used 2 sticks per player (4 total) as an arcade unit released in 1974. Each joystick controlled the respective side of the tank's treads.
Whoa, that's so cool, how games like Halo and CoD and Doom, were really pioneered by something older than me.