E3Expo 2010 Wednesday Report

Wednesday, June 16 Report

Chatting with the Devs

Some of the most important things that the SimHQ staff did today had nothing to do with testing out new toys. We had the honor of discussing the state of the industry with several movers and shakers of the simulation world: Chatting about running a design studio was Kathie Flood of Cascade Game Foundry, comprising in large part former members of Microsoft’s ACES Game Studio (the makers of Flight Simulator, among other titles). We also had a great discussion with Logitech’s Chris Pate and Mark Starrett, as well as Nicki Repenning of Mad Catz/Saitek, about upcoming gaming products and their respective future direction for simulation controllers. However, the surprise treat of the day was bumping into Thomas Jackermeier, president of Fanatec. Thomas was just an attendee at the show, but moving around and making contacts with the game developers. He saw the SimHQ team and came over to say hello and to discuss his thoughts on Chunx’ and Joe’s recent reviews of his flagship racing controller products. All of these discussions gave the SimHQ team a better insight into the industry and the future of simulation gaming (which seems to be doing quite well, actually). We really appreciated each of these frank and candid discussions and hope to pick those topics up again at next year’s show.

Technology

Saitek / Madcatz: The SimHQ team met with Mad Catz Senior Product Marketing Manager Nicki Repenning to discuss new and upcoming Saitek products. First up was the amBX system (pronounced “ambiex”, like “ambient”). The system comprises ambient LED lighting optionally combined with a special amBX keyboard that is intensely LED backlit. Lights can be arrayed in front of or totally around a player, with special game coding to change their color and intensity according to in-game action. For example, an in-game explosion could cause the lights surrounding you to flash orange. The same lighting is carried over into the keyboard system. amBX lights can also be programmed to change color in rhythm with music playback. Each pair of lights will retail for $69 and requires a power and a USB connection.

Mad Catz amBX system

Next up was the R.A.T. mouse, a unique customizable mouse. This mouse comes with a box of optional parts, and the mouse features an adjustable handrest (to change the length of the mouse) three pinky rests of different shapes, and a thumpad that angles to one of two positions. Any or all of five 6-gram weights can be removed from the mouse base, and the mouse features a metal chassis.

Mad Catz R.A.T. mouse

The R.A.T. mouse has twin lasers which feature 5600 dpi resolution. The twin lasers mean that the mouse’s X and Y axis sensitivity can be adjusted independently. The mouse also has a precision button which, when held, reduces the mouse’s sensitivity anywhere from 99% to 1% of the normal sensitivity; this is useful for sniper rifle use. The mouse has five buttons and also has three modes, for a total command count of 15. The mouse is programmable through Saitek’s SST software and is currently retailing for $99.

Mad Catz amBX system

Finally, we discussed Saitek’s future products, including a new flight game and a possible racing wheel. Saitek is partnering with Evolved Games to partner the new Jane’s Advanced Strike Fighters, which we are told is not a sim. We also learned that Saitek is interested in eventually producing a wheel, and is studying the competition. Their standards certainly seem high, as they indicated “we want to be taken seriously in the world of sim racing”. That is encouraging news, and we look forward to seeing what they come up with.

Chipwich, *Panther* and Joe discuss Mad Catz products with Senior Product Marketing Manager Nicki Repenning.
Chipwich, *Panther* and Joe discuss Mad Catz products with Senior Product Marketing Manager Nicki Repenning.

Wheel Stand Pro: Chunx, Chipwich, and Joe spent a pleasant half hour talking with Dale Litton from Wheel Stand Pro (WSP). Their product line is simple — a stable, folding stand for racing wheels. Chunx is now a full convert to wheel stands as opposed to clamping a wheel to a desk, as a Rennsport Wheelstand for his Fanatec wheel and pedals provides fantastic stability and portability from the home office’s PC desk to the living room’s Xbox to the closet and back again. The Wheelstand Pro is also a fine product, aimed squarely at those with Logitech’s line of racing controllers. Sporting powder-coated steel tube frame construction and bicycle-style quick adjustment clamps, the fully adjustable wheel stand pro comes fully assembled in it’s box and is ready for use the second you buy it. Each WSP comes with a pre-drilled mounting plate for the pedals and wheel/shifter, which makes them ultra-stable and slip-free. Just place the components on the mounting plates and bolt them down with the provided allen bolts.

Wheel Stand Pro

All three SimHQ racers tried the wheel, equipped with a Logitech G27, while driving GT5 Prologue. The first thing each of us noticed was that the bicycle-style quick clamps for the rotating and telescoping adjustments of the WSP made adjusting the stand to suit our differing tastes quick and easy. Driving a mountain road race in a street BMW with the H-pattern shifter, the wheelstand pro proved to be rock-solid stable and easily handled heel-and-toe pedal work and manual shifting without a wobble.

WSP mounting plate

 

WSP Bike Clamp

After taking a few turns at the wheel, none of us had anything really negative to say about the WSP with the G27, except that like its competitors there still isn’t a neat way to deal with the power and USB cables.

Dale Litton hopes to have the WSP sold at retail stores in the coming months, but it’s available for online sale now from here.

Peregrine Control Glove: Joe met with Iron Will Innovations CEO Brent Baier, who was very helpful and enthusiastic in pitching the product. The Peregrine is a programmable, touch-sensitive gaming glove for use with the PC. The glove senses contact between the thumb and fingers and between the fingers and palm, in total offering 26 programmable positions. The Peregrine was initially developed for use with RTS and MMORPG genres, but Baier was quite open to hearing our ideas about how such a device could be useful for many other applications, including sims. We’re always looking for more buttons, and this is a device which could potentially be worn while flying or driving and actuate commands without the user having to look away from the screen.

Right now the controller software is quite rudimentary, but Baier was open to hearing about suggested improvements and seems keen on implementing some of our recommended suggestions. SimHQ applauds developers like Peregrine for understanding the simulation genre and striving to improve their product. The Peregrine is currently retailing for $150. The video below lets the Peregrine developers speak for themselves. Oh, one more thing: why is this touch-senstive glove called the Peregrine? Brent commented, “The peregrine falcon is fast, lightweight, deadly, and it eats mice.”

Thrustmaster Ferrari Wireless GT Cockpit 430 Scuderia Edition: One of the last visits of the day was to Thrustmaster’s private meeting room above the convention center’s South Hall to check out their new wireless wheel with integral wheel stand. Thrustmaster seems to be trying to get ahead of the consumer curve when it comes to wheel stands by creating a product with an integral stand for extra portability, which is a welcome addition for casual console racers who crave a driving controller with more intuitive and precise operation than a game pad.

First, we should get out of the way what Thrustmaster’s new wheel is not: It’s not a sim racing controller, and it was not intended to be. Its target audience is the casual console racer who has some disposable income and prefers a wheel over a game pad, but doesn’t want a wheel cluttering up their living room all the time. For this demographic, the new Thrustmaster offering is right on target. The new wheel is utterly wireless, using only 4 AA batteries to power itself for over 50 hours, and a 2.4 GHz wireless transmitter to talk with a PS3 console at ranges of around 30 feet. The wheel uses a HALL sensor and the brake and throttle have magnetic resistance that makes their operation firm and precise. The 11″ wheel is detachable from the stand assembly, presumably for more secure storage and to reduce the chance of breakage. And as mentioned above, the controller is built into an integral, folding metal wheel stand chassis that telescopes and folds for optimal ergonomics and easy storage. Not having any wires is a big plus for this interesting design concept.

Thrustmaster Ferrari Wireless GT Cockpit 430 Scuderia Edition

However, as we say, the new wheel is not a product designed for sim racers. Most obvious is the lack of force feedback, a constraint mandated by the wireless design and AA battery power. Anyone with extensive FFB wheel use will find switching to a non-FFB wheel to be a challenge, as a non FFB wheel responds very crisply, often resulting in over-control of the car. That was certainly the case for Chipwich, Joe, and Chunx as they took turns testing the wheel with DiRT 2. Chunx found the centering spring to be very stiff, but that helped with wheel operation since it lacks force feedback. The firm pedal action was a welcome feature, and the paddle shifters were well laid out.

Thrustmaster Ferrari Wireless GT Cockpit 430 Scuderia Edition

With a price point of about $200 to $250, the Scuderia Wireless is not a cheap wheel. However, for its intended purpose it should find a place in the homes of many casual racers that over time may decide they want to step up their game and their gaming hardware to the sim racing level. When they do, our hobby will be the ultimate beneficiary of Thrustmaster’s newest racing wheel offering.

Bad Chicken Chicken Stick: Today at E3 we saw something we didn’t think we would ever see: a simulation(ish) device for the Wii. This device is called the Chicken Stick, and is a weighted golf club handle that docks the Wii controller at the far end. The handle uses metal and grip material from real golf clubs, and also incorporates a plastic ring and shaft system designed to press the B button on the Wii controller. Besides the obvious relation with the Bad Chicken company name, chicken stick is a golf term that refers to the selection of a shorter-shot club that will guarantee a safe shot.

The Chicken Stick

In creating this device, Bad Chicken has tried to recreate the realistic feel of swinging a golf club. They were demonstrating the product with Tiger Woods 2011, which is as close to a “golf simulation” as there is; the game critiques club angle at the time of ball impact as well as showing the player how to remedy the imperfection. There was also a TV lying horizontally on the floor, which allows the player to realistically look down at the ball when swinging. To hit the ball, one pulls the ring (which activates the B button), looks at the ball, then gives a normal full-strength golf swing. The TV and one’s head both then follow the ball up, where one winds up looking at the TV mounted normally and seeing the shot land. This feels surprisingly natural for normal shots. It’s a little awkward for putting, since Tiger Woods 2011 requires putt shots to be followed through instead of stopped short like a real putt.

Taking a swing with The Chicken Stick

The Chicken Stick with Tiger Woods 2011 seems like an enjoyable method of truly simulating golf, albeit it requires a TV on the floor to do correctly. The Chicken Stick requires the use of the Wii Motion Plus device and is currently retailing for $39.93 (that’s not a typo; Bad Chicken said they liked the palindrome).

Acousticom: Acousticom is a company that supplies headsets and communications equipment for military use. They needed a way to effectively demonstrate their noise isolation products on trade show floors, and wound up designing a “sound egg” into which they could inject aircraft noise, demonstrate their products, and at the same time avoid disturbing other show displays.

What they came up with worked effectively, and Acousticom decided to modify the product for entertainment use. The end result is theSound Egg, an odd-looking device that seems to perform as advertised. On display at E3 were the “premium” and “basic” models of Sound Egg. The premium model features 5 loudspeakers inside the egg that are driven by an amplifier, plus a sub-woofer in the base of the egg driven by a second amplifier. Inside the egg is a comfortable padded leather chair, and the egg is lined with is wedge-shaped acoustical sound-absorbing foam. There is a 22-inch 1080p LED LCD HDTV mounted on an articulating arm that suspends the TV in front of the egg opening. The premium model retails for $3,100.

The Sound Egg

The basic model egg includes acoustic foam, five speakers and a sub-woofer (but no amplifiers), and a hard seat; it retails for $1450. There are a number of color choices for the exterior of the egg, including color-matching to paint samples, and there are 11 choices of interior acoustical foam colors. The five interior speakers are 5.25-inch cones made by Memphis, a company known for aftermarket car audio, and the sub-woofer is a 10-inch unit.

It was hard to tell on the noisy E3 show floor, but the sound isolation properties of the Sound Egg seemed impressive, especially for a plastic structure with a large hole in it. Joe listened inside to a Dolby Demo DVD of a live concert. The directional properties of the 5.1 mix were apparent, but it would have been nice to watch a select portion of movie material, since this is where directional sound is most important to immersion.

The Sound Egg looks rather ridiculous, but performs as advertised.

Anthro Corporation: Anthro makes modular professional desks, including the elevate line of desks that have electronic height adjustment controls. SimHQ was particularly interested in the Elevate Wrap desk, which looks like it could be accommodate triple monitors, a HOTAS, and other control panels such as CH Products MFPs or Thrustmaster MFDs with some room to spare.

Anthro's Elevate Wrap

The keyboard tray for this desk is tiltable or lockable, and for simming would best be left locked in a horizontal position. It is wide enough to fit a keyboard plus a HOTAS system, and the end of the wide curving main desk panel is perfect for CH MFPs. Adjustable monitor arms can complete the sim cockpit nirvana. At a base price of $3,099 the Elevate Wrap isn’t cheap, but we know there are SimHQ readers out there looking for that perfect desk; maybe this is it.

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