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Controllers

Every game needs some type of input device, and each player has his or her preference on what that input device is: Whatever that person thinks will give them an edge in the game they are going to play. The edge can make the difference when playing games against another player or the computer (which doesn't have to worry about pushing buttons to do what it wants).

Some games only need a keyboard and a mouse—which should be your minimum controller configuration—while other games are best played with a joystick. In addition, game pads resembling the controllers for console-type games are available for computers. Everyone must choose for themselves the best input device for the game they are going to play. Some games might even need multiple input devices for optimum performance—for example, Mech Warrior and some flight simulators that use both joystick and throttle controllers.

The feel of the controller is also important to consider. If I don't like the feel of a controller, I won't be as comfortable to use it, and therefore won't play as well. I spent several months looking for a joystick to use.

For those gamers that go all out on their equipment, there are force-feedback controllers. These are joysticks that will respond to what is happening in the game by vibrating or by increasing the stick resistance. Let's say that you are flying a jet and are pulling the jet out of a nosedive. In real life, there would be major G-forces pulling at you, so the force-feedback joystick will resist your pull at the stick or shake in rough weather. This feedback gives those games a whole new feel of reality.

Picking out the right game controller doesn't have to be a simple selection if you don't want it to be. You can spend a lot of money for one too.

Mice and Trackballs

When it comes to the basics, if you have your computer, you're going to have a keyboard and some type of pointing device. When it comes to desktop work, I prefer a trackball. But the trackball isn't always the best game control device. Sometimes I prefer a mouse to the trackball because it can give me better maneuverability in some of the First Person Shooter (FPS) games. However, I do like the trackball for Real Time Stratagy (RTS) games because it gives me better control.

Joysticks and Wheels

The joystick is probably what most people think of when you talk about game controllers. My first joystick was a Kraft and had two buttons. It worked great because most of the games didn't have much complexity to their controls. Today, however, I have a much more complex joystick with a myriad of customizable control buttons.

Let me briefly mention wheel controllers. Yes, you guessed it—wheel controllers are used for racing games and can have foot pedals and steering wheel buttons. These wheels can also have force-feedback features, which react based on the road conditions.

There are two classes of joysticks. There are the digital joysticks that first hit the market only a few short years ago. Then there are the old analog joysticks. "What is the difference?" you ask.

Analog

An analog joystick uses a range of control values to measure movement to be processed by the computer. The analog components measure how much you move forward and back and side to side, and measure input from any other controls that are variable, such as slides and dials. Push buttons can be interpreted either as analog or as digital, because they are either on or off.

Digital

With a digital joystick, the movement of the joystick and any variable controls starts out as a digital signal. Being a digital device, you also have more customizing flexibility. You can adjust the sensitivity and tweak the controls to fit your playing style.

Throttles

Throttles are the extras—the added controls that you might find useful for some of the games. Mech Warrior is a great example of a game that can use a throttle control. The throttles let you use your left hand to adjust the speed of your battle machine, while your right hand controls direction and weapons. Although you can use a keyboard for these controls, you might find it handy to have everything literally at your fingertips.

Joystick Vendors

There are a number of game controller manufacturers, and many of them have great products. This can make it very hard to choose between them. There are a number of Web sites that can help you evaluate and compare the features. Some of the features will have no rating, such as how the controller fits in your hand. But you can get an idea of the performance of the joystick. FPgaming (http://www.fpgaming.com), shown in Figure 3.4, is one site where you can find some comparisons. Another site is GameCenter, at http://www.gamecenter.com/Hardware/Controllers/. You can search for other sites also. In addition, many game-oriented magazines regularly publish reviews of the latest hardware.

Figure 3.4 The FPgaming Web site is one review site for controllers.

In the following sections, I've listed some of the top game controller vendors. Each one has a Web site that you can visit and preview some of what they have to offer.

CH Products

You can find a variety of controllers at the CH Products site (http://www.chproducts.com/index.html), shown in Figure 3.5. They carry products for both the PC and Macintosh that come in both digital and analog versions and various price ranges, including controllers that use USB.

Figure 3.5 CH Products offers a wide variety of controllers.

Act Labs

Act Labs (http://www.actlab.com) covers the range of computer and arcade controllers. They offer racing systems, guns, game pads, flight sticks, and arcade sticks. With each new generation of controllers is added a higher degree of realism. You can see their Web site in Figure 3.6.

Figure 3.6 Act Labs makes more controllers than you can shake a stick at.

Microsoft

In spite of the fact that Microsoft (http://www.microsoft.com/insider/sidewinder/default.htm) is known for their software they also produce several game controllers. One, called Dual Strike, uses an innovative design, as you can see in Figure 3.7. They seem to have been able to combine mouse, keyboard, and joystick all into one controller. In addition, their SideWinder line includes several force-feedback models.

Figure 3.7 Microsoft produces game controllers as well as software.

Thrustmaster

When I hear the name of Thrustmaster (http://www.thrustmaster.com), I think of solid and reliable. Thrustmaster has been around a while and looks like they will continue to be around for a while longer. They have just released their line of new racing wheels, as you can see from their Web site, shown in Figure 3.8.

Figure 3.8 Thrustmaster's Web page includes information on repairing their older controllers to extend their life.

Logitech

Logitech (http://www.logitech.com/us/products/) is not just a mouse and keyboard company. Their line of WingMan game controllers are top of the line. Their controllers combine new technology and ergonomics, as noted in their Web site, shown in Figure 3.9.

Figure 3.9 Most commonly known for their mice, Logitech also offers game controllers.

Gravis

Gravis (http://www.gravis.com/products/) holds its own when it comes to game controllers. They have a range of controllers to fit anyone's needs. I have a friend that will not play a game with another controller. He will only use his Gravis controller. You can see Gravis's Web site in Figure 3.10.

Figure 3.10 Gravis is keeping up with the new controller technology.

Mad Catz

Mad Catz (http://www.madcatz.com) is a game controller company. They have an innovative use of technology in their controllers. They have controllers for other systems and not just PC games, as you can see in the Web site shown in Figure 3.11.

Figure 3.11 The Mad Catz Web site is loaded with as much technology as their controllers.

Saitek

You might find, as I did, that Saitek (http://www.saitekusa.com/home.html) has pulled out the stops and broke the mold when they made their Cyborg game controllers. These controllers are not only customizable for the games, but for the hand as well. The Cyborg works with the right or left hand, as you can see in Figure 3.12. You choose and adjust it yourself.

Figure 3.12 Advanced designs and engineering of controllers is a Saitek hallmark.

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