Depending on your point of reference, any game controller can look 'weird'. Back in 1975, when Pong was played with simple rotating knobs, Microsoft's curvy Xbox 360 joypad would have looked 'space-age', Nintendo's Wii Remote akin to 'magic'.
But while a buttons-and-joystick combo is ideal for most games, there are those that just aren't satisfied with tradition. The question is: where do do you draw the line between 'visionary' design and 'that'll-never-work lunacy'? Witness 10 of gaming's weirdest controllers.
The Massage Me gamepad jacket
You want odd? Let's kick off with a wearable gamepad that lets avid gamers give their partner a back massage while they play.
The Massage Me system uses soft and flexible buttons embedded into a Tron-style jacket. The controller layout is repeated several times for neck, shoulders and lower-back rubdowns.
"The best massages come from playing games that require the player to press a lot of buttons and combinations," says the Massage Me website. Er, yes.
The Rapid River paddle
The coin-op industry has dreamt up more than its fair share of zany game controllers. Gun replicas were used to great effect in Silent Scope and Time Crisis. Top Skater featured a tilting skateboard; some of you might remember sitting on tilting plastic motorbikes playing Hang On.
Namco's Rapid River was part of this trend, a white water rafting game that featured a 50-inch RP screen, a simulated dinghy and a 'paddle' controller. You stuck your oar in to turn left or right and rowed like an amateur canoeist to move forward. A classic.
(Picture courtesy of www.arcadeflyers.com)
The GameRunner treadmill
Forget Nintendo's Wii Fit (I know I have). The GameRunner aims to offset the boredom of physical fitness by incorporating treadmill movement into your favourite first person shooters.
Actually, there's no running involved... "Players wouldn't last very long if they had to run," says the GameRunner website, so "the GameRunner is tuned for walking".
But this still means that you can physically wander through an FPS – the faster you walk, the faster your character moves onscreen. A set of bike-style handlebars takes care of direction, boasting various triggers and buttons that can be configured to activate other controls.
Watch the videos online.
The DK Bongos controller
Thanks to the likes of Guitar Hero, modern gamers are quickly getting used to abandoning their joypads in favour of strumming plastic guitars.
But this isn't a new trend. Konami's GuitarFreaks is arguably the coin-op precursor to Guitar Hero. Put it together with a DrumMania V3 cabinet and you've got a pre-millennium version of Rock Band.
But perhaps the strangest instrument-based controller was Nintendo's DK Bongos. These plastic drums memorably featured in DK Bongo Blast for the GameCube (not to mention the Donkey Konga series and Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat).
You hit the left bongo to swoop left, thwacked the right bongo to soar right... and then you used a gamepad.
The OCZ Neural Impulse Actuator
You know where you are when a game asks you to "press START". But what about "think START"? Or "imagine START"?
The preposterously-titled Neural Impulse Actuator from OCZ claims to add an element of 'mind control' to gaming. Strap on the headband and its carbon nanofiber-based sensors will translate your body's electrical biosignals into computer commands.
We've already reviewed the Actuator here and it actually seems to work. "In real terms," says our reviewer, "(the Neural Impulse Actuator) means you can turn a corner, pop to zoomed sniper mode and headshot an opponent halfway across the map, all without actually touching a key or clicking a mouse button." Nice.
The Nintendo Power Glove
Back in the 1980s, technologists were loved-up with virtual reality and Nintendo's Power Glove (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WYBzKFm-rd0) was an attempt to bring some of VR's multi-million dollar futurism into the living room.
The 1989 Power Glove was based on VPL's DataGlove technology. It could detect 3D movement (such as pitch, yaw, roll) and whether the fingers of the glove were being flexed.
With the addition of NES controller buttons, Nintendo had a revolutionary gaming controller on its hands.
Unfortunately, the Power Glove was criticised for its imprecise controls and only two games (Super Glove Ball and Bad Street Brawler) were ever released for it. 17 years on and Nintendo returned to the 3D idea for the Wii's control system.
The Sega Dreamcast Fishing Rod
Some games inspire the development of controllers that just can't be used for anything else. Take Sega's relaxing Dreamcast title, Get Bass, aka Bass Fishing (US).
To truly play this fish-sim properly you needed to invest in the Fishing Rod controller.
Cast your lure into the superbly rendered lake environment and then wait... wait for it... and... wait. Force-feedback technology built into the plastic rod would tell you when you had a bite.
But hooking a bass was just the start of a strategic tug-of-war as you tried to land the struggling fish without snapping the line or snagging it on underwater obstacles.
The Novint Falcon 3D controller
Novint makes a bold claim for its Falcon controller, saying that its technology "transforms the user experience by adding realistic interactive 3D touch to computing".
While it looks like the accidental offspring of a satellite speaker and an angle-poise lamp, think of the Falcon as a 3D mouse. It can move up and down, forwards and backwards just like a traditional mouse. But the Falcon can also move up and down.
At the same time, small motors in the controller provide haptic feedback giving you a sense of texture and shape. Watch the demo online.
More than simply a webcam, Sony's EyeToy http://www.eyetoy.com/ stands out from the crowd because it almost abandons the idea of a controller altogether.
Instead, the player is the controller. In its debut game, EyeToy Play, players could interact with onscreen objects in a series of party games – punching invading ninja warriors, heading a football or copying dance moves.
EyeToy's genius is its simplicity and, while the collision detection is often poor, the easy interactivity arguably makes up for it. Despite its undoubted success, the EyeToy camera's popularity has been hit hard by the decline of the PlayStation 2 platform and the arrival of the Nintendo Wii.
Made by the company that manufacturers RailDriver (the only desktop train cab controller, don't you know), ShipDriver includes an interchangeable tiller, a ship's wheel, and a modern steering wheel to let you match rudder control to your virtual boat.
Of course, that means you need some virtual boat software to go with it. Look out for Ship Simulator 2006 coming to a store near you soon.