Have you used a button-only arcade controller?

Originally published at: Have you used a button-only arcade controller? | Boing Boing



I switched to a Hitbox layout shortly after Street Fight 5 came out.
This input system allows for certain input shortcuts that makes executing some moves more simple.

They’re also easier to transport and can have a small footprint.

If you’re using one for fighting games search for SOCD shortcuts for the game you’re playing.

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They’re typically used for fighting games (mainly to speed up inputs and use input directions usually unavailable due to the physical limitations of joysticks/thumbpads) and rhythm games (some of the button only controllers are smaller than the usual ones used for those kind of games).

I personally haven’t for the same reasons why avoid stick after trying that for a while. I have crappy wrists so I tend to stick to joypad. If I do get something dedicated in the future it would most likely be a Saturn-style pad.

Does one of these count?

I’ve had one for years back when it used a ps/2 keyboard plug. It’s been converted and plugs into my dedicated Raspberry Pi MAME set up.

Of course I’m only playing real arcade games like Joust, Tapper, Space Invaders, Track and Field, Gauntlet, Asteroids, etc…


Historically speaking, aren’t button only controllers more the norm than the exception?

It’s not uncommon for some of the buttons to not have per-button control surfaces(eg. in d-pads or digital joysticks, which includes a lot of arcade joysticks since they can actually take the abuse unlike the cheapies over in resistive); but that doesn’t really make them not button only, it just makes it less obvious that they are all button; rather than there being resistive or hall effect sticks, capacitive sensors, etc. present.

I was going to note that having analog sticks wasn’t even an expectation outside of flight sim peripherals until the mid-late 90s(thanks to the N64 followed by the DualShock); then I realized that that makes me desperately old, so let’s just not.

I’d say no, they were during the mid 80s to late 90s, but before and after then most controllers had sticks. The N64 came out in 1996, the Playstation dualshock controller in 1997, and the Dreamcast in 1998.


I have yet to use one myself, but I figured a hitbox would be easier on the wrists than a stick. Set it on a lap or table and, obviously depending on the size of the buttons, your wrists move less.

Sticks and hotboxes intrigue me these days because controllers make my thumbs sore. Main reason I haven’t moved forward with either is because I realistically don’t have that much time to devote to fighting games, and the online interactions I’ve had have been mostly unpleasant.

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Yeah, that’s where “I’m actually super old” problem got me and my argument. Your chronology is entirely correct; but I’m still stuck in a timeline where the late-90’s standardization on analog sticks has been recognized as no mere fad; but still a contemporary development; rather than actually being a generation or so ago.

shakes fist at cloud

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The whole ‘get gud’ thing can be quite annoying when it comes to certain games online. I haven’t touched fighting games as much in the recent years with that being one of the reasons

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“Get gud” is the equivalent of telling a bunch of pre-teen kids that they are no good because they can’t beat the Manchester City first team. No one “gets gud” that way, they get demoralised and give up.


I have no interest in playing a competitive game online with strangers. Ever. Again.


No, because we’re talking about arcade games, which historically have all manner of interesting controls, but joysticks are the baseline.

That said, hitboxes make perfect sense because arcade joysticks are digital, not analog like many home computer joysticks were (notably Apple II and IBM, though Atari and Commodore joysticks were digital).

I can see why they would be banned in many fighting game tournaments, because they kinda take the skill out of a lot of the more difficult special moves, and would net a substantial speed edge.

I wouldn’t bother for my MAME machine though, because many of the most interesting games have cool non-joystick controls, like spinners, trackballs, and rollers. Furthermore, for the joystick games, they aren’t going to feel right with keys. Same reason arcade games are way less fun to play in MAME running on a PC with the keyboard. You need the joystick for the proper experience.

There’s important subtlety within joysticks as well- notably the gating. Older games like Pac-Man use a four way gated stick (ie. the corners are locked out physically). That’s not nothing. The gameplay is tuned for that stick, and playing with a modern eight-way stick is much harder. You’ll miss critical turns because the game doesn’t know what to do when it sees two direction inputs at the same time. Then of course there’s Q*Bert, which has a 45° gated stick, thus breaking everyone’s MAME setup :joy:.

On my arcade setup I have electrically adjustable 4-way and 8-way gating on the sticks. So Pac-Man plays correctly, as does Robotron. There were also some games with two-way gated sticks, but they play fine on four-way mode. Most two-way games went with buttons anyway.


Most of the time, the button-only layouts are less for speed and more for accuracy, but as with so many controllers, it can also be to play the way that is comfortable for you. The OP has the directions in WASD style, but Hitbox and similar place them so you can have one finger for each. When you have to use your thumb on an up button which is “lower” instead, it becomes far more difficult to jump accidentally in fighting games where up does that.

Two button-only controller examples which might interest people. On the accessibility side, UltraDavid’s Splitbox. He had retired from tournament competition due to hand injury, but came up with a design that allows him to, among other things, stand while playing.

On the… let’s call it “purpose built” side… there was one I saw a few years ago on Twitter made just to do one combo with one character in (I think) BlazBlue. ~30 buttons placed into a pizza box in an order which, after flipping an SOCD toggle switch (which had a big red cover on it), allowed the owner to just swipe his fingers across about five columns of them twice to perform the combo.

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I have that controller, too - have you figured out a Pi/MAME configuration that will work Battlezone? Seems like the two joysticks should be sufficient (the fire button might be tough, since they have no trigger), but I haven’t been able to make it work yet.

I haven’t played Battle Zone on my set up, I just checked, It works with one stick as expected but the other stick is mapped to a couple buttons.

A quick Google search say all you have to do is map the right joystick to the right tread control and the left joystick to the left tread. I couldn’t find what the default settings were to try changing it.

The key is to change it from with the ROM/game by pressing the tab key to get to the input settings while the game is running.

Because the game originally only used the up and down function of the joystick to control the steering I’ll bet you could map the fire button to the left or right direction on either joystick so you could just slap to the left or right to fire. You could even assign fire to more than one button.

The next time I can’t sleep I’ll fool around with it, if I get to work I’ll let you know.

But the key is the input settings from within the game by hitting the tab button on a keyboard while the game is running, it will also be helpful to have the X-Arcade layout handy so you know which keyboard keys are assigned to which buttons by default. I usually print it out and then mark it up as I’m fiddling with games.

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Ah, good info. Thanks!

I’ve used one since 2013 for playing fighting games! They’re great, and they’re fairly commonly used among serious fighting game players, and they’re not banned. You see them used on the big stages more and more often.

To clarify a bit, Hit Box-style controllers use arcade buttons and mixbox-style controllers use arrow keys for movement and arcade buttons for attacks. There are of course more keyboard-style input devices too.

I tried it out today.

When you’re in the game hit the tab key on a keyboard hooked up to the system. (side note, assign an unused button to the tab key so you don’t need a keyboard, if you don’t have an unused button asign a two button combination)

Select Input Settings This Game Only and then change P1 Right/Up Down P1 Left/Up Down to the left and right joysticks.

The attached photo is what it should look like when you’re done.

I couldn’t change the fire button to the joystick so I changed it to the button right next to the right joystick so I can use my right pinky to fire.

Have fun if it works.

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Oh, excellent! Thanks! I’ll give it a shot. I’ve never fully come to grips with the configuration of my Picade system - between Retroarch and MAME, there are too many places to look.

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