Joystick, Joypad or Mouse?
Whatever happened to the joystick? Once upon a time it symbolised the computer game, used to kill all sorts of bad guys, control characters in 2D fighters and play platform games and puzzlers. In fact the joystick combined all of the best characteristics of mice and joypads in many respects – yet now it languishes in the bottom of your drawer or kicked under your desk, dejected and unused.
Maybe its nostalgia, maybe it's because I think space-sims should play better with a joystick – either way I decided to find out what was the best input device for a game like Darkstar One. We used a Razer Krait mouse, a Saitek ST90 joystick and a Logitech Wingman Joypad to see which one made fragging space pirates easiest.
The mouse and keyboard combo has been the mainstay of the PC gamer's diet. Perhaps it would be fair to assume that this has adversely affected games of the 'Elite' genre, which don't intuitively suit the setup. Games like X-Wing Alliance simply wouldn't allow you to start the game without having a joystick plugged in. However, in recent years games like Freelancer and X2 – The Threat have changed those requirements, and the mouse is now possibly used by the majority.
In Darkstar One the mouse is ideal, for three main reasons. Firstly it is the most suited to use in conjunction with the keyboard, which allows for complete control not only whilst in flight but also whilst navigating menus and your universe map.
Secondly, the targeting system with the mouse is far better, you're able to specifically aim at a reticule that tells you where to shoot in front of your enemy, this equals huge amounts of space-pirate death.
Thirdly and possibly most importantly, is the precision I found with the mouse. With a high quality mouse, like the Razer Krait, I felt most in control – and because the design of the game is so simple I was able to set up my control system so that anything not possible on my mouse was easily possible through my keyboard.
Okay, so very few people would ever use a joypad to play a flight-sim. I know this, but as I had never played a flight-sim with one I thought it would be interesting to try. Besides the joy pad is the device most gamers associate with gaming, it’s the main utility for consoles and is the peripheral that feels most comfortable when sitting in your hands – surely the game will be at least playable with it.
You see the joypad's popularity is also its downfall when it comes to games like Darkstar One. Everybody loves joypads because they are simple: few buttons, an easy feel, intuitive in their design, and that translates usually to hassle free gaming. However, when a game is complicated and requires multiple button inputs at any one time you start to have a problem. I need to fire off my missiles, while I'm slowing down the afterburners, while I am turning and rolling, whilst I'm… well you get the picture. Any self respecting space-sim requires lots of inputs, a lot of the time and a joypad simply can't do it.
A more fundamental problem with a joypad, that really affects gameplay, is the lack of precision. Gone is the small marker you get whilst using your mouse that guides your laser fire. Instead to fire upon an enemy ship you must be lined up, straight on. It's kind of stupid to think that this brilliant alien ship that you fly, would only be able to shoot in a straight line at whatever was in front of it. On top of that control with a joypad is clumsy and slow. The verdict for the joypad has to be, keep it well away from Darkstar One.
In our attempts to perform a joystick review we uncovered something that we at the bit-tech
offices were both shocked and saddened by. After plugging in our trusty Saitek ST90, admittedly a rather low budget and old joystick, we found that the game didn't in fact work. A quick check with Ascaron and they admitted there were quite a few joystick issues that they were trying to sort out. I couldn't believe it, a game where I fly a ship in space, with limited functionality for joysticks. It cannot be!
Nobody wants to read a joystick obituary, so I decided to dig deeper and rekindle an old relationship with the trusty Sidewinder joystick that Microsoft produced, the best piece of equipment in the olden days to run any flight game. However, unbeknownst to me (which probably reflects the fall of the joystick) Microsoft has discontinued its support of the Sidewinder product. A desperate search later and the reality of it all hit me - joysticks are, in fact, all but dead. Most of the companies that supported them are now either gone or waning, and the games that you would usually play them on don't really even offer full support.
The obvious truth is for a game like this there is only one choice. The reliability, precise nature and functionality of a mouse and a keyboard is a must. It is sad to see the joystick in this way, and maybe in the future it will make some kind of retro revival; but for the time being, stick with the mouse.