Tuesday, November 25, 2014

From Where is the *69 Moniker Derived?

So those of you that have hung around me long enough, within the last 15 years or so, have known that certain things I'm associated with are named with some variant of *69: video game tournaments, poker games, even my Wifi network have s69 or Star Six Nine in it somehow. I get asked a lot where that came from. Well, that's a medium-long story.

When I first moved to Austin in 1999, Quake 3 was a big thing for PC gaming. I had dabbled in Quake 2, but when Quake 3 came out, I got into it pretty hardcore. There was a local LAN tournament in Austin called "IRQ Conflict" (the Q was stylized to look like the Quake "Q" logo.) The best players from the Austin Area (and some even from other parts of Texas) would gather there several times a year.

At the first tournament I went to, I think I placed 5th or 6th in Quake 2. So I didn't do that great, but I played well enough to get noticed by the locals. One of the locals, Josh, decided that he should form a Quake 3 clan comprised solely of Austin players. Nobody could agree on a name, so Josh just used his old Quake 1 clan name, which had been dissolved by now. Since nobody cared, we just went with it: *69.

For a while, none of us in the clan even knew why it was called *69. Eventually I asked Josh why he'd chosen the name *69. The story wasn't that inspiring. He told me that he had hastily formed a clan for a tournament, and he needed a clan name for registration. In true Brick Tamland fashion, Josh simply looked around the room for inspiration. He saw a refrigerator magnet that was advertising a phone service, *69, and just used that.

Many of you younglings might not know this, but back then, when people had home land-line phones, you could add features to your service... like call waiting, caller-id and last-call-return. These were not included in your regular phone service. The last-call-return service was accessed by dialing *69 on your phone. It would simply call back whatever number last called you. So if you had someone that'd call you and hang up on you, you could dial *69 and call them back without knowing their number and go, "Hey, asshole! Why'd you hang up on me!... Oh!... Sorry, Mom! I didn't know it was you. Oh, the cat unplugged your phone as I answered? No, I'm fine. Sorry I haven't called." The funny thing is that some people thought that by naming ourselves *69 that we were saying, "If you frag us, we'll frag you back!" Ha! If only we'd have been that clever...

So, in short, Josh had this GTE (not even AT&T, hmph) magnet reminding him of the *69 service, and he simply chose that for the clan name kinda randomly. And the dojo part? Well, ever since being part of that clan, people would come over to practice Quake. I'd host many, many LAN parties over the years. And since my clan was called *69, and we practiced at my place all the time, people starting calling my house the *69 Dojo. Makes sense, right?

Anyway, the name stuck with me and anytime I couldn't come up with a better name for something, which is almost always, I just name it s69 or STAR69 or *69. The end.

TL;DR = *69 comes from my Quake clan's name which was in turn inspired by a lame refrigerator magnet.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Button Layouts for Popular Fightsticks

Yesterday's post on fightsticks reminded me of a discussion that several of my FGC buddies and I have had regarding button layout. More then a few have "complained" that the Qanba Q4RAF's buttons were "too close to the stick" and would cause them to play poorly. I maintained that there was no difference between the Q4RAF's button-joystick spacing and the Mad Catz TE's button-joystick spacing.. which are the only points of reference that I have since those the only two sticks that I currently own.

I decided to download the templates from Art's Hobbies (who I highly recommend if you plan to customize your stick... they do very good work!) and compare the templates. What I found was that 4 out of the 6 templates that I compared had almost exactly the same distance between the joystick and the leftmost buttons. The Qanba Q4RAF, the Mad Catz TE, the Mad Catz TE2, and the Hori HRAP V3 were nearly identical in their spacing. In fact, the Hori HRAP V3 and the Qanba Q4RAF were almost pixel-for-pixel the same. The only difference was that the joystick hole for the HRAP was just a tiny bit smaller.The TE and TE2 were also nearly identical. The TE2 just had ever so slightly bigger button holes.The SFxT Mad Catz stick was a few millimeters further away than the ones I mentioned and the Mad Catz Soul Calibur V stick was waaaay over to the right. Honestly, that's more variation that I thought there would be on that SCV stick.

Anyway, take a look for yourself: (CLICK PHOTO TO EMBIGGEN):

 (NOTE: Most of you probably know this, but the Eightarc Fusion stick is the same as the Q4RAF but without the start button on the top. That's why I didn't bother putting it in.)

You can download all the templates from Art's Hobbies yourself if you'd like: http://www.tek-innovations.com/arthobbies/index.cfm?loc=about&sub=templates

UPDATE: Someone asked me for JUST the Q4RAF vs the TE layout. I left the HRAP V3 because it's literally the same exact layout as the Q4RAF.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

My Fighting Game Controllers Over the Years

So today someone asked me how people could have "survived" playing on American-style sticks back in the 90s. The topic came up because I'd bought some Mortal Kombat fight sticks with the retro layout for the Xbox 360. You know, the ones with the block button in the middle and a dedicated run button for your thumb. Let me tell you, having gotten used to Sanwa-based fight sticks, I have to admit, that these old school sticks do feel pretty awful. The answer was that back then, we were just used to the the bat-top Happ sticks. We didn't know any better. :)

In fact, when Street Fighter II came out for the SNES, it was the first time anybody really cared about specifically designed fighting game controllers for a console.


To be sure, the SNES controller is one of the best of all time. The d-pad is actually pretty responsive, and you can certainly hold your own with one in any SNES fighting game. But having invested 100s of hours in SF2 at the arcades, playing on a d-pad just didn't seem right. So, on went the hunt for a better controller.

Because we were young and naive, or at least I was, I was very easily swayed by video game magazine ads. And when I saw this baby, I just had to have it!


Looking at it now, we can tell without even touching it that it's just a load of hot garbage. But when you're a teenager staring a the glossy pages of EGM and see that there's a controller that will do a fireball FOR YOU with a touch of a button, oh, man. How can you resist?

Other than it being completely awkward to hold and the d-pad being junk, this thing had many problems. For one, it just recorded motions and stored them into one of the three programmable bean-shaped "buttons."  But guess what? If you record yourself doing a fireball to the right, and you're on the left, it's not going to work if you end up on the right! That and it almost never worked right. What a waste of money.

One of the things that this pad didn't address was the button layout. SF2 had a distinct 2 x 3 matrix of buttons. The shoulder buttons were awesome for stuff like F-Zero, but lousy for fighting games. Even Capcom understood this and introduced a couple of Capcom-branded fighting controllers.


We can admire Capcom's effort here, but the final product was not that great. Once again, the d-pad just wasn't as good as the original SNES d-pad. That and even though it was ergonomically designed, it just felt weird in your hand. We wanted a real joystick. And Capcom knew this.


Or Powerstick as Capcom liked to calll it. It still retained that goofy ergonomic design, but the buttons and joystick itself were terrible. Had they simply used arcade standard parts, it would have been a pretty decent stick, but alas these are junk. The stick was super mushy and the buttons felt terrible. To my knowledge, Capcom never tried to create another fightstick again.

And Capcom wasn't the only one trying to cash in on the SF2 craze on SNES. Oh, no.


A company called ASCIIWARE made a couple of attempts to get into the SNES joystick scene. If I recall correctly, that terrible SNES/SFC/NESAdvantage-inspired stick came out first. It might have come out before SF2 even. At least I hope it did because check out that button layout... wow! It's like a drunk 4 year old slapped some buttons on a prototype and they just went with it. "Looks great! Throw 'em into production!"

The 2nd attempt was much more on target. It had probably the best layout of all the SNES sticks, but again, the problem was the shoddy joysticks and buttons. There was too much play in the stick. It was very easy to drop the simplest of combos.

Ultimately, like most people, I ended up reverting back to the original SNES pad for SF2. I believe that MAS Systems created a genuine arcade joystick for the SNES, but it was ridiculously expensive, and I never met anyone who had one.

Fast forward a few years. Skipping over the PSX and Saturn era which did have a multitude of quality joysticks. But this is my story, and so let's move to the 128bit era.


The Dreamcast was a wonderful system. At it's core, it was a Naomi arcade machine, so it had plenty of power to run a multitude of great arcade quality fighting games. And while the SNES, PSX and Saturn pads were very capable controllers for fighting games, the DC controller was absolutely not. In fact, it was God awful. Luckily, I found one of these babies at EB Games marked down to $10. I'd have bought two, but they only had one left. It didn't have official "Sanwa" parts, but I didn't know any better back then. All I knew was that it was heavy, looked awesome and had a square joystick gate that drove me nuts.... at the beginning. After a while, I came to love the square gate. I realized what many people had known for years... that it really helps you "feel" the corners and makes moves that end in diagonals like dragon punches much easier.

After this stick, I was sold on Japanese style sticks, so when the first fighting game for the Xbox 360 came out, I bought two!


Again, no Sanwa parts, but again, I didn't even know what that meant. This stick, in retrospect, was probably a bit worse than the DC stick, but we didn't have any choice. That's all that there was. While I first bought it for DOA4, it got the most use when Street Fighter 2 Turbo Hyper Fighting came out for XBLA. I LOVED that game, and playing on this stick gave me a huge advantage over pad players. We all know how bad the Xbox 360 pad is, right? Right? RIGHT?!?! (*AHEM*)

So this stick was good for a while, until I heard that SFIV was coming out and a new stick was debuting with it.


Ahhh. Now we're talking! By this time, I was familiar with what was what when it came to joysticks. I'd read all about Sanwa and Seimitsu and when this was announced, everybody pounced in it. As far as I know this was the first all Sanwa parts fight stick released in the US. The problem was that it was being made by Mad Catz, which up until then, had made nothing but cheap Chinese garbage peripherals. So this was a big departure for them. And it really turned the company image around. Everyone scrambled to pre-order it, but supplies were super scarce. When rumors on the 'net started spreading that some people had gotten their hands on one, I called every video game store around town looking for one. Luckily, one Game Crazy about 10 minutes away said they got an "extra" one in stock. I had already pre-ordered a couple online, but I HAD to have one that day. I drove down there during my lunch hour and when I got there, the guy didn't want to sell it to me. He said his manager said it was on hold for someone that had pre-ordered it. Somehow,  I don't know how, I convinced him to sell it to me anyway, and I couldn't remember ever being happier bringing a new video game peripheral home.

About a week later I got the two I had pre-ordreed shipped to me. I sold one to a friend of mine at cost and kept the 2nd one for guests. Best purchase ever.



Or my personalized version...

This stick is essentially the same as the Mad Catz TE. It comes with high quality Sanwa parts, which I've customized, but the real big thing about this stick is that it works on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 or PC with just a flick of a switch. While others might mod their sticks to have this functionality, I've found that none work as easily and as consistently as the Qanba Q4RAF. 

Will this be my last stick? Almost certainly not. With the release of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, I'm eagerly awaiting a X360/PS3/XBO/PS4/PC compatible stick. It may be a while. Perhaps when the next Capcom fighter gets released for the newest generation of consoles. :)