Gaming is the future!
The gaming section of the Microsoft Hardware team is one which is bewilderingly limited for the PC and it has been ever since the Sidewinder line effectively died off. If we ignore the Xbox 360, the only gaming peripheral to come out of Microsoft recently has the Microsoft Habu
(which was actually designed by Razer
) and the Reclusa keyboard which, frankly, I didn’t even know existed.
Since Bill Dukes, the Gaming Hardware Manager for Microsoft, has been around though that has slowly been changing. The main way that’s been accomplished has been through the revival of the Sidewinder line.
The new Microsoft Sidewinder mouse, which will be on sale soon (although we couldn't get a confirmed UK price), has been designed from the ground up for the hardcore gamer and has a fair few things which distinguish it from other mice in the gaming peripherals market.
Starting with the obvious, there’s the shape of the thing. The Sidewinder doesn’t exactly look like the most comfortable thing in the world to hold and a birds eye view illustrates some of the rather severe angles in its design.
In actual use though, the Sidewinder is incredibly easy and comfortable to hold. All the sharper angles conveinently only start in the areas where your fingers aren’t going to be.
The Microsoft Sidewinder Mouse; the weight box doubles as a cable anchor.
The Sidewinder also deviates from the norm in the side-buttons department. You may not have thought about it before, but the side-buttons on most gaming mice are positioned horizontally, with one button just in front of the other. The down side of this is that when you want to press the front button then you have to move your hand so that your thumb can reach.
“We looked at a mixture of hardcore and professional gamers.
” Said Bill, “We watched how they hold and use the mouse and we saw that they never want to lose their grip for a second on the mouse – so we moved the side-buttons into a vertical alignment, which means that your hand never has to move at all to reach those buttons.
The Sidewinder does have a button in front of these though, one that deliberately requires players to reach around uncomfortably. For good reason too – this is the macro recording button which lets players record sequences of keys and button presses.
Each Microsoft Mouse is sculpted by hand in the design stage
The software in the mouse allows players to record anywhere up to 250 key presses and then map that sequence to a single button. When quizzed about whether this counted as cheating or not, Bill was clear to point out that that was something for individual gamers to decide. “My personal view though is that you can’t cheat with hardware – otherwise every system is cheating with different graphics cards and so on.
The mouse also features a fancy weight adjustment system, which pops out of the side in a way which is disturbingly similar to how a clip slides into a handgun. With apparently two years in development, the Sidewinder mouse is a mouse which is sure to polarise opinion just as much as other Microsoft projects. For my part, although I’m not a massive fan of the overall aesthetic, the mouse still feels great to use despite some problems with the resistance of the scroll wheel.
My main concern however would be price, with the US price for the Sidewinder being between $70 and $80. Popular consensus among the crowd was that the Sidewinder would début in the UK for around £50, which is frankly just too expensive for anything but the best gaming mice.
And so, the Microsoft Hardware Day drew to a close and I was ushered away to attend another Microsoft event in the exact same place. How can you be ushered away and taken to the same location, you ask? No idea, but Microsoft made it possible.
Click to enlarge
All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by the Hardware Day and it was honestly quite fascinating to see how a team of designers can continue to progress on a tool which many of us take for advantage each and every day.
Sure, it wasn’t the most interesting thing I’ve ever done and when I was playing Portal
later in the day (watch the front page for an upcoming preview) I can’t honestly say that I was left thinking about how much I wanted to go back in time by a few hours and get another look at that keyboard, but I still enjoyed my time at the Hardware Day.
The one thing I was definitely able to take away from the event, other than a handful of leaflets and a throat even more sore than it was before, was an appreciation for how hard Microsoft works on even the most simple of devices. The amount of work that goes into constantly assessing and reassessing even where to put the buttons on a mouse is something which is baffling, but also reassuring.