While many consider the Xbox 360 to be THE platform for all types of gaming, die-hard fighting game fans will be quick to point out the console’s Achilles' Heel: the directional pad. It is truly a shame that the standard Xbox 360 controller’s directional pad is as bad as it is and is the bane of the controller’s existence. I could argue that the controller itself is one of the, if not the, best controller designs in the history of gaming; the only thing really holding me back from labeling it as such is the horrendous monstrosity that is its directional pad.
The major complaint that gamers have had about the standard 360 d-pad is its unresponsiveness. The pad has a hard time detecting and registering subsequent direction inputs at a rapid pace. It works fine for standard directional inputs such as those required by most platformer and action games but often fails to acknowledge sequential inputs at a fast rate such as required in a fighting game. The result is a lot of frustrated gamers and unhappy customers of a particular genre.
Users have narrowed the issue down to two problems that exist in the design of the standard directional pad. The first issue lies in the width and depth of the “well” that houses the the physical directional pad and holds it above its connections on the enclosed PCB board. This well does not give the pad enough room to physically move far enough in any given direction to register a directional press; basically, players are physically blocked by the controller’s design from moving the pad far enough for it to register a button press on the PCB contacts below. Because of the large depth of the well (in relation to the design), the directional pad would need to be moved quite a bit more than it physically can in order to firmly make contact with the board below. Numerous hacks and do-it-yourself fixes online recommend or involve sanding the inside of the well in order to allow more movement of the pad. This works in theory and provides some relief to the problem but doesn’t 100% resolve the issue at hand. Plus, any and all physical modification of the controller not only voids your manufacturer’s warranty but also puts your controller at risk of being broken. Even a faulty d-pad controller is better than no controller at all.
The other issue has to do with the physical design of the d-pad’s contacts on the bottom and how they are structured to move, or in this case, not move. The movement of the pad itself is limited by the design of its center post which limits its movement to something similar to a see-saw. When a direction is pressed, only the outside edge of the pad’s contact makes contact with the circuit board, resulting in an unreliable and unresponsive connection. If this post were redesigned to allow better movement, the pad could make a much much more secure contact with the circuit board and register a more reliable input.
Recently, Microsoft has finally acknowledged the issues with the standard directional pad design and released an updated version to gamers earlier this month. The new design attempts to resolve the issue by utilizing an adjustable directional pad. The height of the d-pad can now be adjusted to suit the needs of the gamer. With simply a turn of the ring encompassing the directional pad or disc, the actual directional cross becomes more pronounced. This resolution is theoretically similar to the modification many gamers have used in sanding the outside of the well. All that is really being accomplished is that a little more room is being given to the pad to move in any given direction. Just like the mod, this provides a nice relief from the symptoms, but doesn’t cure the inherent problem.
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