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The Death of the Joystick

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May 10, 2007 8:06:11 AM

It's been years since a game instilled the need to buy a new joystick, and it will be several more years coming until it happens again. TwitchGuru looks at what happened to joysticks and what's available now in the market.

More about : death joystick

May 10, 2007 9:37:41 AM

You may want to try Flight Gear Flight Simulator. You can't beat that one for realism.
If you cough up the dough for the 9 maps DVDs (the game is free - as in speech) you can fly all around the world.
Hefty joystick required - very sensitive handling.
May 10, 2007 10:43:16 AM

I've heard many stories about Logitech joysticks, and none were all that nice. There were a couple of threads I've read on other forums about joysticks, and EVERYONE said stay away from Logitech. Apparently you're lucky if the stick lasts a few months before turning crap - stuff like dead zone getting realy big and the stick floppy. Although one guy said he loves the feel so much, he just gets a new one every few months (buy from the right store and ya get a warranty). EVERY review I have read on the Saitek X52 flight system says its totally worth the money, in fact I'm planning on buying one in about a month (gotta save up - AU$200).
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May 10, 2007 12:40:33 PM

I own a Logitech joystick, a wireless rumblepad, a wireless keyboard and mouse, and the joystick has just been collecting dust, I occasionally try to use my rumblepad, or try to use it (still trying to figure out setting it up for oblivion).

I try to use my joystick, but it's such a PITA, the handle doesn't stay put in the center (keeps fidgeting, maybe it's dead zone thing)

Now you're really making me want to buy a new joystick.. I got an extra 50$ on my pay today.. damn you (trav) for writing this article! :p 
May 10, 2007 12:52:07 PM

I'm surprised the article did not mention Thrustmaster Cougar - the ultimate HOTAS for combat flight sims (particularly F16 sims, as it is modeled after that fighter's controls)
May 10, 2007 1:35:27 PM

I loved playing the X-Wing series with my Thrustmaster. It was by far the best joystick ever (expensive but worth it). I wish LucasArts would bring out more space flight games - I still play the X-Wing series today.
May 10, 2007 1:36:09 PM

Quote:
Imagine my surprise and dismay when I found out that Microsoft was not supporting the SideWinder line on XP, and I was unable to get the software to recognize the peripheral let alone support the force feedback functionality.


What a crock! I used my SideWinder Precision Pro on XP (RTM through SP2) until my game port died. Evidently, the author isn't a very good troubleshooter because in the XP Game Controls control panel option, it specifically has "Microsoft SideWinder (Auto Detect)".

As for my next flight joystick, I'm looking at CH Products.
May 10, 2007 1:54:59 PM

Quote:
I was faced with an interesting dilemma after receiving all these products: what am I going to test them with?....If no one makes the joystick games anymore, I'd just have to try out the new hardware with the old software.

Not a real flight sim guru are you? DUH!
You're obviously not TOO familiar with the flight simulator software out there for the PC, otherwise you wouldn't have said the silly thing above and instead immediately install the latest version of X-PLANE on your machine.

In case you didn't know X-PLANE also just happens to be an FAA Approved flight simulation software suitable for pilot training, meaning that it will work with just about any stick out there. The vast array of customization and configuration options within the software allow you to pretty much program the full control set for a multi-axis/multi-button joystick, as well as rudder controls, thrusters, yoke wheels, helicopter collective, and still retain the use of a keyboard/mouse.

Laminar Research and Austin Meyer have refined and advanced the flight sim genre to the most demanding levels and continue to do so, updating the software in every detail. The difference between MS Flight Simulator and X-Plane??? Microsoft gives you a GAME, X-Plane is a TRUE SIMULATOR. Anybody who knows a thing or two about flying and has used both will tell you that. And every true flight simulation fan out there will have X-Plane installed on their system, be it a PC or a Mac.

X-Plane can also break your CPU/GPU into a real sweat with all it's "options" turned up. Some would say it makes for a much more interesting benchmark than even Oblivion.

So if you think there's nothing out there to try your joystick on, I suggest you fire up X-Plane, and see what a REAL flight simulator is capable of.
May 10, 2007 4:00:38 PM

It's been a while since I used a joystick for my PC. This topic about joysticks brings back memories of playing Jane's Combat Simulations as a kid. For me the joystick died alongside the serial game port for the PC.
May 10, 2007 4:15:44 PM

I too miss the good ole days of space combat sims like the legendary Wing Command and X-Wing series. I still have X-Wing, Tie-Fighter, X-Wing vs Tie-Fighter, Wing Commander IV and Wing Commander: Prophecy. I tried installing WC:p  on my machine but the system is simply too fast for it. Even with CPU limiters the game will only play for a few minutes before crashing. I've got an old K6 500 machine with a Riva TNT128 card in it. I've been thinking of pulling it out of mothballs just to play those games.

DAMN YOU PEOPLE!!! COME OUT WITH A NEW SPACE COMBAT GAME!
May 10, 2007 5:04:51 PM

That's a shame about the Logitech sticks. Maybe I'll try to hang on to one and wear it out some, see if it's still as good. Out of the box, though, it's awesome.

Quote:
What a crock! I used my SideWinder Precision Pro on XP (RTM through SP2) until my game port died. Evidently, the author isn't a very good troubleshooter because in the XP Game Controls control panel option, it specifically has "Microsoft SideWinder (Auto Detect)".


What can I tell you, belvdr. It wouldn't work on my machine and when I called Microsoft they were all, "Sidewinder!? Upgrade, Noob!" This was many years ago, of course, and my "skillz" were not honed to the blinding edge they are now, but still... Microsoft dumping on an excellent hardware line was disappointing.

Quote:
Not a real flight sim guru are you? DUH!
You're obviously not TOO familiar with the flight simulator software out there for the PC, otherwise you wouldn't have said the silly thing above and instead immediately install the latest version of X-PLANE on your machine.


Does X-Plane have combat? That name rings a bell so I'll check it out. I'm not really into the take off and land sims. I prefer to shoot down stuff. Falcon 4.0 or Janes ATF would have been nice so I may still pick those back up. I also considered Longbow 2 for some copter action. I'm ashamed to say that I bought Strike Commander (with speech pack!) again. What's wrong with me.

Speaking of space combat sims, I'm currently working on an article (kind of a spinoff of this one) specifically about the great space sims so post your favorites and PM me with your fond memories.
May 10, 2007 5:12:30 PM

I wouldn't say that joysticks are gone, they have just moved and become smaller. Most console controllers feature a small joystick designed for your thumb. Some of the pads that used to be 4 or 8 directions now support close to 360 degree movement. While this is not desireable for sentive tasks like a sim it seems to get the job done for arcade action. I have always been bothered by having to calibrate my joystick over and over.

Most users don't want to have to buy a game and then find out they need to spend more cash on a controller to make it playable. (Though guitar hero series seems to doing well, but its way more fun then any sim, and its really odd to play other games using the guitar.)

For FPS action however WASD and a Mouse are dead acurate over any game pad. Its a matter of resolution and responce.
May 10, 2007 5:44:47 PM

Travis, are you TRYING to make me cry?
I want a new Mechwarrior game sooooo much! Curse you Microsoft, curse you to heck!
I could really go for a good space combat game too. Privateer 3 would be ideal, maybe a Freelancer 2.

As for classics that I loved... lets see.
Elite II Frontier is easily my favorite, though that was less of a space combat game and more of a space business simulator with aggressive piracy. I may very well have put more hours into this game than any single other game in my life. Truly expansive.

Freelancer was great, but definitely not a flightstick space combat game. I still loved it. The story was great, the combat was fun, the mission structure was entertaining, the exploration was fantastic. Me and my friends got this one down to a fine science. We were able to skip ahead two nations in difficulty and complete the harder missions they had until we could afford a good intermediary ship, then we would fly out to pirate space and do missions there until we could get the best ships, then we would explore and shoot down aliens till we had the best weapons, and we could pull this off in one lazy afternoon.

Privateer 2 was a lot of fun, even if the second to last plot mission was next to impossible. Even strategy guides (you know, before the internet was popular) indicated that even using the most optimal strategy, it would take no small amount of luck to beat it and that the last mission was far easier. I can't attest to that because I never beat that second to the last mission. Then my discs were ruined during a move. I still have fond memories of that game.
May 10, 2007 5:55:26 PM

Joysticks are GREAT for FPS games.

I used to use a MadCatz Panther XL Joystick/trackball combo, but they stopped development on them so I switched to a CH Combat Stick Pro & Kensingtion Expert Mouse Pro.

They joystick is well described in the article and the trackball has 10 programmable buttons.

Suffice to say I don't touch my keyboard when I'm playing half life2 or CS (both of which have joystick support) and I didn't have any issues setting up the Combat Stick to emulate the directional pad in thief or deus ex.

The only games I use a keyboard / mouse combo in are MMORPG & RTS games.
May 10, 2007 6:05:58 PM

Privateer is definitely one of my favorite games of all time. Privateer 2 was also good. I still play Privateer (1) on my current system (its a bitch to get it to work though) occasionally. I just don't understand where the space combat genre went. Most of my favorite games from the 90s were Wing Commander and X-Wing games. I have been complaining years now about how they just don't make them anymore. The last one I played was Freelancer and that one was OK, the game just got boring pretty quickly.
May 10, 2007 6:22:54 PM

Battlefeld 2

I am a daily tomshardware reader and never bothered to register until now....

What about games like Battlefeld 2 where you can flight aircraft??? Its really a lot different when you can control a weapon with much power
May 10, 2007 6:48:03 PM

What do you mean the joystick is dead????
I am using the Saitek AV8R-01 for FSX and it works great.

How can you even consider to fly a flightsim without a joystick???

What a lame article.
May 10, 2007 6:50:23 PM

actually - if you want to shoot things - you need the new version of Falcon4 - AF - you can find it in http://www.lead-pursuit.com/ - this is a very stable version of F4, or you can get the last community patches for the original F4 which make it even better.
There is also lockon at http://www.lo-mac.com/

and you have to get the thrustmaster cougar!!

Ido

oh - one more thing - you can get the old version of the thrustmaster hotas - the F22 and TQS off ebay for almost nothing and it's also better then all of the ones you reviewed. ( tom - the one that made this site had a set - back in the days when it was still called sysdoc.pair.com and he used to list his system spec)
May 10, 2007 7:19:35 PM

There are some fantastic sims out there. The thing is that some of them got so good that other developers couldn't keep up. The IL2 series is an awesome WWII combat simulator. The physics and realism are WAY beyond anything that has gone before in the WWII era. LOMAC (Lock-on) is the current era fighers what IL2 is to WWII era. Of course there is the MSFS series that just gets better all the time. I do have all the Jane's combat sims, Falcon 4.0, FA-18, ect... but they don't get the play time they used to.
I think one of the problems with the flight sims is that folks lack the attention span to master a true flight simulator. There a long and steep learning curve there. It's a lot lest complicated to pick up a game controller and arcade it out with your buddies. Instant gratification. Oh well, it's their loss.

Thick8 out <S>
May 10, 2007 7:37:00 PM

I still use a joystick daily to play my evening game of Descent 3. I can play 6DOF games only w/ a good stick (10 years ago that was your best option and I got used to it), so over the last few years I went through a vast amount of joysticks in search of the one that will last and would replace my M$ SW 3D Pro.

The Logitech sticks suffer from 1. cheap potentiometers, they will got bad after anything from 1 week to 3 months and 2. cheap hat switch assembly that breaks easily. Saitek sticks have better pots & hat switches but the trigger is usually weak.

Since modern computers don't have gameports anymore and the M$ SideWinder driver has timing issues on FSBs > 100MHz I ended up building my own USB converter so I can use the M$ SW 3D Pro. Too bad nobody makes sticks like the 3DP anymore :( 

I don't think joysticks will die out. Plenty of flight sims around and there's the one or other FPS in the works that will make using a stick appealing..
May 10, 2007 7:55:33 PM

There is also a new type of game controller coming onto the market; one that provides tactile feedback. Here is a link to one of them; the novint falcon. http://www.novint.com/
May 10, 2007 8:00:55 PM

I recently had a great experience digging up an old favorite.

My favorite space sim was freespace 2 (from 1999). I had a hunger for playing it a couple of weeks ago, but couldn't because I had loaned it to a friend. I took a look to see if I could find it online. I had the most wonderful surprise:

The game had gone open source, and there is a community dedicated to the game that is still developing for it. :D 

They have updated the graphics to modern standards, created new campaigns, and even ported the original Descent: Freespace into the project.

If you are looking for a good game to play with your joystick definitely check it out.

The name of the project is:

Freespace2 SCP (source code project)

http://scp.indiegames.us/news.php

It brought a huge smile to my face.
May 10, 2007 8:23:58 PM

OOoooOoh
I'll have to download that tonight.
May 10, 2007 9:22:37 PM

Heh. You guys speak of all these crazy flight sticks I never knew existed. Were any of you able to successfully navigate the Death Star run in the final mission of X-Wing Alliance? I found it ridiculously difficult with my Logitech Wingman Attack 2.
May 10, 2007 9:43:52 PM

Quote:
My favorite space sim was freespace 2 (from 1999). I had a hunger for playing it a couple of weeks ago, but couldn't because I had loaned it to a friend. I took a look to see if I could find it online. I had the most wonderful surprise:

The game had gone open source, and there is a community dedicated to the game that is still developing for it. :D 


That's a great find, and it's getting addressed in the space combat article I'm working on. There's a BSG TC demo for it called Beyond the Red Line that is shockingly good (and completely self-contained).

I also found that there are some hi-res art patches for Mechwarrior games and X-Wing Alliance. I'll discuss more of that in the article. :) 
May 10, 2007 10:13:59 PM

I've got the Thrustmaster HOTAS Cougar, and it's so much better than anything else I've had in the past (I decided to pay up for a decent joystick, as £80 ones weren't much better than £30 ones).

I play BF2 with it, and the programming you can do on it means I can fly a plane, hop out and get in a chopper, flip a switch and the controls are changed to suit the different flying style (throttle reversed, new response curves on x/y axes). The thing is so smooth I can get the Cobra hovering, go get a cup of tea, and the thing'll be hovering right where I left it when I come back.

If the precision ever goes then I can replace the gimbals and pots with custom parts, including precision engineered gimbals with bearings, hall effect sensors to replace the pots, or just replace everything with force sensors, so the stick doesn't move at all, it just senses how hard you're pushing on the stick (http://cougar.frugalsworld.com/mods.php).
May 10, 2007 11:32:16 PM

A little something for you all... some of you might have just been wonder what "FreeSpace" was (top of page 2)... if you ever played it or feel like having fun in an absolutely beautiful upgraded open-source HTL game, check out the site.

Hard-Light Productions main site
FreeSpace Wiki
Hard-Light Forums

Just check around. The following link has some information to get stuff (the upgraded engine, ship models, ship textures, weapons effects, et cetera.)
It's a large download... but its worth it! I have everything. Freespace2 Online Installer
May 11, 2007 2:01:28 AM

Have you actually considered a joystick for racing games? Setting up a steering wheel is such a PITA, besides storing it, that a Joystick is the simple answer.
May 11, 2007 7:24:47 AM

Oh all the descent games. On the second descent game I was useing 2 joysticks at once. Two Force feedback at once. But that game had tons of controls. I was crazy on the game. One joystick was set for slides up down left right. The other joystick acted as a normal flight stick. One fire button would be missles and the other would be guns. Weapons controls where set on both joysticks and views.

I wish they make a Descent 4.
May 11, 2007 7:52:38 AM

I like the CH joysticks for 2 main reasons. The centering force is very light making small off center adjustements easier, and reducing fatigue. The CH Control Manage also helps out a lot, since it can map buttons into keystrokes or mouse actions.

I use twin joysticks for racing games. Left stick is used as a throttle / brake stick, while the right stick is used for steering. For flight simulations, I use a radio control style setup, right stick same as a plane, forward/back is pitch control, left/right is roll control. Left stick forward/back is throttle/airbrake (glider) control, left/right is rudder control. This is the same setup used for USA radio control transmitters.

As someone mentioned, I have a logitech momo racing wheel and pedals, but it's a pain to hook up. I just have the joysticks on a clipboard which I slip into a partially opened center drawer on my desk, here's a picture:

May 11, 2007 8:02:03 AM

I'm surprised there has been no real mention of joysticks for fighting games. If there is one type of game i demand an arcade stick, it's on the old-style sideways beatem-ups. Not so popular now though :( 
May 11, 2007 9:38:16 AM

i have a MS Sidewinder Pro 3d on my desk. it's sorta collecting dust for a while now, because i work long hours, and i can't dedicate the sort of time to play flight sims.

if anyone remembers this schtick...it's old...probably like 10years old. it's the only microsoft thing I'm impressed with, it's the first optical stick, and except of a bit of lash when centering, it still works great. sprint tension from center is not light enough, i end up sweating a lot keeping the bead on the enemy..

i used it to play stuff like B17 flying fortress, BF1942, Jane's flight sims, x-wing series, racing games like microprose GP, colin mcrae series, TOCA....

i swear by it forever, and when it finally goes...it's going back into it's box and on my top shelf as recognition of it's legacy.

LONG LIVE THE JOYSTICK!!!! NEVER LET IT DIE!!!
May 11, 2007 9:40:02 AM

Quote:




dude i like that hi-fi sitting under your hp printer

that's sooooo retro
May 11, 2007 10:53:08 AM

It is a real shame that the direction of game development seems to be much more making games simpler to run across multiple platforms these days, my favorite genre of PC games has always been the space sim from the days of elite, through the wing commander/privateer series to the only real contender for a while the X series.

I do not think that it helps any that with Vista MS decided to remove the MIDI/Gameport support from the OS (took me ages to remember where my USB-Gameport adaptor for my sidewinder was) but I think that like a lot of changes to the was that DirectX works in Vista this is because they want dual Vista/Xbox development to be as simple as possible.

On the positive side there are a lot of people out there who love the old games and are doing remakes etc. for example there are 2 good privateer remakes - Gemini Gold and Remake and a few indie developers working on the genre - but it does look like the future could lie with them rather than the big boys of the game development world :( 

Joe
May 11, 2007 2:25:20 PM

Haha, 2 joysticks. You guys are the best. I have to try that now.
May 11, 2007 2:50:45 PM

I still have a MS Force Feedback 1 sitting around - but no game port anymore, so it's a bit useless. But it was one of the best joysticks I've ever used - and built well enough that I'm sure it still works perfectly. Something tells me there's no drivers for Vista, though, so it's just taking up space now.

As for space simulation games - how about the X1 - X2 - X3 series that came out recently? I have X3, but haven't played it yet because my video card died after less than a week. And Dark Star One. Maybe the problem is US game companies don't make space fighter games...
May 11, 2007 3:27:28 PM

i always loved sidewinder
May 11, 2007 6:28:08 PM

I used gamepad's on the PC for oldschool stuff, like the DOS games of the 90's, but more recently for the 8 and 16-bit console emulaters and stuff. I have two Gravis Gamepad Pros, one usb and one game port version. Sadley, Vista completely removes any and all support for the game port joysticks, and the down arrow on the usb version broke, so Vista is killing the older gamepads entirely. Yeah, used a Saitek gamepad with a layout similar to the original xbox control pad and use it exclusively for playing halo, but honestly the calibration just never gets quite "accurate" enough for me.

Why? Why is there no demand for PC gamepads? I'd buy a gamepad pro usb the next chance I get, except they're disappearing too quickley. Besides Saitek, are there ANY manufacturers still making gamepads or joysticks for the PC? How am I going to play Super Street
Fighter 2 again, with a !@#$in keyboard?!? Try doing Ryu's uppercut using the arrow keys if you think it isn't a problem!

*sigh* If anyone here knows of any Super-Nintendo-like controllers that use USB and work for the PC, please let me know. I would be eternally grateful :lol:  :lol:  :lol: 
May 11, 2007 6:30:02 PM

The Gravis Analog Pro was the only real joystick. Made it through all six episodes of Castle Wolfenstein 3D with one. Here's one on eBay.
May 11, 2007 6:33:46 PM

Quote:
I'm surprised there has been no real mention of joysticks for fighting games. If there is one type of game i demand an arcade stick, it's on the old-style sideways beatem-ups. Not so popular now though :( 


If there was an XBox-like controller I could use to play Halo for PC, I'd prefer that than using the keyboard and mouse for sure. Yeah, that Saitek controller works, but the analog thinggies just aren't accurate like the one's used on console systems. Why can't there be a single decent gamepad for PC that emulates console controllers--other than wireless controllers, that is (I HATE wireless--long story short, compatability, functionality, potential intermittent glitching, and batteries)?
May 11, 2007 6:37:43 PM

Quote:
The Gravis Analog Pro was the only real joystick. Made it through all six episodes of Castle Wolfenstein 3D with one. Here's one on eBay.


Honestly I'd prefer the gamepads...never liked joysticks much. Thanks for the link though.

What are those darn analog controller thingies called that come on xbox controllers? Can't think of the dang name of them...calibration software calls them POV hats on my Saitek controller...what are they called? I don't mind those, it's the joysticks I could care less about.
May 11, 2007 7:40:29 PM

Have you tried playing Freelancer with a joystick? I can imagine that being pretty neat because the combat feels arcade-ish to me.
May 11, 2007 8:34:10 PM

The lack of well made space sims over the last few years has been really depressing. The last one I really played was Allegiance, and that was probably the most fun I've ever had in an online game ever.

I'm hoping that someone will come out with a massive space flight sim (EVE doesn't count, not by a long shot.) Anyone know of anything like this in development?

Oh, last game that I used my joystick on: Planetside (whenever I hoped in my reaver :D  )
May 11, 2007 8:49:26 PM

My Sidewinder Pro is in storage somewhere, along with my BattleZone CD. Hovertanks are the next best thing to a chopper sim and the top hat was an excellent way to issue commands for the RTS/management stuff. Hind was my favorite sim, nothing like a sim that will shatter the rotor blades if you hover in the harmonic zone.

I was never that fond of planes but I always keep an eye out for a new helicopter sim.
May 11, 2007 8:53:05 PM

When I heard about EVE I was really excited about the idea of a Space Sim MMO. Of course then I tried it out and found out that it wasn't a good game at all.
May 11, 2007 9:44:20 PM

i have a logitech too, and it still works. its a few years old as i only really used it for 1942. it was definetly superior in that kind of game, dog fight against any mouse/kb combo and they were as mismatched an opponent as kb only folks were against wasd+mouse players in fps.
May 11, 2007 9:44:59 PM

joystick and gamepad only really apeal to flight simms, PC games are normally hardcore FPS poeple (like myself) who care about the milliseconds on a multiplayer so gamepad/joystick just are fast enough. and for the unhardcore it not worth the investment.
May 11, 2007 10:00:58 PM

Wow. Awesome links to great games!!!! Props out to everyone. All I've got is the same old open source Babylon 5 game I've linked to in the past.

I Found Her!

It's a rather challenging game to play.
May 12, 2007 12:24:38 AM

It's like you read my mind. Not only did you address the apparent death of the joystick, but you found what few there currently are and compared them. My onl problem now is that I'm torn between the force feedback Logitech and the regular one.

Thank you, kind sir, for the exact article I was wishing for only a few days ago.
May 12, 2007 12:53:46 AM

Apparently you like to post without reading the thread. I will regurgitate what someone else has said - Logitech's joysticks are not the best. Look at Saitek, Thrustmaster, or CH if you have money to burn. (Thursmaster makes the most authentic stick, while CH makes sticks with which most are satisfied. TM has some QC issues...).

By the way, in modern fighters there is no force feedback, so the feature is unnecessary for modern fighter sims (and by extension space sims, too).
!