A closer look at a recently discovered prototype Nintendo 64 controller shows some design choices that would have made the controller feel different from what eventually shipped with the console. While the prototype still features the three-pronged layout, it has some notable differences that might have solved a few design problems that plagued the controller that Nintendo eventually released, though it's not quite different enough that players would have needed to learn to play Goldeneye with a piano.
Most gamers could recognize the Nintendo 64 controller from its silhouette. The strange three-pronged controller took a bizarre approach that imagined a console which would let players choose how they wanted to play. Players could hold the the controller with their left hand on the far left in order to control games with the D-Pad, similarly to the Super Nintendo controller before it. Or players could hold it with their left hand in the middle and use the newly added control stick.
While the prototype posted on Twitter by user @shanebattye features the same layout as the controller that eventually went to market, it has a few notable changes, although it didn't add anything new to the list of awesome things the N64 could do. For those who like to dig into a controller's insides, Battye has a full teardown in his Twitter thread. Most folks, however, probably care the most about differences in the controller's design, and this prototype has a very interesting design change that most N64 players would appreciate.
But before we do, let’s zoom out a bit and check out the connector. This isn’t a normal N64 plug; it’s an RJ-11 connector.— Shane Battye (@shanebattye) September 21, 2019
This might explain in part why the press release photo of this controller did not show it connected to the console.
But why an RJ-11?... pic.twitter.com/0JrDd5GyK1
The board is close to retail but shape and mount points slightly different. Also note the button labels, A to F, and the A/B positions are reversed (although aren’t externally). The cable has the familiar three wire layout to a blue 4p header... pic.twitter.com/zG051I1DAv— Shane Battye (@shanebattye) September 21, 2019
The mechanism is familiar but it doesn’t come apart like a retail stick; in fact I only got as far as peeking inside for fear of breaking one of fragile shafts... pic.twitter.com/8TXTvfUxKg— Shane Battye (@shanebattye) September 21, 2019
Most people who remember the N64 will remember the controller's poorly constructed control stick, which gained notoriety for causing headaches for hardcore players. Intense play often left the stick broken and flopping about in its holster. If the stick did survive, its textured, hard-plastic would sometimes cause fingers and palms to blister, especially during games like Mario Party which required moving the stick quickly.
The prototype's control stick, however, takes such a dramatic departure that folks will wonder why the company ever went with a different design. The new stick has a more simple, non-textured top that features a gentle thumb divot in the center and looks a lot more similar to modern controller. Not only that, but the prototype's control stick features a construction so robust that Battye couldn't tear down that portion of the controller for fear of doing irreversible damage to stick's housing. Apart from that, the stick also doesn't feature the octagonal guides that constricted the movement of the original. This makes it look more like the control stick on the PlayStation 1.
The prototype will make Nintendo fans wonder why the company didn't go with the heartier design. Seeing a more comfortable control stick might induce flashbacks of palm pain from gamers' youths. Maybe that nostalgia fuel will encourage players to purchase some Nintendo 64 sneakers.