Scan's TekSpek

Our Aim
To provide you with an overview on New And existing technologies, hopefully helping you understand the changes in the technology. Together with the overviews we hope to bring topical issues to light from a series of independent reviewers saving you the time And hassle of fact finding over the web.

We will over time provide you with quality content which you can browse and subscribe to at your leisure.

TekSpek Gaming


Date issued:
Page:2 of 4

Starting off with something you already have, we’ve got the humble and faithful mouse and keyboard combo. Unsurprisingly these two will work to greater and lesser extent in any game you care to think of and if another controller isn’t by the game this is the default control system. But as I’ve mentioned already, a mouse and keyboard are far from ideal in a driving game or flight sim. Some games that combine perhaps driving and running around, the Grand Theft Auto series is a good example, set up their control interface to make driving far easier with the keyboard and use a progressive input system for the steering. Basically, the longer you hold the key down, the further the steering wheel turns. This is fine in this type of game but for a pure racing game this just isn’t responsive enough. Similarly, games such as Lego Star Wars can be played with a mouse and keyboard but a gamepad make play far more natural and intuitive.

Where the mouse and keyboard still reign supreme is in the First Person Shooter genre where the digital input of the keyboard is excellent for movement and the analogue input of the mouse is superbly intuitive for looking about. Though there have been various efforts in the past to produce a dedicated device better than this combination, the fact remains that this is the best there is.

However, there is an overwhelming choice of keyboards and mice on the market with many aimed at a specific area of usage such as office apps or multimedia. The simple truth is that pretty much any keyboard will do the job adequately and it comes down to individual taste as which to go for. Some users like positive, responsive keys whereas other prefer added extras such as secondary scroll wheels. You can even buy gaming specific keyboards with removable key layouts, backlit keys or dedicated pads which duplicate the most used keys in a more ergonomic manner. The best bet is to find one you like the feel of and stick with that.

Mice are a different matter altogether and different mice do make an immediate and noticeable difference to your playing experience. Forget ball mice, optical mice are where the smart money goes now, even if some hardcore FPS player swear by the ability to whip the ball into a spin for quicker turns. Nowadays even the standard optical mouse is being gradually overtaken by laser mice, which boast an increased sampling rate and higher DPI than your standard mouse.

The DPI is an important one as this dictates how far the pointer moves in relation to the actual mouse movement. Obviously, the higher the DPI, the further and therefore quicker the pointer moves. There are now quite a few mice on the market with adjustable DPI which, with a bit of practise, gives you an edge in gaming as you can adjust responsiveness dependant upon the situation and with the skills displayed by a lot of today’s player, every edge is an advantage.

Sampling rates are becoming increasingly important too as modern PC hardware becomes quicker and quicker. It may sound stupid but even though a normal mouse will check for movement 200 times a second, a mouse sampling 1000 times a second really does feel smoother, especially when the game you’re playing is running at 70 frames per second or higher. This is why games players tend to avoid wireless mice as they have an even more pronounced lag between movement and reaction, though there are some mice on the market that claim to eliminate this too.

Joysticks are really for those into their flight sims or shoot-em-up games and the range on offer covers budgets for everyone from the casual once a week gamer up to the aeroplane nut with a replica cockpit in his living room. A decent joystick can be bought for as little as £20 which will have enough buttons and features to keep most players happy.

Joysticks can be split into two main groups those being force feedback or standard. The actual buttons and functions on both groups will be the same, but the force feedback sticks have the added feature of supplying real time movement back to the player, giving a greater feeling of what’s going on in the game.

This is achieved using a set of motors which actually pull the stick about in your hands in an effort to simulate certain effects such as the wing buffeting just before your plane stalls, or perhaps juddering as your plane gets hit by bullets. Whether you go for force feedback or not is a matter of personal choice but some gamers find it a hindrance more than a help while others swear by it and can’t live without it.

Quality points to look for include a good solid build and a decent weight to the stick. The nature of the game means your new stick will come in for some severe punishment being heaved to and fro, so a flimsy plastic shaft will snap pretty quickly. If the stick is light or doesn’t have a wide enough base there’s a good chance of it toppling over when you pull hard on it and if you’re in a flight sim, there’s a good chance you’ll have your spare hand on the keyboard so look for either a weighty stick, a wide base or some method of securing the stick to the table.

Depending on the game, the number of buttons on your stick can be of great importance. A realistic flight sim like Pacific Fighter or LOMAC will have hundreds of controls so you’ll have to make sure you can assign the most frequently used and important functions to the joystick buttons. Many sticks come with programming software allowing you to set a profile for the stick and even programming combination key presses to one button which is very handy. As a guide you shouldn’t settle for anything less than eight buttons on the stick and if possible go for more.

In addition to the buttons all sticks should have some sort of throttle control on them somewhere which makes flying a far more immersive and intuitive experience. If your stick of choice doesn’t have this function, I highly recommend looking for something else as you will severely regret it later. Besides actually moving the stick itself, the throttle will be your next most used control and having to tap keys on the keyboard when you could have just as easily had a slider or wheel to thumb is a bit of a no-brainer choice, to be honest.

Of course you could go all out and get the next level up in the form of a separate throttle and stick combination. These set-ups are now relatively cheap and because of their strong enthusiast following the build quality tends to be much better. There’s less choice in this area but the wealth of features and options make for a much more flexible system, adaptable to pretty much any type of game. With a separate throttle control there’s room for more buttons allowing for more functions to be mapped to the stick and throttle. All of these throttle and stick combinations come with programming software which, even with the most complex of flight sims, make it possible to fly with hardly touching the keyboard at all and still accessing all of the functions.

These sticks do take time to get used to though and programming is very much a case of trying out the game with the stick and deciding what function to map to which button. The more complex sticks will have input modifier buttons whose sole purpose is to allow more functions to be mapped to the same button. Some systems can amp over 150 different function to the sticks, though the trick here is remembering what button presses activate which function!

Finally, it’s always a good idea to get your hands on a few sticks and test them out first for ‘feel’. There will always be a trade off between the stick’s spring tension and centring ability which is important to stop the stick ‘drifting’ when centred. Most modern sticks have an inbuilt ‘dead zone’ where there’s no input signal so you’re plane won’t gradually roll left if you take your hand off the stick. In cheaper sticks this is achieved using the spring to keep the stick upright but if the spring is too stiff you might find the stick tiresome to use. More expensive sticks use digital potentiometers to measure input and so will have a more relaxed spring with a dead zone that doesn’t deteriorate with age and use. As always, the caveat is to try before you buy.

Page: 2 of 4