Early game system joysticks – Channel F

These articles aren’t going to be very technical in content but will be my experiences with the various joysticks of the early game systems. I will be doing a system ever couple of weeks.

When I was a kid in the 80’s I probably played every type of game system that was available. I either had a friend or a friend of a friend who had a different system than mine or extensively played a system at Toys-R-Us or Sears (I had friends who worked at both). I got to know every quirk of every game controller of the time; from the pain of TI-99 joystick to the joy of the Channel F.

Below are some of my thoughts on the joysticks of the time in (more or less) the order they came to the US market. I will be reviewing only the joysticks that came with the systems no aftermarket. I will also only be reviewing systems that utilized replaceable cartridges.

Channel F



The Fairchild Channel F beat out the Atari 2600 to the market by only a few months making it the first game system with replaceable cartridges. The graphics and sound weren’t much to write home about but they nailed it with the joystick. I remember playing with the Channel F at Sears. A friend of mine told me to check out the new game system they got (oddly, that Sears started selling the Channel F after the 2600) called the Fairchild Channel F. I was impressed. You held the joystick in your hand in a natural way gripping the elongated round base. It was much like just holding a very thin drinking glass. The grip head at the top of the base had a good feel too with a short throw to all eight directions. Only bad thing about the head was the triangle shape did cut into your hand with prolonged use. The movement was a smooth eight way and twisting the head would invoke more features or operated as a paddle. Pushing down on the joystick was the equivalent of the fire button. You could also pull up on the joystick as well for more features. I wasn’t too crazy about the ‘push down’ fire button concept. Having to push down to fire meant that you couldn’t fire and move at the same time. Therefore, there was always a momentary lag where you were venerable during transitioning from movement to firing to movement. A much later version had fire buttons but I, personally, never were able to try that variant. Early version had attached joysticks (something I always hated), later version had detachable joysticks. one reason I always hated attached joysticks was the obvious; what happens when one of the joysticks goes bad?

It’s interesting that one of the first systems had such a good joystick. I always wondered why other systems never emulated the Channel F joystick design. Maybe it was a copyright issue or maybe it was just too complex for the time. I have heard that the joystick did have some reliability issues due to the complexity. Anyway, I liked it.

Next week, a much longer article, the Atari 2600 and it’s variants.