A D-pad (short for directional pad or digital pad;also known as a control pad or +Control Pad) is a flat, usually thumb-operated, often digital, four-way directional control with one button on each point, found on nearly all modern video game console gamepads, game controllers, on the remote control units of some television and DVD players, and smart phones. Like early video game joysticks, the vast majority of D-pads are digital; in other words, only the directions provided on the D-pad buttons can be used, with no intermediate values. However, combinations of two directions (up and left, for example) do provide diagonals and many modern D-pads can be used to provide eight-directional input if appropriate.
Although digital pads offer less flexibility than analog sticks, they can easily be manipulated (requiring little movement of the thumb) with very high accuracy. They are also far less demanding in maintenance and do not protrude very far from the controller, making them ideal for portable consoles such as the Game Boy, Nintendo DS and the PlayStation Portable.
D-pads have appeared on other kinds of electronic equipment, including A/V remote controls (especially since the appearance of DVD players, which are heavily menu driven), calculators, PDAs, smartphones, and car stereos such as the AutoPC.
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 rotating 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.
Nintendo's known "cross" design was developed in 1982 by 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 Yokoi'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, until the Nintendo Switch in 2017, which used the older four-button design on its included Joy-Con controller. To avoid infringing on Nintendo's patent, most controller manufacturers use a cross in a circle shape for the D-pad.Sega coined the term "D button" to describe the pad, using the term when describing the controllers for the Sega Genesis 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 on a kind of task, such as using items. Even without an analog stick, some software uses the D-pad's 8-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.
D-pads appear on a number of menu-driven devices as a simple navigational tool; though superficially similar to those used for gaming devices, they are not optimized for real-time control and therefore can usually accept input from only one direction at a time. Many, though not all, such designs include a trigger button in the center of the button arrangement, usually labeled "Enter", "OK", or the like. Some older devices do not have d-pads as such, but simple single-axis, up/down or left/right pads. On some remotes, the d-pad can also be used to control a robot using a signal-compatible receiver.
On remote control devices, the buttons on the d-pad function in the same manner as other buttons, and are generally used to navigate on-screen menus. Though initially not common, the quick success of the DVD format led to wide availability of remote designs with D-pads circa 2000, and most current menu-driven consumer electronics devices include some sort of d-pad on the remote (and, occasionally, on the unit itself).
In addition, many small computing and communications devices, particularly PDAs, mobile phones, and GPS receivers, include d-pads not only for menu navigation but as general input devices similar to a joystick or mouse. Less-sophisticated designs similar to those on remote controls appear on some calculators, particularly scientific and graphing calculators, which use the d-pad for cursor control on multi-line screens, as well as input/output recall, menu navigation, and occasionally direct screen access (graphing calculators in particular allow the use of the d-pad to determine values at specific points on a displayed graph). On programmable units, the d-pad can also be mapped directly, allowing it to be used as a gaming or pointer control.
Consoles with separate controllers
A handheld game console, or simply handheld console, is a small, portable self-contained video game console with a built-in screen, game controls and speakers. Handheld game consoles are smaller than home video game consoles and contain the console, screen, speakers, and controls in one unit, allowing people to carry them and play them at any time or place.
A joystick is an input device consisting of a stick that pivots on a base and reports its angle or direction to the device it is controlling. A joystick, also known as the control column, is the principal control device in the cockpit of many civilian and military aircraft, either as a center stick or side-stick. It often has supplementary switches to control various aspects of the aircraft's flight.
A pointing device is an input interface that allows a user to input spatial data to a computer. CAD systems and graphical user interfaces (GUI) allow the user to control and provide data to the computer using physical gestures by moving a hand-held mouse or similar device across the surface of the physical desktop and activating switches on the mouse. Movements of the pointing device are echoed on the screen by movements of the pointer and other visual changes. Common gestures are point and click and drag and drop.
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Microsoft SideWinder was the general name given to the family of digital game controllers developed by Microsoft for PCs. The line was first launched in 1995. Although intended only for use with Microsoft Windows, Microsoft SideWinder game controllers can also be used with macOS, Mac OS 9 with third-party software, and Linux.
A gamepad, joypad, controller, is a type of game controller held in two hands, where the fingers are used to provide input. They are typically the main input device for video game consoles.
An analog stick, sometimes called a control stick or thumbstick, is an input device for a controller that is used for two-dimensional input. An analog stick is a variation of a joystick, consisting of a protrusion from the controller; input is based on the position of this protrusion in relation to the default "center" position. While digital sticks rely on single electrical connections for movement, analog sticks use continuous electrical activity running through potentiometers to measure the exact position of the stick within its full range of motion. The analog stick has greatly overtaken the D-pad in both prominence and usage in console video games.
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The V.Smile is a sixth-generation educational home video game console manufactured and released by VTech. Titles are available on ROM cartridges called "Smartridges", to play off the system's educational nature. The graphics are primarily sprite-based. The console is often sold bundled with a particular game, with most of them having a game called "Alphabet Park Adventure." Several variants of the V.Smile console are sold including handheld versions, or models with added functionality such as touch tablet integrated controllers or microphones. The V-Motion is a major variant with its own software lineup that includes motion sensitive controllers and has Smartriges designed to take advantage of motion-related "active learning". The V-Motion and Smartridges however are fully backwards compatible with other V.Smile variants and V.Smile Smartridges, and a V-Motion Smartridge can also be played on V.Smile console or handheld, albeit with limited functionality. However, in 2010, V.Smile NEW and OLD were canceled. VTech still made games for V.Smile Pocket and V.Motion.
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The R-Zone is a portable game console developed and manufactured by Tiger Electronics. The R-Zone was shown at the American International Toy Fair in February 1995, and was released later that year. The R-Zone was largely unsuccessful and would only be manufactured for a short period, before being discontinued in 1997. Although the R-Zone was not designed to compete directly with any other handhelds, it marked Tiger Electronics' first multi-game entry into the portable electronic game market.
The Classic Controller is a game controller produced by Nintendo for the Wii video game console. While it later featured some compatibility with the Wii U console, the controller was ultimately succeeded by the Wii U Pro Controller. As of April 2014, Nintendo had discontinued production of both the Classic Controller and Classic Controller Pro.
Since the release of Nintendo's Wii, many aesthetic, ergonomic and functional accessories have been developed for the Wii Remote by third parties.
The Atari joystick port is a computer port used to connect various gaming controllers to game console and home computer systems in the 1970s to the 1990s. It was originally introduced on the Atari 2600 in 1977 and then used on the Atari 400 and 800 in 1979. It went cross-platform with the Commodore VIC-20 of 1981, and was then used on many following machines from both companies, as well as a growing list of 3rd party machines like the MSX platform and various Sega consoles.
Joy-Con are the primary game controllers for the Nintendo Switch video game console. They consist of two individual units, each containing an analog stick and an array of buttons. They can be used while attached to the main Nintendo Switch console unit, or detached and used wirelessly; when detached, a pair of Joy-Con can be used by a single player, or divided between two as individual controllers.