Released with the intention of creating unrivaled realism in the mech-simulator genre, Capcom shipped Steel Battalion for $200 and included a massive, 40 button control station. The game integrated the controller and the gameplay in ways no other console or PC-based title had done before.
In Steel Battalion, players take on the role of a Mech pilot, placed in control of a huge, 40-ton Vertical Tank, or VT. The controller features two control sticks, one governing the targeting and torso movement, and the other serving as a throttle stick. Additionally, three foot pedals control chassis movement, and over 40 individual buttons, each with a specific function, cover the remainder of the controller. The player's survival in the game is directly proportional to the understanding and speed at which they can use this controller.
At the start of each mission, the player must boot up their VT by flipping a series of switches and pressing buttons in a specific order. Each button or switch corresponds to an integrated function of the VTs operating system, and they must be activated in sequence for the mech to boot up at all. Throughout the course of the game, players make significant use of the controller's various buttons, tuning in to enemy radio-chatter, wiping the windshields if they get obstructed with mud or heavy rain, and cycling through weapons systems, targeting modes, zoom levels, and other functions one might perform within a giant walking tank. VTs are extremely susceptible to heat, and unless monitored closely by the player, their mech will overheat and shutdown, leaving the player vulnerable on the battlefield until he or she can reboot the vehicle again. Additionally, as a form of punishment, if the player's VT takes catastrophic damage, the player must eject from the mech by pressing a special emergency button before the VT explodes. If the player is too slow, their character effectively dies, and their profile as well as all of their progress is deleted automatically from the game's roster.
The controller was laid out as below:
Left Hand Side
- Gear Shift
- Left Joystick
- Left Thumbstick
- 5 Switches
Right Hand Side
- Right Joystick with trigger and 2 buttons
- 9 buttons
At least two versions of the Steel Battalion controller were produced. The first generation was easily identifiable by its green "numpad" buttons. On the later revision of the controller those nine buttons are blue instead. Based upon the experiences of the Steel Battalion community the later revision of the controller has weaker components in the foot pedals which are more prone to breaking.
The controller could be serviced, at great personal expense, by CAPCOM's own arcade division. This service ended when CAPCOM closed its arcade division in 2004.