Review: Xbox 360 Trackball Controller.

Discussion in 'Other Games' started by OmniaNigrum, Mar 17, 2012.

  1. OmniaNigrum

    OmniaNigrum Member

    If any of you have read my previous posts you will certainly know I am a trackball and keyboard only person. But the problem with the keyboard is that you cannot easily do some things that are normal functions of a controller. For example you cannot accelerate a car slowly. It is all or nothing. So I decided I had better get with the times and try to find a reasonable middle ground.

    After a very short search I found the site. I already had tried a variety of controllers and determined that like it or not, the Xbox 360 controller is the most well supported of them all. Most games on the PC are coded for the Xbox 360 and then ported to the PC. And almost all modern games support it without any messy configuration.

    (Image stolen directly from the site, I have no camera.)

    This review will tell you what I think of mine. It covers the good things and the few bad things about it.

    First of all it looks exactly like a standard Microsoft Xbox 360 controller. It is made from one after all. The right thumbstick has been removed and replaced with an optical trackball. The "Button" that is activated when you press the right thumbstick is now placed underneath the controller where your fingers will naturally fit while using the controller. It is not too easy to push, nor difficult. There is now a new button added to the front of the controller that you press and hold to calibrate it for the game you are playing. This is essential because it is not a native trackball. It still has to send signals as if the trackball were in fact an analog stick.

    Now to the meat of the issue. How it plays in games. It is good. It is much better than the garbage thumbstick that allows you the illusion of having some control over where you are looking in a game. Perhaps you are better than I with such things, but I can use my normal trackball to turn around entirely in a fraction of a second. If you set a thumbstick to maximum sensitivity you could probably do that in a full second. But you would not be able to aim at the broad side of a barn like that. This controller is a reasonable middle ground between the awful thumbstick and a native trackball.
    I tested it in the following games: Skyrim, Deus Ex Human Revolution, Syndicate, Saints Row 2, and finally Reckoning.

    There is little difference in functionality between any of these games for this controller, so I will not bother to bore you with details of everything I tried in each. I found it to be awesome for Saints Row 2 since there are cars. Driving games benefit from analog movement and triggers much more than shooters do. Being able to apply the accelerator partly and go as fast or slow as I want is essential to not making an unintended fifty car pile up. The same is true for analog steering via the unchanged left thumbstick. Being able to turn just a bit without having to tap lightly a key is great. It makes the driving experience much more enjoyable.

    Honestly for shooters I will probably stick with my keyboard and my native trackball. The accuracy of the native trackball is infinitely better I can turn 180 degrees and headshot a distant enemy in a half second. Due to the limitations of the trackball controller having to translate the trackball signal into what the thumbstick would have sent it cannot quite match the accuracy. That alone is the one downside of it. It simply is not native.
    The build quality is great. It looks good, feels good, and comes with two balls to use. One is plastic and the other stainless steel. (It even comes with the metal ball bearings used to keep the extra ball in place in case you lose one of the bearings.)

    Due to the fact that it is a Microsoft Xbox 360 controller used, it has no way to keep the trackball in place when it is turned over. It would fall right out if you simply turn it upside-down. But you can just put it right back in and it will work again without any issues.

    Again because it is a Microsoft Xbox 360 controller, it has *Barely* enough room to put the trackball and it's electronics in place. So the battery pack fits very very tight. It is difficult to get it open when you need to change the batteries or if you want to power the controller off that way. (I mention this because I am a PC user with the official Microsoft Wireless Trackball Receiver. It has no means to power itself off without unplugging it from the PC. And likewise the controller has no interface to power it off besides either waiting for it to do so automatically or removing the battery pack for a second.)

    Calibration is a pain. But it has to be done for most games. You do this by pressing and holding the extra button added to the bottom of the controller and slowly moving the trackball to the left/right, up/down or diagonally. This is required because different games have different "Deadzones". A deadzone is the amount of movement in a particular direction the thumbstick could move without actually changing your view. It is required for thumbsticks because without it the tiny itsy-bitsy bit off from center they are is enough to be detected by the controller. So without a deadzone you would literally be spinning forever and unable to prevent your view from drifting. Those of you familiar with game controllers surely now about this.

    Calibration sounds easy, but it is nothing close to easy. It takes practice and time. I start a game and load any level then sit around doing nothing but calibrating and testing until I find the best balance of accuracy and speed. This is probably five minutes wasted at most per game. And if the next game you play has the same "Shape" of deadzone then you may not need to recalibrate at all. Likewise, once you calibrate the controller for a game, you can play it as long as you want without having to recalibrate. This could even be multiple sessions with days between them. I have not had mine long enough to test how long exactly it will remember the calibration. But it is certainly long enough.

    Understand that some tasks are all but impossible with the calibration I used. I found myself sometimes unable to scroll text down/up in Syndicate. Some games allow you to use the triggers to scroll text instead of using the thumbstick. That works fine obviously. There may be a way to calibrate it to scroll text fine and still have good speed and accuracy in the actual game world, but I was unable to find one.

    The man who makes these is very, very helpful and answered every last question I asked before I ordered mine. This was over the coarse of a week, with messages sent and received every day. That is getting rare these days.

    The price is a bit high for a controller, but for what it is, it was a bargain. I am happy with it. I suggest you check out his site and watch the videos there. They show you everything you need to know. Buy it. Tell him OmniNegro sent you! (I am not paid anything for writing this. I just like the controller and think you will too. Telling him I sent you will change nothing, but will make me giggle when he is flooded with purchases all bearing my handle.)

    Trackballs need more love. Try one, Buy one, Learn to love it. :)
  2. Lorrelian

    Lorrelian Member

    This looks like a very nice piece of hardware. I would probably pick one up and try it out if not for its cost. I don't do enough serious gaming to really justify spending that much on a controller. But it does look pretty slick. Maybe something cheaper will appear sometime soon.
  3. Tycho

    Tycho Member

    Why the hell aren't trackballs more popular? Seems like every laptop maker jumped ship from trackball to tiny track-stick-thing to touchpad. I always liked trackballs.
  4. OmniaNigrum

    OmniaNigrum Member

    People are odd creatures. They look at a wrench for example and see an old all but useless device with very specific purposes. Until they finally realize they need a wrench, that is. Then they are in love with it until they no longer need it and toss it to the side in favor of newer but less useful tools.

    Trackballs may have been made too well to appeal to fickle creatures like humans that require something new every moment of every day. My old plain copper line telephone still works and never has issues with dropped calls and poor reception. Nor any possible issues with battery life. Yet you could not give away a similar phone to most people these days. They require something new that they can strap to their side and baby in a hundred different ways. (Checking signal strength, battery life, ect...)

    Trackballs are found often in places where intelligent people are asked to perform real work regularly. Doctors often have a trackball at their system in their office. Same for engineers and other professionals that actually seek to do things besides be up to date with fashion and devices that may be inferior.

    Trackballs are still less common than they should be. That is a shame.
  5. Kazeto

    Kazeto Member

    Trackballs are useful, as they are basically smaller mouse controllers that you operate with just one finger instead of the whole hand, that don't need as much space as a regular mouse would. They do require getting used to it, but when you do, they allow for more precise movements than a normal mouse, just like what happens with a pad (though it's used for different things than a pad is).
    But then again, it's much easier for us to buy a normal mouse and learn how to use it more precisely than it is to spend much more money on a trackball/pad and learn how to use them effectively, so most people don't bother. That is, unless they actually are doing something that benefits from the new tools.
  6. OmniaNigrum

    OmniaNigrum Member

    Who on this earth is immune to Carpal Tunnel syndrome? I doubt anyone. Trackballs are an effective was to minimize repetitive movements that would lead to serious and even disabling ailments.

    But do not take that to mean they are always the best controller. To each their own. And to each new task a new device may be better suited. But I simply love trackballs.

    The first time I used a trackball I thought it was clumsy and less pleasing than a mouse. But I also noticed the advantages in a second. Now I have a good quality trackball for normal use, and a trackball controller for games that have good controller support. (Except most shooters. Those will still require a native trackball.)

    In case anyone cares, this is my current trackball.
    Logitech M570 USB RF-Wireless Trackball

    If Logitech still made the wired variety of this trackball with quality wires I would buy it. But I must utilize RF since their wired devices all die in time due to crappy wiring. (Moving the wires or bending them can easily cause breaks in the connection. The problem goes away when you rewire them. Crappy wires.)