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XGaming X-Arcade Dual Arcade Joystick
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Date: Sep 14, 2004
Section:Misc
Author: Robert Maloney
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Introducing the X-Arcade Dual Joystick!

"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy", at least that's what Jack Torrance (Nicholson) in "The Shining" told us. What he was trying to say is that we all need a break from the usual grind every now and then.  Even here at HotHardware, where we're usually knee-deep in testing motherboards, video cards, and the like, once in a while something comes along that really grabs our attention, even if it is a little bit off of the usual radar.  We were actually a bit excited when we were asked to review the X-Arcade Joystick and we thought that you, our faithful readers, would be interested as well.

What we've got for our show-and-tell here today is the X-Arcade Dual Joystick from XGAMING, a company that wants to help create the "ultimate gaming experience" for the end user.  Now, for some of us older gamers, that "experience" probably revolves around afternoons spent at the local arcade or convenience store, lining up quarters along the edge of an arcade system's marquee or screen.  There was a certain "feel" that arcade systems had - the way the knobby joysticks fit into the palm of your hand or the tactile clicking of the buttons (when they worked) that has been lost for the most part with today's modern peripherals.  A quick glance at the X-Arcade's box allowed us a peek at the controller, which looks almost as if it was ripped from a defunct arcade machine.

      

The oversized box tells you almost everything you'll need to know.  While we will be focusing on the PC for the most part, the X-Arcade joystick is a universal controller, and different adapters can be purchased separately for use with the Sega Dreamcast, Sony Playstation One or Two, Nintendo GameCube, Microsoft XBox, and even a Macintosh (or PC) using a USB connection.  This holds true for the future as well, as the XChip technology allows for compatibility with yet-to-be released consoles, say an XBox 2 or Playstation 3, for example.  Thus, the cost of the joystick can actually be mitigated by realizing that it can be used in place of multiple controllers for each console.    

      

      

Out of its box, it's quite possible that the Dual model which we received is just as large as an actual console from an arcade machine, and certainly looks the part.  The dimensions come out to roughly 24.25 inches wide, 11.25 inches deep x 7 inches tall, with a hefty weight of just about 12 lbs. There are two joysticks, each accompanied by eight programmable buttons.  XGAMING also provides a "SOLO" version of the X-Arcade joystick, which is smaller and obviously a bit cheaper.  The package includes a setup manual, serial cable, PC Conversion cable, and a CD-ROM with some of ATARI's greatest hits.  You might have noticed that there isn't a driver CD - that's because none are required. No installation, no messy drivers to work with, just plug it in and go.

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Making Connections

 

 

Connecting the X-Arcade Joystick
Keeping it simple

As we mentioned on the previous page, no drivers are necessary for installing the X-Arcade Solo or Dual joysticks.  In fact, the X-Arcade joystick will not even appear as a controller - it's actually read by the PC as a keyboard.  To accomplish this, we need to look at the back of the unit where we find two connectors, a PS/2 input and a serial output.  There is also a MODE switch and an oddly placed button, but we will get back to these later.

      

To properly connect the joystick, a PS/2 keyboard is needed, which gets plugged into the open PS/2 port on the back.  USB keyboard users will need to get a USB-to-PS2 adapter to make the connection, and these can usually be found cheaply in most electronics stores.  Next, take the two cables that are in the package and combine them to make one long cord.  Push the serial plug into the joystick, tighten the end-screws, and then attach the other end to the keyboard PS/2 port on the back of the PC - where your keyboard was originally plugged into.  If connected correctly, a red light in the upper right corner of the joystick should light up.

     

When you're done, it should look like the picture on the left.  The X-Arcade becomes a junction between the keyboard and the computer.  For those inclined to do so, XGAMING also provides a USB adapter (at an additional cost) which can be used to connect to the PC instead.  All in all, it's a simple procedure that shouldn't take more than a couple of minutes.  After that, all you'll need to do is boot up the system.  As we mentioned earlier, the X-Arcade joystick is technically read as a keyboard, and for a quick functionality check you could open up Notepad and hit the buttons and you'll see characters appear.  This is also a good way to find out the current key mappings as well.

     

Connecting the joystick to consoles is not much different, although there's no need for any input devices to be plugged in.  For consoles, the appropriate adapter connects to the end of the serial cable, which then branches off into two joystick plugs, each of which is conveniently labeled.  It then works just like a standard gamepad, with the various buttons assigned to the arcade buttons.  However, newer game systems can feature both digital and analog controls, such as the D-Pad and thumbsticks found on a Playstation 2 controller.  Using the side button on the X-Arcade joystick, you can switch quickly between analog and digital modes, but in general XGAMING recommends that users use the standard controllers for games that require use of both.

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Reliving the Past with MAME

So, what is MAME, exactly, and why are the X-Arcade Dual Joystick and MAME make such a good combination?  Well, to begin we need a small history of what makes arcade games run.  In 1974, Atari produced a game called Tank, which was the first video game which used ROM chips to store graphic data.  ROM (Read Only Memory) chips are little pieces of silicon that contained data that cannot be changed, as the name suggests. The data in this case were game images.  These images contained all of the necessary input and output functions that made the game work.  In other words, when you pushed the joystick to the right on that old Frogger arcade system at the local pizza shop, that command was recognized and it made the frog jumped to the right in response.

In 1996, Nicola Salmoria began working on his single hardware emulators (for example Multi-Pac), which he merged into one program during January 1997. He named the accomplishment the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator, or MAME for short.  The ROM images that MAME utilizes were "dumped" from arcade games' original circuit-board ROM chips. In essence, the MAME emulator software becomes the "hardware" for the games, taking the place of their original processors and support chips. Therefore, these games are NOT ports or simulations, but the actual, original games that appeared in arcades.  

 

     

       

     

Now, we've been playing arcade games with MAME for some time now, but up until now they never felt quite right. Keyboard commands just don't cut it, and gamepads like the Microsoft Sidewinder work, but the feeling is all wrong. The Ms. Pac-Man "shimmy" or the "clunk" of a correct move in Dragon's Lair just can't be replicated on anything but a true joystick.  Into this void enters the X-Arcade Joystick.

      

You can't help but notice the authenticity of the X-Arcade joystick, from the arcade-style wood to the industrial grade materials used in the joystick and buttons.  To complete the illusion, there's even 1 and 2 player buttons along the top, and side buttons for pinball aficionados.  We really only came across a couple of detractions while testing.  While two joysticks worked well in a stand up arcade system, the novelty is lost in the home.  Two people almost need to be right on top of each other in order to play head-to-head games like Street Fighter.  We really don't see any way around this without making the joystick even larger, so we really can't hold it against XGAMING.  One other minor gripe was the square placement of the buttons in respect to the joystick.  It required us to place both hands straight-forward to play games, which would cause us to cramp up a bit after a while.  A much better idea would have been to place the buttons on a slight angle, similar to the slope found on ergonomic keyboards.

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Getting into the game and our conclusion

Getting back to basics
Gameplay with the X-Arcade Joystick

Now that we've covered the basics, it's about time we got to actually using the X-Arcade joystick.  For the most part, we've got nothing but rave reviews.  There's simply no way to compare the playing of some of the arcade oldies with the X-Arcade to any other joystick we have come across.  A prime example would be the button-smashing in Konami's Track & Field.  For the unacquainted, Track & Field consists of a series of track events, where you need to qualify for each event to move on to the next.  Bashing on your keyboard is probably the quickest way to find yourself shopping for a new one, and the small buttons on most gamepads offer little hope for your Olympic dreams.  The X-Arcade joystick handled Track & Field like a Pro, and we were busy moving along through the events with no complaints.  The buttons felt just like they did back on the arcade system, and we never had any concern that the unit couldn't take our speedy button pressing.  The buttons are also spaced just right, allowing for perfect placement of our hands.  Other games performed admirably, with few exceptions.  One of our few complaints appeared to be in games that required four-way controls, such as Ms. Pac-man.  We usually had no problems navigating through the mazes, but occasionally we would get locked in place when trying to move quickly from one direction to the next, almost as if we were blocked by the diagonal.  Making sure the X-Arcade was selected in the controller list in MAME helped a bit, but we still found a few moments where we didn't feel completely in control.  Switching the controller to 4-Way mode, should alleviate this problem, however.

Another major feature not to be overlooked was the simplicity of programming and re-programming the buttons.  There are four modes that the joystick can be set at, the first being the default, but the other three are instantly programmable.  Using the Mode switch on the back of the unit, simply move it over to the right from one to three times to switch modes.  Programming a button is as easy as hitting the previously unused black button on the back, holding down the button you need to map, then hitting the relevant key on the keyboard until the light in the upper right blinks back on.  All buttons can be re-mapped, and the configurations are saved automatically.  If another game requires a different layout, switch to another mode and repeat the process.  

 

The X-Arcade Dual Joystick is an instant classic.  It claims to bring the arcade experience home, and we completely agree.  The sturdy construction means you won't have to worry about getting too rough with the controls, especially during a heated battle.  In addition, XGAMING includes a lifetime warranty on all parts, even going so far as to pay for shipping for replacement parts or a defective unit.  Without getting overly nostalgic here, the X-Arcade joystick made us feel like we were back in the 80's, playing our favorite coin-ops.  Everything had that authentic feel to it, from the clickety-clack of the buttons to the throw of the joystick to the solid wood backing.  The only thing missing was a coin-slot to complete the illusion.  The price of the X-Arcade two-player unit might seem a bit high at $149.99, but this is a joystick that will probably last you for a long time, and can actually be used on all modern consoles as well as the PC or Macintosh.  

We're giving the X-Arcade Dual Joystick a '9' on the HotHardware Heat Meter as well as an Editor's Choice award for innovation.

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•Authentic Arcade Styling
•Sturdy Construction
•High-quality materials
•Lifetime Warranty
•Universal connections

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•Large price-tag for a joystick
•Some problems with 4-way games
• 2-players can be too close for comfort
• Button placement could be a bit better

 

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