And sometimes when we touch…

For me the biggest bugbear of using an olde worlde joypad is you have to press a physical d-pad to make it move. It’s such a chore it often leaves me so tired I have to spend days in bed recovering. I feel weary just thinking about it, which is why I was over the moon when Albany-based video game peripheral manufacturer, Triax Technologies, in 1993 released the revolutionary Turbo Touch 360. A man called Leonard Lefkowitz appears to have been the brains behind it, at least he was the person registering patents for the company.

It was a “technology break-through in video game control”, guaranteeing “higher scores or your money back!”. What’s more, because its approach was so alien to ’90s gamers it came accompanied with an ‘Important Hints’ card, helpfully informing us that pushing down with our thumbs was to become a thing of the past. Instead, you’d “simply slide your finger over, or touch the sensor plate in the direction you want to go”, as long as you “don’t lie your thumb flat across the plate. If you do, nothing will happen.”

You could wave goodbye to that perennial dilemma, “numb thumb fatigue”, enjoying a “faster response, and better circular and diagonal control” into the bargain. Three different models operating on the same principle were available, one for the Sega Mega Drive, another for the NES and a separate one for the SNES.

Of course, as we know, Sega controllers came equipped with a 9-pin port connector so also worked for the Amiga, sometimes even enabling the option to use two independent fire buttons. Thus it was the black and yellow Sega model that was advertised in Amiga magazines and touted as an alternative to the humble joystick, with which – as computer gamers – we were generally more familiar and comfortable.

‘Universal Computer’ in Kent must have thought the Turbo Touch had potential, listing them for sale in CU Amiga’s April 1993 issue priced at £20.99, nearly double the cost of a standard joypad. They also made an appearance in Amiga Computing magazine in July and August of 1993 for the same price. Although featured in the latter edition was an unmissable ‘reader offer’ simultaneously making them available for sale at £16.99.

Noo Yoikers, Triax, knew the Turbo Touch 360 wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea, at least not initially. Nevertheless, they insisted that if we dedicated sufficient time to practising the fine art of this futuristic marvel we would see the light before the 30-day opportunity to return it for a full refund expired.

And for those who were able to adapt, the experience was very positive judging by the device’s advocates. However, like Marmite – appropriately packaged in the same colours – there were just as many people who couldn’t understand why anyone would want to bend over backwards to make sense of it. Unfortunately for Triax they appear to have been the more vocal group, hence the 360’s reputation as one of the worst designed controllers ever. That can’t have gone down well with the marketing team who spent a fortune running the excruciatingly awful ‘I’m a Mac, I’m a PC’ style TV adverts. They were laughable potential sacking offences at the time, we didn’t need hindsight to reach this conclusion.

Not that this hindered touch-sensitive devices becoming the norm today, at least for mobile devices, even if they are still considered less than ideal for gaming. Why else would people buy a Bluetooth joypad for a mobile phone, as ridiculous as that may at first appear?

One of the drawbacks identified at the time was that there was simply more distance to cover with the Turbo Touch to make a switch from, say, the left to the right than there would be with a conventional rocker pad. This would inevitably lead to a slower screen response, and an increased propensity for death… you know, of your sprite. The 360 controller never actually killed anyone for real as far as I recall.

Others found them overly sensitive, unable to accommodate the technique of having to keep their thumb off the yellow octagon until ready to move, although the central dead spot resting place helped with this somewhat.

Ultimately, an absence of haptic feedback is the biggest complaint. Obviously, when there’s no give to indicate you’ve effected a movement it can feel a tad strange, and even unsatisfying. This leads to a lack of precision, a blunt all or nothing response, not helped by there being a delay in the cessation of a command when removing the thumb.

If you have super-sized gorilla hands, yet struggle to pick up heavy objects, I suppose it’s a bonus that the 360 is more chunky and lighter than an average joypad. Independent turbo buttons! See, there’s another thing for the positives list. Wow, that was an uphill battle.

I’d be surprised if this is anyone’s controller of choice these days, more of a collector’s curio to relegate to a glass case. A prop with which to regale your kids with tales of early touch tech.

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