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.

THE BEGINNING...



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!

THE PROGRAMMABLE PAD...




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.

THE 2 X 3 LAYOUT PAD...


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.

THE OFFICIAL CAPCOM FIGHT STICK...



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.

ASCIIWARE SNES JOYSTICKS...




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.

MY 1ST JAPANESE STYLE JOYSTICK...


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!

MY 2ND JAPANESE STYLE JOYSTICK...


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.

THE NEW STANDARD...


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.

Until...

MY CURRENT FAVORITE FIGHTSTICK..


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. :)


4 comments:

Alex B said...

Hey Rob! How did you get this one customized?

Katsu said...

Art's Hobbies for the template, printing and plexiglass. Arcade Shock for the buttons.

Steven Bruce said...

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