By Al Giovetti, 03/16/97
Controllers have been pretty standard for many years and have not really changed or become more innovative. The joystick comes from the controller in a fighter airplane which changes the direction of the plane with airlons, alowing the plane to dive climb, and roll right and left. Several other controllers, including the keyboard have applications that extend far into man's past before computers were even conceived.
Some of the newer controllers, including game pads, and others, one of which is the ball controlled space orb and the mouse were invented specificially for computer control.
Product DescriptionThe controller is like a four button game pad, with a rubber ball on a stick for a controller. The ball can be pushed forward, back, side to side, and twisted (roll movement) around the stick. The harder you push or twist the ball the faster you move. Twisting the ball on the stick allows the character to look or shoot in that direction without changing the position of the ship in Descent or the body in another game. You can be running in one direction and shooting in another with the ball.
The company calls the stick a 6D for six degress of freedom of movement. Most of todays games are in the three dimensional envionment where you can move six ways: forward, back, left, right, up, and down. A controller needs to be able to maneuver quickly in these environments. The orb is designed to do this.
There are two modes: training and full freedom. The training mode has slower acceloration when you move the ball and the movement is filtered so that inadvertant moves in one direction are filtered out by the main movement of the ball. This prevents beginners from becomeing confused by the variety of movement available to the user. Strafing, which is difficult with the keyboard is a cynch with the space orb.
In advanced or full freedom mode, the acceloration is faster and there is no filter allowing you to perform multiple simultaneous movements. When using the ball, there is a lot going on and a lot to master so there is a learning curve. The advantage is that you get better movement control than you can in most arcade like games with regular controllers. Some find the control less clumsy and easier to use than the more complicated expensive control joysticks, throttles, and foot pedals.
By the same token, the orb is not really designed for flight simulators or driving simulators where the controllers are realistic and highly specific to that type of game.
The biggest detriment to the product is that you need to have a spare com port to run it. If you have a mouse on com 1 and a modem on com 2, you will need to configure COM 3 which will multiplex on COM 1 for the signal. This means that the mouse will compete with the space orb for communication to the system.
It is not recommended to use the orb on COM 4, nor is it recommended that you shift your modem to COM 3 and use the orb on COM 2. Either of these situations could cause trouble in your system. You will need to contact Space Tec IMC for more information concerning the conversion. These problems will becom moot when all of us are using the Universal Serial Bus archetecture.
The unit uses drivers similar to adding any hardware with drivers. The installation is not difficult on some machines, but on two of the seven test units we had an error when trying to install that prevented us from using the device. We still have not been able to correct the error on these machines.
ReferencesBrian Del Rizzo, Boot, 95%.
Thierry Nguyen, Computer Gaming World, October, 1996,
Jim Burdick, Online Games Review,
Editors, Next Generation,
Space Tec's Space Orb 360 Web Site
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