Controller update. (evaluation) Owen W. Linzmayer.
The Summer Consumer Electronic Show (CES) held in Chicago during the first week of June held a quite a few surprises. Computer related equipment was given an entire hall to itself due to the enormous number of new entrants in the field and a horde of new products to be displayed. While most of the attention was focused on game software, there was an amazing amount of interest paid to controllers. Following is a round-up of the new joysticks, track balls, and assorted other controllers.
Note: when we refer to a controller as being Atari compatible, that means that it will work with all Atari computers and game systems except the Atari 5200. It also works with any other computer or game system that can accept with or without an adapter the standard 9-pin plug used on the original Atari joystick such as Vic-20, Commodore 64, Panasonic, TI, Video Technology, Coleco, etc. GIM Electronics Fire Command II Joystick (Atari)
The Fire Command II is one of the most durable Atari replacement joysticks we have ever seen. The case is molded out of die-cast metal and weighs in at a whopping 4 pounds. While its large size is the most impressive thing about it, the Fire Command II also sports many other noteworthy features.
Like most of the new joysticks introduced at the summer CES, the Fire Command II has two fire buttons. Situated on either side of the housing, they make the controller suitable for both left- and right-handed action. The large 7/8" red buttons activate arcade quality leaf switches for quick and accurate firing. Both buttons are clearly identified by large stickers marked FIRE.
Designed for tabletop use, the Fire Command II also works well when sitting in your lap. The 2.5" long stick is topped with a non-slip ball grip and provides sufficient leverage that you do not have to apply too much pressure to throw the stick to its most extreme position, 1/4" from center.
At a rather high price of $49.95, the Fire Command II is as close as you can get to a real arcade controller without ripping one out of a coin-op game. TG Products Enjoy Stick (Atari)
Long recognized as one of the leading manufacturers of quality joysticks for the Apple computers, TG Products has recently entered the highly competitive Atari replacement joystick market. Their newest offering, the Enjoy Stick, is a departure from the norm in that it does not use a series of switches to determine the position of the stick, but uses, instead, potentiometers.
Like most Apple controllers, the Enjoy Stick uses potentiometers, resistors that change value when the central axis is turned. Normal switches produce digital readings, whereas pots give a wide range of analog values. Since the Atari understands only the nine different digital values of switch-type joysticks, the Enjoy Stick converts its precise analog readings into digital ones.
People familiar with potentiometer joysticks will probably fall in love with the Enjoy Stick. But if you have become accustomed to switch controllers, the feel of the pot stick may be strange. The short stick has a diameter of 3/8" and returns to the center when released.
The unique shape of the Enjoy Stick makes it ideal for extended hand-held use. It fits comfortably in the palm of the hand and boasts very smooth edges all around its base. By pressing on the two tabs at the front of the unit, you can release the piece of plastic in which the fire button is mounted. This allows you to change the position of the button to either the front left or front right. You can, therefore, choose between using your thumb or index finger to press the button. The fire button itself is 1/2" in diameter, but offers no tactile response when pressed.
The Enjoy Stick is a premium controller that carries a pricetag: $34.95 per stick. While this may seem quite expensive, you should keep in mind that the Enjoy Stick has a full coverage, 5-year warranty. That tells you how much confidence TG has in their products. Zircon Z-Stick (Atari)
The Video Command joystick from Zircon has received a great deal of coverage in the past for its innovative design. Now the people at Zircon have added several new features to this unique controller and renamed it the Z-Stick. The result is a fascinating joystick for the Atari.
The Z-Stick has a long, tubular body that is gripped in one hand while the other hand manipulates a 1 1/8" triangular "knob" at the top of the unit. The Z-Stick is equally comfortable in either the right or left hand.
There are two 3/8" buttons on the front of the grip which are controlled with your index and middle fingers. The top button is a standard action button which provides tactile response when pressed. By sliding the small switch near the bottom of the base, you can engage the auto-fire feature. As long as you hold the top button down, a continuous stream of positive signals is sent to the Atari.
Below the fire button is a second button called the speed control. When pressed, it is supposed to slow down the player's action on the screen by oscillating the signals to the computer. The theory is that by sending signals only half as often as normal, the speed is slowed down. This is not necessarily true with all games. For instance, if your Pac-Man is headed left down a corridor, it will not change direction or speed unless you move the joystick to a position other than left. Slowing down the rate of the "left" pulses in no way affects the speed at which the Pac-Man character moves. On the other hand, it works as intended with shoot 'em up games such as Defender.
As with its predecessor, the Video Command, the Z-Stick offers fast maneuverability and accurate control with all games. The Z-Stick also comes witha removable collar that locks out diagonal movement, thus improving gameplay of maze programs such as Ms. Pac-Man. Our Video Command stick has suffered months of rigorous play and is still serving us well. We can only hope that the $19.95 Z-Stick holds up as well. Konami JE 501 Joystick (Atari)
Best known for their coin-op arcade games Amidar, Time Pilot, and Rock'n 'Rope, Konami has recently introduced a new Atari compatible joystock. Our initial impression is that they should stick to creating video games.
The JE 501 is a tabletop, eight-direction joystick. The light-weight plastic base does not provide enough surface area to stabilize the unit adequately, and it is too big to be held comfortably in one hand. The stick measures 7/8" in diameter and is 3.5" long.
The Konami JE 501 has only one fire button, located on the top of the stick. While many people prfer the fire button in this position, others enjoy having two buttons, one on the top of the stick, and the other on the base. The red 1/2" button does not provide tactile feedback but is very responsive.
We were not particularly impressed with the Konami JE 501 becuase it didn't live up to our expectations of what a new joystick should offer. In a market that is almost saturated, a new product must be either unique or superior. Unfortunately, the Konami JE 501 is neither. Wico Boss Joystick (Atari)
Wico has been manufacturing arcade joysticks since the dawn of the coin-op video games era. In recent years it has turned its talents to providing quality controllers for home systems. Wico's newest Atari compatible stick, The Boss, follows in the footsteps of the immensely popular Wico Command Control joystick.
The black and white base of The Boss resembles the base found on other Wico controllers, but I hve been assured by company representatives that the innards are sufficiently different to warrant being called a new product. "A heavy duty printed circuit board and sensitive leaf-switches provide instant contact for superb accuracy and speed,"--at least that is what the Wico flyer says about The Boss.
The stick of The Boss is best described as a molded pistol grip. While some of the younger testers liked the non-slip grip, those of us with more adult-sized hands found it a bit small. The grip itself can be rotted a full 360[deg.] indefinitely. This should not cause too much orientation confusion as the front of the stick is clearly identified.
Without suction cups, The Boss proves a bit shaky for one-handed tabletop play. There is a single square button located on the top of the pistol grip. While this button is extremely sensitive, it has a long throw. This means that although you don't need to, you may find yourself pressing the button too far, thus tiring out your trigger finger.
While the looks of The Boss are impressive, it appeals mainly to those who enjoy very responsive, specialized controllers. If you already have a Command Control stick, you don't really need to spend another $19.95 to buy The Boss unless you are an avid controller collector. Championship Electronics Mini-Champ Joystick (Atari)
Much like its predecessor, the Super Champ, the most interesting thing about the Mini-Champ is its 4.5' retractable cord. The Mini-Champ is also unique in that it is one of the only joysticks designed exclusively for small hands and children.
The cord of the Mini-Champ can be retracted into the circular base of the unit much like the power cords found on many acuum cleaners. This feature allows you to let out as much or as little cable as you want, thus avoiding the jumble of wires that is so often associated with video game systems.
The Mini-Champ is a small hand-held joystick that uses four inernal switches to determine up to eight directions of movement. There are three fire buttons on the Mini-Champ; two on the base, and one on the top of the control stick. The red 3/8" buttons on the base are situated one on either side of the stick so that southpaws will be just as comfortable as righties. The larger rectangular button on top of the stick offers responsive action and tactile feedback.
As stated previously, the Mini-Champ is designed specially for smaller hands. The smooth pistol grip handle is perfect for preteens, and the manufacturers claim that it "increases a player's scoring performance by reducing fatigue." I don't know if I believe this, but the hand grip is certainly more comfortable than most of the others on the market.
The Mini-champ is manufactured under the catalog number JC351. It has a standard 9 pin plug which means that it works with all systems that use Atari joysticks. With special adapters, also available from Championship Electronics, the Mini-Champ functions on both TI 99/4A and Coleco Vision consoles. With a low retail price of $11.95, the Mini-Champ ranks as one of the most inexpensive, high-performance joysticks available. Milton Bradley Cosmic Commander Joystick (Atari)
Not our everyday run-of-the mill joystick, the $40 Cosmic Commander controller comes complete with its own VCS cartridge, Survival Run. To call the Cosmis Commander a joystick isn't fair--it deserves at least to be called a controller--and a strange controller at that.
The Cosmic Commander is the first in a line of "theme" controllers from Milton Bradley. Each joystick in the series comes with its own cartridge. The gimmick is that not only do you get a new VCS game, but you also get a joystick specially designed to complement the theme of the game.
In Survival Run, the object is to fly through a scrolling 3-D maze and finally destroya crab-like creature called the mothership. The mothership is located at the far end of the maze which means you must battle an almost endless onslaught of assorted meanies before you encounter the horrible crab. Flight Commander, the second theme joystick, gives you an airborne view of a countryside littered with tanks and anti-aircraft guns. You must avoid being shot down as you try to destroy enemy airplanes.
While both games are rather shallow, they do a good job of demonstrating the particular capabilities of the controllers. Unfortunately, neither of the games is captivating enough to warrant the purchase of these expensive joysticks. Roklan Un-Roller Controller (Atari)
If I were to offer an award for the strangest controller ever invented, the new Roklan Un-Roller Controller would certainly win hands down.
At first glance the Roklan controller looks suspiciously like an oversized track ball, though the large yellow dome doesn't spin like a conventional roller controller. That is because the Roklan controller is like nothing you have ever seen before. Instead of gripping a stick, you place your palm on the textured globe and simply rock in any of the eight directions--no calluses, no aching fingers, no stick.
One selling point of this stickless controller is that it also improves hand circulation since no gripping is involved--big deal--how many arcaders do you know who have poor circulation? The non-slip surface helps reduce the force needed to control the globe but tends to get dirty after extended use.
Roklan representatives claim that the Un-Roller Controller works well with anything that normally uses a track ball. I disagree: one of the most appealing featrues of track balls is that momentum continues to spin the ball even after you have removed your hand.
The Un-Roller Controller works best as a tabletop unit. It is difficult to hold the controller in one hand and apply enough pressure to rock the globe at the same time. The single button is located in the upper lefthand corner of the base and clicks audibly when pressed.
Those people on the staff of Creative Computing who have had the opportunity to play with the Un-roller Controller commonly ask "Why?" I don't have the answer, but one of the associate editors commented that it may have something to do with a Freudian fixation. The suggested retail price is $49.95 a pair. Newport Controls Prostick II/III (Atari)
The newest offerings from Newport Controls are the Prostick II and Prostick III, both Atari compatible joysticks. These controllers offer something found on very few joysticks today: switchable gateplates.
You may be asking yourself "just what is a switchable gateplate?" It is a plastic collar around the base of the short stick that can be positioned in one of two ways. When the embossed arrow on the gateplate is pointing toward the number four on the face of the unit, the joystick cannot produce diagonal signals. This is supposed to increase the playability of games such as Pac-Man and Donkey Kong in which you may move only in the four compass directions. The eight-way setting offers the regular action. I find it a great advantage to have the diagonals blocked out as you do not have to move the joystick so precisely.
On the Prostick II there are two fire buttons located on the front piece of the unit. Neither of these offers tactile feedback, but they are well positioned so that you may use your index finger to activate them. The only difference between the Prostick II and the Prostick III is that the latter has a "trifire bar" located on the front of the base instead of two separate buttons.
Intended for use with the Coleco-Vision system, the Prostic III is a bit awkward to handle. When the left side of the tribar is pressed, it acts as fire button number one on the ColecoVision control. When the right side is pressed, it functions as the second fire button. It is difficult to press one and then quickly change to the other, and if you don't press exactly one side or the other, both functions are activated simultaneously. Included in the package is a "y" adapter cord which allows you to use the Coelco Vision keypad in conjunction with the Prostick III.
Many of our reviewers loved the solid grasp they could get on both of these Newport joysticks, yet some found that their hands were too small. The butt of your palm rests comfortably on one side of the unit as your fingers activate the buttons. The other hand is sued to manipulate the stick which is topped with a smooth 7/8" plastic ball. Most of us were in agreement that $24.95 is not too high a price to ask for such a nice controller if you are not satisfied with your present one. Spectravideo Quick-Shot III (ColecoVision)
Almost overshadowed by the new SV-328 computer in the Spectavideo booth at CES, the Quick-Shot III was presented for the first time. Since we were only allowed to look at the unit as it remained out of reach beneath a plastic bubble, the following should not be considered a review, merely an observation.
Few of the new ColecoVision replacement joysticks introduced at the show actually mimicked the functions of the original. Many shortcomings were apparent. Most of the new joysticks have only one fire button, so if the ColecoVision game calls for both buttons, you are out of luck. The Quick-Shot III seems to be the only controller that promises to do exactly what the ColecoVision joystick does, only much better.
The Quick-Shot III is a tabletop controller that adheres to any smooth surface by means of four suction cups on the base of the unit. It provides standard eight-direction movement and has four buttons. Two of the buttons are positioned on either side of the keypad. The other two are on the stick itself; one on the top of the stick and the other on the trigger of the molded handle.
Unlike most replacement joysticks for the ColecoVision, the Quick-Shot III has its own keypad to select gameplay levels. The 12 pressure-sensitive switches are covered by a thin piece of plastic. This is a membrane keypad that offers no tactile feedback.
As I have pointed out, the Quick-Shot III on display was a prototype that was kept under glass. We have yet to see a finished unit so we can not make any comments on how well it plays. If the finished product lives up to the claims of the manufacturer, I will certainly rush out to buy one. At $19, it's a steal. Wico Analog Joystick (5200)
One of the main things I don't like about the Atari Super System is the lack of a decent controller. Finally, after months of waiting, 5200 owners can buy an anlog joystick from Wico.
The faults of the 5200 controller are many, and the Wico joystick seems to remedy most of them. This unit does not have its own keypad built in, but at additional cost you can buy a high-quality replacement keypad if you wish. The Analog joystick can be used as either a tabletop controller or a hand-held unit. It is equally well suited for either mode of play.
This 5200 joystick measures 6" high, 4" wide, and 4" deep. The plastic red handle tapers to a point at the top; the reverse of a bat handle. The Analog joystock uses potentiometers, and precise trim controls are easily accessible on the right side and back of the unit.
Most people complain that the controllers that come with the 5200 are not self-centering. While some games benefit from this, many other do not. The Wico Analog joystick solves this problem by allowing you to engage or disengge the self-centering without having to disassemble the housing. On the underside of the controller are two sliding switches that disable the return-to-center springs on each axis.
There are two buttons in the upper lefthand corner of the base. The 3/4" concave button acts as fire button number one of the 5200, and the smaller, 3/8" button is the second control button. Neither offers tactile feedback.
The Analog joystick we saw at CES was a bit wobbly, but his can probably be attributed to the fact that the unit was a prototype and took a great deal of abuse at the show. The Wico Analog joystick is a vast improveemnt over the current 5200 controller. Selling at $34.95 each, otehr versions of the Analog joystick also work on the IBM PC, the Apple II/II +, and TRS-80 Color Computer. HES JoyMouse Controller (Atari)
Just as the Un-Roller controller looks deceptively like a track ball, the Hes JoyMouse resembles a mouse for a computer. In very simple terms, a mouse controller is like an up-side-down track ball. The JoyMouse, though, acts like an Un-Roller controller. This gets more confusing every minute.
The JoyMouse is a tabletop unit that you control with one hand. The palm of your hand fits on top of the unit with your fingers extending over the fire bar in the front. There were two different models of the JoyMouse on display at the show. With the first versions you simply tilt your palm in the direction that you want to go, with the other model you push, or slide, the top portion of the JoyMouse in the desired direction. The fire button has different placement on both units.
"The final version of the JoyMouse will most likely be a compromise between the two models," explained a HES representative. Most people to whom I spoke liked the sliding model and the fire bar located on the front. Expect to see finished products on store shelves during September of this year. The JoyMouse will retail for $19.95. Wico Track Ball And Controller Card (Apple)
This new version of the popular Wico computer Track Ball differs from its predecessors in that no software modifications must be made to use it with you Apple.
For an up-close and personal look at the Wico Track Ball, check out page 119 ion the Fall issue of Video & Arcade Games. Not many modifications hve been made to the hardware of the unit; the main one is the addition of a required controller card. With this car installed, the Wico Track Ball is alsmot completely compatible with all existing software. Warning: the Track Ball does not work with the Apple IIe. Not yet, anyway. Wico is working on it.
We were told that there will be some kind of return policy initiated so that owners of the older, outdated model don't get the short end of the stick. The complete package, including the Track Ball, cable and controller, costs $89.95. Wico has also promised a comparable unit for the IBM-PC.
Products: GIM Electronics Fire Command II Joystick (computer apparatus)
TG Products Enjoy Stick (computer apparatus)
Zircon Z-Stick (computer apparatus)
Konami JE 501 Joystick (computer apparatus)
Wico Boss Joystick (computer apparatus)
Championship Electronics Mini-Champ Joystick (computer apparatus)
Milton Bradley Cosmic Commander Joystick (computer apparatus)
Roklan Un-Roller Controller (computer apparatus)
Newport Controls Prostick II-III (computer apparatus)
Spectravideo Quick-Shot III (computer apparatus)
Wico Analog Joystick (computer apparatus)
HES JoyMouse Controller (computer apparatus)
Wico Track Ball and Controller Card (computer apparatus)