For this weeks blog about motion controllers I thought that I would do something classy, something that serves as a bit of a dedication, something that is just a little bit about....dildos. I am of course, talking about the very first motion controller. The very sexy “Le Stick” created by Data Soft in 1981, just a year after they were founded, two years before the video game crash, and just after the release of their very first video game “Popcorn.” Little did they know that they were about to change virtually nothing about the game industry for years to come. Anyway, as these things always go, to understand how this all started we have to take a trip way back. Back to the years of the dinosaurs, back to the 80s!
Datasoft was founded in 1980 by former Unidata Investments employee Pat Ketchum. The company mainly produced ports of games from the Arcades and was pretty heaving into the Atari cloning shindig like most other developers of the era. Who could really blame them for trying to capture the success of one of the only widely successful video game companies at the time.
Pat Kechum's company was spawned by a love for video games and a love for money. Who doesn't love making money? Unfortunately for Pat, making money as a video game developer was just as hard back then as it is today. The company went bankrupt after just three years and would sell most of what was left of it to two Datasoft executives, Samuel L. Pool and Ted Hoffman. They later changed the name of the company to Intellicreations and sold Datasoft games until the company finally closed for good. A year before losing it all though, Datasoft would put it's hands in the pot of hardware developers and try to create something that would hopefully change the way that video games were played forever.
Le Stick (just The Stick from now on) was released about a year after Datasofts' first video game, Popcorn. Which was pretty much a clone of the old arcade game Avalanche, but instead of trying to catch falling rocks you control a pan and catch popcorn kernels as they fall. This type of cloning was typical during this period of gaming. Everyone was trying to grab a piece of the magic that Atari had found with it's line-up of popular games and consoles. Although it's safe to say that it wasn't contained to this period only as much of this is going on today, especially when it comes to iPhone apps and Facebook games.
A lot like the Wii's Motion Controllers' before the Motion Plus add on that added a substantial amount of reliability, but virtually no games besides Red Steel 2 that made any use of it, the stick didn't do anything that a regular controller didn't do. It also couldn’t match a standard controllers degree of accuracy or lack of awkwardness while using. I mean seriously, look at this thing, it looks like something that you might find in the back of your girlfriends closet that gives you second thoughts about how great your intimate moments actually are.
Also, a lot like the Wii, most retailers saw it as nothing more than a novelty that would eventually wear off. Unlike the Wii though, video games were still relatively new and most publishers were skeptical of anything as radical as this design. Datasoft also didn't have a huge name like Nintendo to back up it's word that this device would do anything to change the way that current games were played. As it stood, The Stick had no games designed specifically for it and although it could be used for most games that could also used a traditional arcade stick like controller, it wasn't nearly as reliable and the design itself made the games much more tricky to play. Along with the huge price tag, no one wanted it and you couldn't blame them.
The Design of the controller is extremely questionable if you look at it from today’s standards. I understand that they were going for extreme simplicity but for their sake I hope that it at least sounded good to back up how it must of looked to the basic consumer. I can only imagine the guys in marketing discussing it. A controller that would transfer hand motions into actual gameplay was something that probably sounded like it was out of some science-fiction novel. Today, It looks like a giant black dildo that the average person would never even think of using to play video games. It is basically a long black stick with one buttons on the top that was re-centered by simply squeezing it. I imagine that most consumers that saw it in a store thought that they were selling sexual devices on the floor and that the few that did buy them tried to use them for that exact purpose.
The coolest thing about the stick at the time was that it did not require any type of power source because everything that it did was completely mechanical. The motions were registered by a mercury core that transferred the information to the computer via a regular control port. Angling the stick from side to side controls left and right movement, and forward/ backwards for moving up and down. It was a design that was even simpler than the Wii Mote. Especially because their was only one button, which was all that controllers really needed at the time anyway; because of the way the stick controlled it was best used for flight games, but none were made that were designed specifically for it. Which would have probably helped boost the sales immensely.
Even though with the right promotion and the right games it could have found at least some kind of a Niche market to make it sustainable, it was one of the causalities of the video game market crash in 83'. Manufacturing of the device was stopped and it has since became a distant memory. Part of me wonders if Nintendo didn't discover this while they were developing their own controller and decided to use some of the more basic ideas when developing their own. It wouldn't be all that surprising in a industry where innovations are built upon past ideas; even ones as basic, and lacking in good design philosophy, as The Stick had. It could have at least inspired the basic framework of some future motion controllers.
This was just the beginning of motion control for the video games, but because of consoles like the Nintendo Wii, it wasn't the last. The next motion controller would not be released until “The Activator” in 1993, which sounds like the name for a cheesy terminator arch nemesis, or at least his alter ego when he decides to take a break from killing and relax at some trendy local Los Angelas hangouts Nw every hardware manufacturer is trying to find it's own place in the market with them all having varying degrees of success, though none of them nearly as much as Nintendo's own console
Nintendo took simplicity and sleekness and marketed it to the people that had never touched a video game in their lives while also attracting the hardcore market with visions of swinging virtual swords in their living rooms. Although most of those ideas put foward by past motion devices have ended up being much less breathtaking than we had hoped for, they always give us something to build upon for the future. read