Rotary dials as game controllers

Working on the book about game controllers, I did some research about the first game peripherals. This is actually chapter 1… and one of the most intriguing example is certainly the existence of rotary dials. Potentiometers and knobs were of course the first lineages in terms of game controllers; think about Tennis for Two or Pong. Rotary dials are one step beyond as it introduces a sort of discrete interactions in the use of knobs… and of course they were employed to use video games.

One of the earliest game (Noughts And Crosses) used a phone rotary dial but it was certainly more advanced later on in Japan with the rotary joysticks described on this website:

as fun as rotary joysticks might have been at the time, in the end they failed to become more than a novelty control gimmick. So when the ’90s kicked in with SNK dropping their trademark control scheme to go with their new multi-game NEO-GEO MVS system, and as better and more advanced shooting games were being released, rotary joysticks pretty much vanished into thin air from the arcade scene without anyone really noticing or caring.
The only real advantage of the rotary joysticks is that although they can only be pushed in the same 8 directions than the standard 8-WAY joysticks, they come with a special 12-WAY switch box that allows them to be rotated in 12 different positions, thus giving the player the ability to face and shoot in 4 additional directions not possible with the standard joysticks. Unfortunately, as great as this might sound on paper, in reality only very few games had actual 12-WAY support, and those that did, like it’s the case of「BATTLE FIELD」and「CAL. 50」, only showcased how unnecessary the additional directions were gameplay-wise.

Why do I blog this? Working on the book leads to curious discoveries. I’d be happy to play Super Mario with a phone dial, if possible, perhaps that can be an intriguing research avenue for the laboratory. Of course it’s more interesting to think about old school physical phone dials as opposed to the visual versions one can find on smartphones lately. On a different note, I am also fascinated by rotary dials and the way they subtly conveyed feedback to the users.