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Top Gun USB Joystick
by Al Giovetti
Genre: Universal Serial Bus Joystick
Price: $
Release: First Quarter 1997
Manufacturer: ThrustMaster
Location: Hillsboro, Oregon
Phone: 503-615-3237
Web page:
Requirments: Your motherboard must have the new USB (universal serial bus) for the device to work.
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Company line: The TOP GUN USB joystick is modeled after the grip found in the F-4 Phantom fighter jet. It offers a patented 4-way hat switch, three beveled buttons and a quick action trigger, taking advantage of the standard ThrustMaster set-up found in nearly all game software. In addition, the TOP GUN USB joystick features a weighted base for stability, precise desktop control and a realistic feel. The TOP GUN USB joystick will be fully programmable through USB, making it the lowest-priced programmable joystick ever offered by ThrustMaster.

By developing and manufacturing one of the first USB joysticks, ThrustMaster has demonstrated its commitment to USB technology as well as ensuring universal plod and play capabilities for all users. USB technology - a collaborative development effort by Compaq, Digital Equipment Corporation, IBM PC Company, Intel, Microsoft, NEC and Northern Telecom - was designed to bring all peripheral connectivity outside the computer's central processing unit. Known as "hot attach," this new connection standard streamlines computer peripheral installation by allowing multiple devices to be instantly detected and configured when plugged into the USB ports. Initially, Microsoft Windows 95(R) and Windows NT will support devices in the "USB Human Input Devices" category, which includes gaming devices, keyboards and mice. This will ensure TOP GUN USB is one of the first USB-supported peripherals on the market.

History: While working with flight simulators, Bob Carter, founder of Flight Dynamics, Inc., realized that the requirement to operate simulators from the computer detracted from the competitiveness and enjoyment of the games. A realistic throttle allowing the user to operate the numerous functions of a jet fighter would make the games more realistic and enjoyable. With several long- time associates, Mr. Carter developed a preliminary design for a control to complement a joystick.

Carter, Milton Smith, Norman Winningstad, Gerry Pratt, and later Frank Bouton founded ThrustMaster in 1990 to pursue the goal of developing and marketing realistic flight simulator components for games.

ThrustMaster began with its own customized, realistic joystick urged on by Buzz Hoffman, a former F16 fighter pilot, who had subsequently joined the company. Early product users spread the word of superiority to colleagues and friends. Inquiries from prospective retailers began. With the increasing speed, graphics resolution, and sophistication of the computer, ThrustMaster controls grew in reputation for providing a high level of realism.

ThrustMaster's TOP GUN™ Joystick excels in flight sims and action adventure games. With ThrustMaster's patented 4-way hat switch, three strategically placed buttons, and a quick action trigger you can't be stopped. Combined with TOP GUN™'s weighted base and low resistance boot, it won't let you down in the heat of the battle. For serious gamers, TOP GUN™ becomes fully programmable when used with ThrustMaster's WCS Mark II Throttle.

The stick has a 4-way Hat Switch, 3 Beveled Buttons, Weighted Base, Neoprene Grip, Low and Resistance Boot. The stick is fully programmable when used with ThrustMaster's WCS Mark II Throttle. The packaging boasts "Easy Installation."

ThrustMaster has been a reliable stick for many years. I have not looked at or used one since the 1996 E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) in Las Angeles where I took the helm of ATF in the ThrustMaster combat chair (complete with inactivated eject charges) in front of their 6 foot large screen monitor, with Buzz Hoffman, who was giving me pointers on how to fly the F-16. Both Major Doug Call, another ex F-16 fighter jock and Buzz had a good time discussing old war stories while I was knocking down the opposition.

ThrustMaster design is slightly better than CH Joysticks in that the shapes and movement of the sticks and throttles precisely mimics that in the real aircraft. The Top Gun stick, which was named for a Tom Cruise movie based upon the F-14 Tomcat training school for Navy Pilots, looks and feels like the F-4 Phantom stick.

The stick does have the drawback that it does not have trim adjustment wheels built into the base. If a stick goes out of alignment or calibration in a critical mission, you may not be able to re-calibrate from within the game. This is when the wheels are essential and may help you manually recalibrate. Since ThrustMaster does not have these wheels and CH Products joysticks do, many people prefer the CH Products. It should be noted that with most products today manual recalibration is not needed and the point is moot.

Many people swear by the ThrustMaster sticks. Rusty Buchert, who we also spoke with at E3 and who is the designer of games like Descent and now Star Fleet Academy, said that he took the stick out into the parking lot and jumped up and down on the hat switch and it would not break. But this was not the case when he first started using the stick on the game Descent. Rusty says that when playing Descent, the joystick hat switch takes a lot of punishment and kept breaking. Rusty continued, "when we talked to ThrustMaster about the problem they were very receptive and worked on the problem until I could go into the parking lot and jump up and down on it and it would not break." Rusty says the stick is very reliable now.

While we have not taken the stick out the parking lot and jumped up and down on the hat switch, we agree that some of the durability problems initially seen with the ThrustMaster product are now not evident. The sticks are more rugged than the early ones and a much better value for the consumer. Other alternative sticks include the super rugged CH Poducts line, the Microsoft Sidewinder and Advanced Gravis products.

References: Denny Atkin, Computer Gaming World