Controller update. (evaluation) David H. Ahl.
We have been seriously evaluating game controllers since Cromemco brought out the first computer joystick in 1977, long before there was an Atari VCS or the profusion of video and computer games that exists today.
Over the years we have seen a steady evolution and improvement in controllers as manufacturers learn from the mistakes of their predecessors and respond to the desires of the market.
However, along the way, we have also seen a few products brought out for the sake of technology itself (if it can be done, it must be good), or for the sake of novelty (if it is different, people will buy it).
We generally like to be upbeat and report that every thing new is truly wonderful, but this issue we have some entries from all three of the above categories. Some of the products reviewed below incorporate evolutionary changes and represent improvements in the state of the art, but some are technology for the sake of itself, or novelty for the sake of being different.
Tech Designs Magstik (for Apple)
We gave our top rating to Tech Designs' Adam and Eve paddle controls for the Apple computer almost two years ago, and to this day they remain our personal favorites. They have the right size housing and knob, a responsive firing button, and are very accurate.
Shortly thereafter, Tech Designs introduced a joystick of which we never obtained a sample for review. However, they now have introduced a new joystick with a rather interesting design.
Most joysticks are either self-centering (good for maze and Pac-creature type games) or non-self-centering (good for Missile Command and Centipede type games). The few joysticks on the market that allow self-centering to be defeated do so by means of a mechanical arrangement that involves either unhooking some springs manually or adjusting small levers in the base of the control housing.
Tech Designs has a better idea. The Magstik has a magnet attached to the bottom (enclosed) part of the joystick and a second magnet in the bottom of the housing. When both magnets are in place, the joystick is self-centering. However, when the module containing the housing magnet is removed, the joystick is freemoving. No springs. No lever switches to foul up.
We can't hide our enthusiasm for the Magstik. The feel of it in the non-self-centering mode is amazingly smooth and responsive. But the same is true of the self-centering mode. Gone is the "clunk' as the springs tug the stick back to the center position.
Moreover, the Magstik has a centering adjustment on each direction of the stick which permits you to fine tune the stick to whatever game you are playing.
The two firing buttons are the same responsive ones used on the Adam and Eve paddles. They are side by side on the upper left side of the housing. We are not enthusiastic about that location for the buttons since it is very difficult to get two fingers on them simultaneously. Indeed, it favors lefties who can get the forefinger and middle finger of their right hands on the buttons. Righties will have a more difficult time with games such as Sea Dragon which require quick action from both firing buttons.
Nevertheless, we judge the Tech Designs Magstick to be one of the best, if not the best Apple joystick we have tested. Suggested retail is a pricey $64.95, but if you are serious about your games, it is easily worth it.
For more information, write Tech Designs, Inc., 3638 Grosvenor Dr., Ellicott City, MD 21043.
Spectra Video Quick Shot (Atari-compatible; Coleco Vision version available also)
Did you read the sections on Mastering Atari VCS games in the last issues of Video & Arcade Games? Martha Koppin uses a SpectraVideo Quick Shot joystick. However, this is one of those odd situations in which we have been using a product for ages, but never got around to telling the world how much we like it.
The Quick Shot has a handle contoured to a full hand grip. For games like Star Raiders you can wrap your whole hand around it and fire away with the button on the top of the stick. But for games like Shamus that require a more sensitive touch, you can grip the top of the handle like a normal joystick and use the firing button in the base housing. Actually, we find ourselves going back and forth, using both the firing button in the handle and the one in the base.
The firing button in the base is normally at the top left corner of the housing, favoring righties who control the stick with their right hand but fire with their left. However, a unique design allows the handle to be rotated 90 degrees which puts the button at the top right for lefties.
The molded plastic housing is rounded so it won't leave a lasting impression on your hand if you are holding it with the usual tension built up in playing video games. However, Quick Shot comes with four removable suction cups that fit in the housing and fasten the unit firmly to a desk or table if you have one handy.
Quick Shot has an extra long cable so players need not be crawling over one another to get close to the computer or game system--a thoughtful touch.
Do we sound enthusiastic about Quick Shot? You bet! It is one of the best joysticks on the market and the price is a very reasonable $12.95.
You'll find Quick Short at most dealers, or write Spectra Video, 39 W. 37th St., New York, NY 10018.
Amiga Power-Stick (Atari-compatible)
A most unusual joystick is the Amiga Power-Stick, First of all, it is small, measuring a diminutive 2.5 X 1.7 X 2.2 . Second, this is a true fingertip controller-- you can't grip the handle with more than two fingers.
In its favor, Power-Stick has two very responsive firing buttons located on the upper left and right sides of the housing. Righties and lefties will find one of the buttons falls naturally to either a thumb or forefinger, whichever you favor.
The stick itself is ultra-responsive, too much so for some of the members of our playing panel who favor a full-fisted control like the Quick Shot. Indeed, the self-centering feature seemed to be completely absent unless the control was treated quite gingerly. On the other hand, some players found the control gave them good precision and speed. Moreover, no one complained of fatigue after using the Power-Stick; its touch was so soft. As the instructions suggest, "a light, quick touch is most effective.'
Because of its small size, Power-Stick is strictly a hand-held control; there is no provision for anchoring it to a table. It is equipped with a long six-foot cord.
For more information, write Amiga Corp., 3350 Scott Blvd., Bldg. 7, Santa Clara, CA 95051.
Championship Electronics Super Champ Remote (Atari-compatible)
You will recall in our last roundup, we were most enthusiastic about the Super Champ joystick from Championship Electronics. It is a tall stick, but remarkably sensitive to the touch, requiring just a tad over 1/4 movement at the top of the 5 handle to activate the contacts. With two firing buttons in the handle, one on top and one in the front, we judged it one of the top Atari-compatible joysticks that we had tested.
Now Championship is offering the Super Champ in a remote control configuration. A miniature transmitter is housed in the base of the joystick replacing the long 10-foot cable and wind up mechanism in the normal version. A second, receiver unit is located by the video game or computer. Thus, you can sit across the room and move about while playing your favorite game.
Naturally, you will still have to get up to activate the switches on the game console or computer to start a new game and select options and skill levels, but the rest of the time, you are free to move where you wish.
For more information, write Championship Electronics, 711 Grandview Dr., South San Francisco, CA 94080.
Newport Controls Prostick II (three versions: Atari-compatible, Coleco, and TI)
As we pointed out in a previous issue, Newport Controls is a manufacturer of high-quality replacement controls for arcade games. Their first joysticks for the home market were simply rugged arcade game controls put in tough plastic housings. We loved the joystick, but found the firing button of lesser quality. Nevertheless, when they first came out, they were so much better than anything else on the market that we gave them a glowing endorsement.
No grass is growing under the feet of the folks at Newport, and they have introduced the second generation Prostick in three versions: Atari-compatible, Coleco, and TI. Here is Sherrie Van Tyle's report on the TI version.
No tears were shed when we unplugged our standard TI joysticks to test the Prostick II, an arcade-style unit for the TI 99/4A. With the Prostick, players jubilantly eluded missiles in Parsec and zipped around corners in the Munchman maze, bettering their old scores by thousands of points.
Compared to the TI joysticks, the Prostick feels solid in the hand; the base, solidly built of molded blue and black plastic, tapers to 3 for a snug fit in the palm of the hand. The Y-adapter, which enables the Prostick to replace the TI joysticks, doubles as a cable splitter so that two Prosticks may be connected for two-player games.
Players particularly liked the switchable gateplate--a black plastic collar around the stick that locks out diagonal signals for superior maze gameplay. Once the gameplate is switched from eight directions to four, it remains firmly in place. The six-foot cord is long enough to reach a player's favorite floor cushion or chair.
Two responsive firing buttons on the front of the housing round out this excellent joystick.
The Coleco version comes with a Yadapter to allow the Prostick and Coleco controller to be plugged in simultaneously. The Atari version is identical, but has no adapter.
For more information, write Newport Controls, Bishop, CA 93514.
Wico Boss (for Atari and TI)
In our last issue, we sang the praises of the Wico Command Control and Red Ball joysticks. Now, they have augmented their line with a controller called the Boss. We tried the TI version. Here is Sherrie Van Tyle's report.
Side by side, the Boss joystick from Wico dwarfs a TI controller. The Boss is built to withstand years of gameplay with a hefty 4 square base of molded plastic and a stick that is 4 long. In shoot-'em-ups and Frogger-type games, the Boss easily outperforms the TI unit.
The stick and the fire button respond fast. Some players complained, however, that it was difficult to move the stick and fire simultaneously. Children thought the stick was too large in circumference for a comfortable grip. The base is meant to rest on a tabletop, though no suction cups are attached to the bottom, because the unit cannot be held in the hand for long without strain.
In addition, players felt that the lack of a gateplate to lock out diagonal signals during maze games was a drawback. Despite these complaints, players who tested the Boss topped all the scores they had achieved with TI joysticks.
The Boss offers a significant improvement over the stock TI joysticks. The price is $19.95, but it requires a TI adapter which costs $12.95 from Wico. A less expensive adapter, the Champ #2, for $4.95 from Championship Electronics can also be used.
For more information, write Wico, 6400 W. Gross Point Rd., Niles, IL 60648.
Other Game Controllers
Suncom Joy Sensor (Atari-compatible)
The Joy Sensor is described by the manufacturer as a "touch-sensitive joystick simulator.' Looking more like a remote control for a TV set, the Joy Sensor measures 6.5 X 3 X 0.8 and has two touch-sensitive surfaces, one each at the top and bottom of the unit.
The surface at the bottom is a circle 1.75 in diameter. It has eight directions marked on it corresponding to the eight ways a joystick may be moved. For mazetype and other games requiring movement in just four directions, a slide switch in the center may be moved to the left to lock out the diagonal directions. A rectangular surface at the top has two standard firing controls at each side and a rapid fire sensor in the center.
Suncom recommends holding the Joy Sensor in one hand and using the opposite thumb to control direction on the touch panel. Firing is controlled by the thumb of the hand holding the unit. Suncom warns that, "it may take a while for you to learn how to best use your Joy Sensor, but once you do, you won't want to stop.' Well, maybe.
None of the members of our playing panel were particularly thrilled with the Joy Sensor, and game scores suffered badly when using it. There is no question that it is fast and responsive, but none of us ever quite got the hang of it.
The best feature is the rapid fire button which assures long survival in games like Defender--holding the button down makes you practically invulnerable. Now if only we could maneuver, too.
For more information, write Suncom, 650 Anthony Trail, Suite E, Northbrook, IL 60062.
Amiga Joyboard (Atari-compatible)
Remember those indoor skiing simulators that were at all the ski resorts in the 60's, but that never quite caught on? Well, Amiga has designed a similar device that works with an Atari VCS (or similar system). It even comes with a skiing game, Mogul Maniac!
The Joyboard looks something like a bathroom scale, but the whole thing (including you) is balanced on a central disk that rests on the floor. It is not difficult staying balanced, although the tendency is to lean more to one side or the other, thus activating the contacts in that direction.
But that is what it is all about. Rocking the Joyboard activates the contacts in the direction that you lean. The Joyboard has eight-direction capability; because of this we sometimes found it difficult to activate just one side direction alone.
While Amiga claims that "the Joyboard works with almost all Atari-compatible video games,' that doesn't mean that the games are truly playable with the Joyboard. It is fun to try other games just for laughs, but we think you will want to play mainly the four Amiga games designed specifically for use with the Joyboard.
These games include Mogul Maniac, a skiing game with nine downhill courses; Surf's Up, a surfing game; S.A.C. Alert, a fighter pilot flying game; and Off Your Rocker, a bop-the-mole type of game with colors instead of moles.
The Joyboard has a long 10" cord and is said to support up to 250 pounds (we tried it with 210 pounds with no ill effects).
Obviously, this is a specialized game controller and not a replacement for a regular joystick. It is good fun, particularly at a party, and may be the next addition for your game room.
Adapters and Accessories
ECS Atari-to-Apple Adapter
Electronic Control Systems has introduced a black (er, tan) box that allows switch-type (Atari-compatible) joysticks to be plugged into an Apple computer.
This is not the first device of its type. The Sirius Joyport did the same thing but required special programming to use a switch-type joystick. Several companies offered games with a Joyport option for about a year, but few new games have been released for it.
Unlike the Joyport, the ECS device makes a switch-type joystick look like a potentiometer to the computer--well, not a full potentiometer, but three positions (full clockwise, center, and full counterclockwise). A knurled rotary control on the side of the box adjusts the resistance of the center position.
Such an adapter makes it a joy to play maze games like Pig Pen and Snack Attack, as well as other games requiring movement in four directions. We were most enthusiastic about the essentially-similar Wico and Astar adapters and judge this one to be equally good. Incidentally, we also judge it to be vastly over-engineered. The Astar adapter uses five resistors, two mini pots, and two DIP relays whereas the ECS unit uses no less than 16 ICs, 14 resistors, 5 capacitors, 2 mini pots, and several diodes. But it works well, and that's the important thing.
For more information, write Electronic Control Systems, 22000 Romar St., Chatsworth, CA 91311.
Sullivan Enterprises Command Stand
The Command Stand is, as its name implies, a stand for a game controller. It has an 8 X 10 clear acrylic base that sits on the floor. Attached to the base is a two-foot red tube, on top of which is a sloping surface for mounting a joystick or paddle controller.
Included with the Command Stand is a package of adhesive-backed Velcro strips that must be applied to the bottom of your controller. Enough strips are included for two controllers. When the strips are applied, the controller is placed in the desired position on the loopy fabric which covers the sloping top surface of the stand.
To use the Command Stand, you simply place it between your legs with your feet on the base, and use the joystick as you would use one on an arcade game. Just one problem--the stand is only two feet high and, if you are sitting in anything higher than a kindergarten chair, you will have to lean well forward to grip the controller. This is not a disastrous shortcoming, but we would have liked the Command Stand far more if it was about 30 high. Smaller people (like children) found the height more convenient.
Nevertheless, the Command Stand is a nice idea and you may find it suits your playing style better than it did ours. Price is $39.95 plus $3.00 shipping from Sullivan Enterprises, 5714 Holland Lane, San Jose, CA 95118.
Photo: Tech Designs Magstick.
Photo: Spectra Video Quick Shot (Coleco version.)
Photo: Amiga Power-Stick.
Photo: Championship Super Champ Remote.
Photo: Newport Controls Prostik II.
Photo: Wico Boss.
Photo: Suncom Joy Sensor.
Photo: Amiga Joyboard.
Photo: ECS Adapter.
Photo: Sullivan Command Stand.
Products: Tech Designs Magstik (computer apparatus)
SpectraVideo Quick Shot (computer apparatus)
Amiga Power-Stick (computer apparatus)
Championship Electronics Super Champ Remote (computer apparatus)
Newport Controls Prostick II (computer apparatus)
Wico Boss (computer apparatus)
Suncom Joy Sensor (computer apparatus)
Amiga Joyboard (computer apparatus)
ECS Atari-to-Apple Adapter (computer apparatus)
Sullivan Enterprises Command Stand (computer apparatus)