by Sean Kelly

Where have I been?? In my annual scrounging for Christmas presents for my family (parents, brothers, and sisters - not wife and kids), I found myself looking into Playstation games for my brothers. Admittedly, I don't keep very up-to-date as to what's hot and what's not for the PSX, so I had to do a little reading to familiarize myself with what the hell is going on nowadays. It was almost as if I'd stepped into a time warp!

I grab a copy of the 1998 Videogame Buyer's Guide which is done by EGM with a hefty cover price of SIX BUCKS! Damn isn't it awesome to own a convenience store and not have to pay for your mags! So I start flipping through the pages and I see some fairly cool-looking games. I also notice that damn near everything seems to be done with polygon graphics. I've never been a big fan of polygon graphics. I remember the first game I ever played in which they were used and it was horrible! This is stretching the limits of my memory by about a factor of 10, but the title that comes to mind is 4D Boxing for the Amiga. The fighters looked like something out of the 2600! Their movements were realistic and all, but the concept of polygon graphics was much more reflective of "rectangle" graphics at the time and it really didn't impress me much. Even the likes of Hard Drivin' at the arcade wasn't my cup of tea.

NOW I see what they had in mind way back when. I rented a copy of PSX Fighting Force the other day. Whoa!! All polygons and they can actually make shapes out of them now! The game rocked even though I finished it three days. If you were a Streets of Rage fan on the Genesis, you really need to snag yourself a copy of this game.

Anyway, while the polygon thing was something of a wake-up call, it wasn't much of one compared to what I would see as I got further into the mag.

I find myself more interested in information about classic games than the games themselves many times. While I do have a selection of favorites to play, I'm always up for a good story or background information or what not about most any game. For this reason, my collection of videogame mags from the classic era is among my most prized possessions. As sad as it may seem, I am constantly flipping through them reading the ads, looking for pictures of obscure hardware, reading the articles, you name it.

As I get to about the middle of this 1998 buyer's guide, I'm only glancing at pictures by now. Out of the corner of my eye this "thing" catches my attention. It looks kinda like a remote control of some sort, but I quickly realize that it's a joystick called the ASCII Grip. Now keep in mind that I'm much more "used to" flipping through my classic mags than I am this kind of thing. In "MY" mags, a revolutionary controller is the likes of the Joysensor or even Zircon's chrome-plated stick or the Le Stick which used mercury switches to sense movement in thin-air. What the hell are these things?? The buyer's guide goes on for three pages with numerous pictures of controllers for various "modern" systems. All the while I can't believe how archaic my idea of a controller has become.

Controllers now have names like the Barracuda or the NitroPad or the Eagle. They all seem to have a minimum of 87 buttons on them and some, like the ASCII Sphere, have, well, a sphere sticking out of them. *I* was crying when Sega came out with their 6-button controller for the Genesis! In completing Fighting Force on the Playstation, I can't help but think it might have been a lot easier than it was if only I was able to master all the different buttons but I just couldn't get used to them. I gave up on the N64 long ago - two DIRECTIONAL controllers on the same joystick??

Never mind the names and functions given this "new breed" of controller, what's the deal with the shapes?? Have you seen the Eagle 64 by Nyko? The damn thing looks like a stingray! How about that ASCII Grip? This beast is intended to be used by one hand only. There are 10 buttons (that I can SEE in the one-dimensional picture) and the joypad. My God! I'd pay money just to watch someone that has mastered the use of that thing - it would be more fun than playing whatever game he/she is playing! That Barracuda controller I mentioned has not one, not two, but three joypads. While I realize (or should I say hope?) that no game would call for using all three at the same time, I can certainly see myself scrambling for the correct pad to make a drop-pass in NHL '98.

Now I don't mean to imply that these controllers don't have their strong points. Hell, just looking at them you can tell they're going to be a lot more comfortable than your standard Intellivision controller. I doubt I'd ever be able to get used to all the buttons and such on the standard N64 pack-in controller, but it's sure as hell easy to hold. Even the pack-in PSX controller is a whole lot easier on the thumbs than say the pack-in 2600 controller. Oh the endless hours of Activision Boxing on the 2600 with periodic "thumb breaks" - what memories. If only we could have plugged-in a PSX controller back then. We would have boxed for days and only have to break for food and bathroom.

I guess this is progress but it's kinda hard to tell in my opinion. How much fun can a game that requires you to rotate a sphere be? If you need the "14 programmable buttons" that are included on that Barracuda controller, you've got one seriously demented game on your hands in my opinion. I can just see these programmers sitting back laughing their asses off.

"What if we made people press 7 buttons at the same time with their right hand while rotating a sphere with their left hand and their chin on an analog pad?! THAT would be hilarious!"

"No...no! I have a better one! We pack-in the one-handed ASCII Grip controller with our game and require that they buy a second one in order to do the REALLY cool moves. Then we'll have some ass sitting there with both arms outstretched trying to manipulate 20 buttons and two pads at the same time. Friends would be able to come up and throw shit at him or spit on him or whatever they wanted and the poor schmuck would have to sit there and take it."

I bet you didn't know that THESE are really the types of things discussed behind closed doors at Capcom or whoever. The really funny part is that some people would do it too!

An area that has seen some nice progress is the driving/flight controller department. There are four of this type of controller mentioned and all look pretty damn cool except two out of the four still get a bit carried away in with the buttons. The Hot Wheels Ultimate Racing Wheel, for example, has 11 action buttons, the wheel, two foot pedals, and a joypad bundled together. I don't think my real car has that many buttons! The ACT Labs RS wheel looks nice and simple however. You get a stylish wheel with a FEW buttons and a set of foot pedals. It almost makes me want to run out and get a game that's compatible with one of these just so I can rationalize buying the controller. All of these put my meager ColecoVision Turbo controller to shame.

What's the deal with these "big-base" controllers still hanging around? You know, the ones that you have to set on a table because if you dare set them on your lap they'd leave indentations in your legs that wouldn't go away for three weeks. I understand that they're trying to give more of an arcade feel to the games, but it doesn't work. Can we please get on with our lives?

My take on the controller scene:

- Attention to ergonomics is a good thing. Nobody should need a hand massage after playing a few games.

- Attention to aerodynamics is a ridiculous thing. These folks are just trying to make something that looks pretty in order to catch your attention. We're playing games here....not launching a stealth bomber from our palms.

- Buttons are getting WAY out of hand boys and girls. There needs to be more paperwork required of companies that intend to release a controller with more than 8 buttons.

- I SUPPOSE I can stand for non-standard controls like spheres. This type of controller should be limited to a pack-in with a game that specifically takes advantage of it though.

- Multiple joypads/sticks are definitely not kosher! Yeah, yeah, there MIGHT be a game or two for which this would come in handy, but let's set the absolute maximum at two please!

- A COUPLE programmable buttons is acceptable. Game companies are always seem to find a need for more buttons than the standard controller has so these might come in handy. Seventeen of them is certainly out of line though.

There's a quote from who the marketing manager of InterAct controller company that sums up a lot of what I have had to say here. Jason Herskowitz says: "Because this is what we do, InterAct can concentrate on something as small as the spring tension of a joystick."

Jason, my man, it's time you seriously sought-out a life.

OK, a quick DP CD-ROM status note here. The CDs are about half-gone now. If you've been sitting around waiting for one to bite you on the ass like you always do, it's not gonna happen and you'd better get up now and go get that checkbook. You know you'll be crying if you miss-out on the CD!

Sean Kelly is a long-time collector and gamer, and part-time dealer. He's well known for his multi-carts and excellent deals on collectibles. You can visit Sean's Home Page at http://www.xnet.com/~skelly/

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Last updated Tuesday, February 13, 2007 06:01 PM