Ever since Nintendo hinted about the existence of the Dolphin project, fans have been drawing (and making) mockups of what the next gen controller could be. I’ve seen a bunch of them going through my research for this site, and funnily, some of them are still confused to be real prototype units.
A bit oh history. The “N2000” project, as it was called back then, was leaked by a lawsuit by Silicon Graphics Inc. targeting the ArtX startup in Fall of 1997. They argued that, since ArtX employed 20 former SGI engineers, including the head of the N64’s architecture development, they would for sure use SGI industry secrets for their upcoming projects. The lawsuit was eventually dropped, and Nintendo ended up hiring the ArtX firm for the development of their next gen, 128 bits console on May 1998. This obviously led to a ton of rumours, and Nintendo eventually announced their Dolphin project at E3 1999, in response to Sony announcing their PS2. (Source here)
This here might be the earliest I could find. A very strange model, similar shape to the N64 controller, but with the buttons on the handles and what looks to be a screen. It’s also very low quality and from around 1998. The original source cannot be accessed anymore, but an old blog site from 1999 hosted the picture here.
This one is more interesting. The first mockup to show dual analog sticks; very similar to the DualShock controller from Sony. This one also predicted the rumble features included in the controller, and the first party wireless controller, although we ended up with radio communication and not infrared. I believe it was made in late 1998, as 3DS Max 2.5 (the program used to make this mockup) was released in that year. Fun fact: Yurie Rocha, the 3D modeler for this mockup, ended up working on Paw Patrol.
Published in the NextGen magazine in September and October 2000 respectively, those two mockups were created by IGN using “insider information”. They were made with photoshop using the N64 controller as a base – they simply removed the third handle and placed the sticks around the remaining shape. Although they look horrible, the placement of the sticks is pretty accurate – the Dolphin controller wouldn’t follow the same layout as the DualShock. That said, those controllers were never made. I’ve seen them in some prototype compilations as real units, but they’re most definitely mockups.
Another thing to note is that these articles were written before Space World 2000, and so planned to be released after the event. By late August, just before the first issue was published, the Space World 2000 controllers were revealed in Japan. I assume the information took more time to reach worldwide audiences in the early 2000’s.
This brings us to the Space World 2000 controller itself. IGN jumped on the occasion to create a clay mockup of the newly revealed units, using the pictures released to the press. The result is notoriously garbage, as this picture has been used in a lot of shitposts since. However, this gave the fans a great insight on how the controller would feel, and honestly, this is my favorite piece. This is the only physical mockup after all. For more pictures of the building process, see the original article here.
You might recognize one of the official Space World 2000 controller images here, and you’d be right. Nintendo somehow didn’t release any updated renders of the wired controller after this event, even though they showed the final version of the controller at E3 2001. So fans used those old pictures and updated them with photoshop. Here’s one here with the only changes being a grey start button and a modified B button.
This leads us to our last picture here, with the cord turned black (and part of it missing), the Z-button modified to look like the final version and the font on the buttons modified. To this day, I still see this used as a stock picture on eBay listings, and the only hint that this is not the retail version is the main stick itself; it has four rings, instead of the three on retail controllers.