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Controller Buttons - Do you know which is which?


FatOldGeek
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I’ve been playing console games since my late teens during the backend of the 80s. Starting with the Sega Master System, I’ve owned to my knowledge every ‘mainstream’ console or handheld since as well as a couple of less mainstream ones too. 
 

However it occurred to me the other day that despite this fairly lengthy experience I’ve really got little if any idea which buttons are which on any controller I pick up. Without fail when I start a new game and I’m playing through the early tutorial I always have to look down at the controller to see which button it’s telling me to press. Thinking about an Xbox or PlayStation pad now I’ve got absolutely no idea which Letter, Symbol or even Colour button is in which position. I know the shoulder buttons because I know my left from my right, but the face buttons not a chance. 
 

I have no issues playing games and I learn what button does what, I assume no differently from anyone else. 
 

Is this something that just I ‘struggle’ with or is it fairly normal? I’d love to know. 

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I also have trouble with the Xbox, having used Switch for a good few years with no exposure to any Microsoft console. It’s sort of sticking now. 
 

I’ve only recently (within the past few years) committed the PlayStation face button layout to memory. 
 

My partner has real trouble with L/R 1, 2 and 3, and always has to ask which is which while closely inspecting the controller. 

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21 minutes ago, SplashWaveUK said:

Thinking about an Xbox or PlayStation pad now I’ve got absolutely no idea which Letter, Symbol or even Colour button is in which position.

Despite not owning a Playstation since PS3, I still think of the face buttons as being cross, circle, square and triangle. This confuses the hell out of my kids when they're asking for help on Xbox games. 

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I’m fine with the face buttons on all three major platforms (although I still tend to call the shoulder buttons/triggers “L1 and L2” no matter what I’m playing on).

 

However since Microsoft changed Back and Start to whatever they are now, I have no idea. Games will say “press View” and I’m none the wiser. And of course you end up with “press Menu to start” and stupid shit like that. 
 

When the interface just shows the symbol (the… two boxes? Or the three lines) I still have to look down and see which is which. 
 

Just a dreadful design decision all around, really.

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31 minutes ago, gratuitous sax said:

PlayStation is easy.

 

The triangle is like an up arrow so it’s the top button.

 

X marks the spot for treasure buried underground, so it’s the bottom button. 
 

The sun rises in the east, so circle is on the right.

 

And that means the square is the only one left.

 

I’m 39 years old.


Bravo. :D

 

I believe this is well known at this point, but each shape has an incrementing number of sides, if you excuse cross slightly. So circle is 1, cross is 2, triangle is 3 and square is 4. In this way, the layout is analogous to the SNES buttons. 
 

Which may or may not be a useful way of thinking about their positioning. 

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2 minutes ago, Strafe said:

I’ve only just realised that Xbox has the x and y buttons the wrong way around and that’s why I always end up checking it.


If you grew up with Sega, they’re the right way round!

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36 minutes ago, jonathanhoey said:

I’m fine with the face buttons on all three major platforms (although I still tend to call the shoulder buttons/triggers “L1 and L2” no matter what I’m playing on).

 

However since Microsoft changed Back and Start to whatever they are now, I have no idea. Games will say “press View” and I’m none the wiser. And of course you end up with “press Menu to start” and stupid shit like that. 
 

When the interface just shows the symbol (the… two boxes? Or the three lines) I still have to look down and see which is which. 
 

Just a dreadful design decision all around, really.

 

I have mental block with this, almost everytime I'm playing a tutorial I have to squint down at my controller to see which one is the the two squares and which one is the horizontal lines.

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I still struggle with this in modern games.  What trips me up most is action adventure type games, where you're walking along and the game flashes up helpful tutorial info press like "A+R1 now!" when an enemy jumps you, and I find it impossible to find those buttons in time. 

 

I especially struggle with the L1 / L2 / R1 / R2 buttons.  Not only can I not remember if 1 or 2 is the nearer one or the further away one (sometimes I have to look down at the controller), it still takes me about 1/3 of a second to remember which way is left or right (I'm 51).

 

As mentioned above, if the game pops up a picture of the diamond of buttons highlighting which one, or a picture of the bumpers / triggers, highlighting which one, I can find them instantly, but just the names of the buttons alone takes me too long to parse in fast action games.

 

I'm fine with games like Dark Souls, where your hands are just locked onto the controller and you have to learn the 'feel' of what to press, where there's some logic to it, but not with modern AAA type action games where they fire arbitrary button combos at you all the time.

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20 minutes ago, Popo said:

If you grew up with Sega, they’re the right way round!

 

Yes, Sega and Microsoft put each of their two rows in alphabetical order. (And on the Master System, in numerical order.)

 

Nintendo do a bizarre thing where the placement of A and B is done so that A falls more naturally under the thumb, which is OK I suppose (makes sense on the GameCube) - but I can see no rhyme nor reason to which way round they put X and Y! (And X and Y are in completely different positions on the GameCube compared to the SNES/DS/WiiU/Switch!)

 

Nintendo's layout also always causes me problems when I'm calibrating keyboard controls on a SNES emulator. I have to check a picture of the pad to make sure that I'm setting the keybinds in a layout that matches the original pad, and also won't confuse me when I see in-game button prompts.

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I always get the square and circle buttons mixed up on the PS controllers. Makes rhythm action games a bit tough. No idea why it hasn't sunk in. It's in the same part of my brain that can never remember the difference between subjective and objective or its and it's without thinking for a moment, probably.

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The other aspect to consider is colour-coding. Even though the letter/symbol is my primary way of recognising controls, I find it useful when in-game button prompts are shown with a colour rather than just in black and white.

 

Of course that can be a problem when different systems use different colours:

 

  • Dreamcast: Main button A is red; B button is B for Blue! (X is yellow and Y is green for some reason.)
  • Xbox: Main button A (usually OK in menus in western games) is green for go; B (for Back or Cancel in menus) is red for stop. Y for yellow, which leaves that X must be blue.
  • PlayStation: X is blue, Circle is red (as with the Xbox, red being the Back/Cancel button in menus makes sense in western games, but not in Japanese ones that use circle as the OK button). Triangle is green (like on the Dreamcast) and Square is... pink? What, no yellow?
  • SNES: A is red and X is blue like on the Xbox, Y is green like on the Dreamcast, and B is yellow. 🤷‍♂️

 

The Xbox face button colours eventually superseded the Dreamcast colours in my memory. Although I still can't remember which way round the black and white buttons were on the original Xbox (or which shoulder buttons they're bound to on backwards compatibility). I remember White = Halo flashlight, which makes sense, but I have no idea if that was on the top or the bottom...

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42 minutes ago, chipsgravy said:

Thank goodness, I thought this was all just me and the whole world had grasped it. It's not normally much of a problem until a QTE pops up and then I ultimately fail the first time round. 

 

I'm the same , only QTEs give me this issue and then I normally fail right away as I try and remember which button is triangle or whatever. If the first button press is X I'm usually fine.

I have to take a second to orientate myself and then I can do it without looking again. 

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My eldest constantly takes the piss out of me for this, to the extent that when they helped me design my Xbox custom controller we agreed I needed the coloured face buttons rather than the monochrome ones that would have fitted better aesthetically but left me even more befuddled.

 

I'm tempted to refer to this thread as evidence that it's not just me, but I'm not sure "all the other middle aged gamers have the same trouble" is quite the coup de grâce I'd be going for.

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It's pretty easy to absorb the button locations through repetition.  The biggest issue I'm having right now is playing Slay the Spire on Xbox after 300 hours on Switch. It uses the same buttons but obviously they're in different places in the controller. The number of times I've ended my turn while trying to check a relic it use a potion is ridiculous.

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16 minutes ago, donpeartree said:

It's pretty easy to absorb the button locations through repetition.  The biggest issue I'm having right now is playing Slay the Spire on Xbox after 300 hours on Switch. It uses the same buttons but obviously they're in different places in the controller. The number of times I've ended my turn while trying to check a relic it use a potion is ridiculous.

 

I specifically remapped the switch controls for Slay The Spire to match the xbox for this reason (and I'm assuming you can do it the other way around for the xbox). And I put the "hold to end turn" option on.

 

There was always still a lingering doubt but it was massive improvement.

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3 hours ago, Popo said:


If you grew up with Sega, they’re the right way round!

 

Or, you know, a basic grasp of alphabetical order.

 

But yeah, PlayStation and Xbox (and Dreamcast) buttons I never have to think about, but I don't think I've had a single (full-fat) Nintendo console whose controls I can intuit; the face buttons always trip me up, and most 3D era consoles have thrown in absolute insanity like Z triggers or other shit that confuses me further. No idea what's going on when a button prompt comes up on a Nintendo console.

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24 minutes ago, Wiper said:

 

Or, you know, a basic grasp of alphabetical order.

 

But yeah, PlayStation and Xbox (and Dreamcast) buttons I never have to think about, but I don't think I've had a single (full-fat) Nintendo console whose controls I can intuit; the face buttons always trip me up, and most 3D era consoles have thrown in absolute insanity like Z triggers or other shit that confuses me further. No idea what's going on when a button prompt comes up on a Nintendo console.

 

To be fair, if you're Japanese, right-left is the correct way around.  Not sure why Sega did things left-right like we do in the west.

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