Ok, I've been lax the last few days. Besides, there's not much coming out interesting lately, so the slacker-feed's been drying up. I'm going to make up for it now, with some original content. And what's the kind of original content I'm best at? Why, griping of course.
A half dozen or so months ago, my friend Josh who sometimes comments around here as the oh-so-subtle pseudonym "PPMcBiggs" showed me the new joystick he got. I was a little dubious about it because it looked to be one of the joysticks I hated back in the golden days of the PC Flight Sims... you know, the kind with too many buttons of too high sensibility in awkward places, flimsy plastic construction that creaks audibly in all but the gentlest of grips, and an insubstantial base which lends the peripheral the propensity to lift up off the desk when you try to operate it instead of allowing the stick to change axis with the base.
It looked like this. (image no longer exists, sorry)
In truth, he didn't seem that enthralled with his new joystick either, and it was easy for me to see why. The thumb buttons were awkwardly placed, all the buttons had unsatisfactory tactile feedback (too easy to push but too hard to know if the computer knows you actually pushed it or not), and there were all those "extra" buttons in quasi-convenient locations which meant the only finger with which you could actually grip and move the stick was your ring finger. All the other ringers were taken up by triggers, secondary triggers, thumb buttons, alternate thumb buttons, hat switches, pinky buttons and the like. And even then the plastic still creaked like it was ready to buckle.
Let me tell you about the joystick I had back in the day, playing Chuck Yeager's Air Combat on a 386 with a mono sound blaster and thinking it was all the shiznit.
Well, first, let me show you the joystick I inherited from my father. Behold, the PC Jr. Joystick -
This bad boy was an old-school 2-axis analogue joystick. No throttle, 2 buttons (the second button was up on the left shoulder), and little trim adjusters for when the thing invariably got uncalibrated. This was the king joystick for all the old games back in the days of their 4 (or if you were lucky, 16) color glory. I ninja'd the hell outta some fools with this joystick on Dad's old Tandy 1000.
Then for about 4 months I had a "Quickshot Warrior 5" which was ok... it had suction cups on the bottom to keep it attached to the desk despite the narrow base, and a switchable "autofire" mode for those games you had to hammer buttons fast on.. but its analogue bits wore out fast and it stopped working.
Then I got this, the joystick of joysticks of the day... The CH Products Flightstick. The prince, nay, KING of the 15-pin analogue joysticks.
Note the simple ambidextrous design. The wide, sturdy base. The throttle dial. The buttons had just the right amount of tactile feedback, the base was wide enough to keep it from tipping over (though at times even that wasn't enough for me, and I ended up duct taping a book belonging to my father to the bottom to add to the weight. Ironically, the book was called "Getting the most from your money." I only chose it because its width was exactly the width of the joystick base and it had a nice, thick, 2-inch-thick-book heft to it).
This was the joystick of kings. I played Chuck Yeager on it. I simulated flight according to microsoft. I battled the kilrathi as a Wing Commander and I piloted my X-Wing down the Death Star's Trench, then switched over and rescued the Emperor in my Tie Fighter.
But after years and years of service, even the old CH flightstick wore out, for as awesome as it was it was still a mere analogue joystick. But fortunately by this time digital/optical joysticks were starting to become affordable. I ended up replacing it with a Microsoft Sidewinder 3D pro, which while not ambidextrously ergonomic, did ok. It also had that "creaking when you squeeze it" problem, but it did the job well and had a VERY wide and heavy base, definitely working in its favor.
That was the last joystick I ever bought. I think it's still in a box in my closet, somewhere. Who knows, maybe it still works. The problem is, it (like all my other joysticks in the past) is an obsolete 15-pin dinosaur. Nobody even bothers with 15 pin ports on their computers any more, unless they have ancient sound cards or are enthusiastic midi-composers (and even then I think a lot of those guys have gone USB as well). These days, if you want a joystick, you have to go USB.
This is where we come to problems.
As illustrated by the logitech abomination at the top of this list, PC joysticks have gone down a dark, if not useless, path. Everything these days is taking cues from those worthless motherloving bastards over at Thrustmaster, who even in the heady days of my youth were making fragile, temperamental joysticks with too many buttons which you were never sure if they were adequately pressed or not so you ended up breaking them off.
Joysticks need to be sturdy. They need to be simple of design. They need to have heft, good tactile feedback and a slight tendency to auto-center. At least on that last one, people have gotten the hint, but look at the choices these days.. even abarring the one my friend got (the Logitech Extreme 3D pro USB, if you were wondering).
Those cornobblers over at Thrustmaster are still doing their thing, unfortunately... At least I hear they've learned the lesson of needing a heavy base...
Saitek's got THIS little gem, careful you don't touch it at all or I have a feeling all your missiles will be firing simultaneously.
And then there's the Logitech "Freedom" cordless joystick... Too bad I get the feeling it'll be tumping over to the bottom left and bottom right constantly, and the only thing multiple thumb buttons does for me is ensure I never hit any of them correctly.
Are you starting to see what I'm talking about? Too busy, often too flimsy, and just plain downright not fun. I think the demise of the PC Joystick has been largely to blame for the demise of the PC Flight Sim game genre. There have traditionally been three areas where PC games far outshone their Console counterparts, and those 3 were First Person Shooters, Real Time Strategy, and Flight Simulators. And the PC gaming industry has just let the flight sims go straight to fallow. Hell, half the "flight sims" like Freelancer that came out in the last 5 years have actually been geared for mouse, not joystick.
Maybe if there were some decent, inexpensive yet sturdy and dependable joysticks to play with that weren't concerned about finding places to mount 58 impossible-to-program buttons somewhere on the surface of the stick, devs might actually see a market for some good flight sims again. And that's the word from Bandit Camp...