Author Topic: Microsoft SideWinder Strategic Commander impressions  (Read 2722 times)

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Offline NamelessPFG

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Microsoft SideWinder Strategic Commander impressions
« on: Mon, 20 February 2012, 16:17:41 »
Just got my Microsoft SideWinder Strategic Commander today. Used, but boxed and with documentation for $13 shipped. Not bad at all.

The device itself is sort of like a flight stick/analog joystick, except the handle is a sort of ergonomic left-hand mouse shape. Feels great to hold. It also twists instead of just sliding around. It's square-gated, though, so feeling out the cardinal directions at the extremes can be a bit weird. (Also, I wouldn't mind seeing the handle part mirrored into a right-hand grip. It would make a great palm grip mouse for medium/large hands, especially since it's long enough to actually have a palm rest.)

The buttons are numerous, and each one has a satisfying microswitch click. Also important is that all the controls are very easy to reach without shifting grip; even the mode slider and record button on the base can be used by reaching your thumb down and raising the back of your hand slightly.

There are six main action buttons (with orange backlighting, to boot), two zoom buttons next to those, three shift buttons for the main six buttons located in the thumbrest, and the aforementioned mode slider and record button. It may not seem like much at first (11 buttons, 12 if you count the record button on the base), but keep in mind two things:

-None of those have to be used for movement keys because of the sliding joystick motion of the device.
-Three of those buttons are shift buttons for the primary six buttons, so that's actually more like 24 possible bindings, plus two for the "zoom" buttons and one for the record button.

The sliding motion could be a bit smoother, especially around center, but I did buy this thing used, long after its discontinuation, which could be a factor. What definitely needs improvement, though, is how the base will slide around as I'm frantically moving it around; maybe they could have weighed it down more or used feet with better grip. I highly advise securing it to your desk with Velcro or something else if you're going to use it a lot.

Unfortunately, Microsoft doesn't provide any usable drivers for XP, much less Vista/Win7 64-bit, as usual for most of their old SideWinder gaming peripherals. Fortunately, someone managed to code a Strategic Engine app that works nicely on modern OSes, which allows for good keyboard and mouse emulation as far as I can tell. I just wish it also added a DirectInput joystick mode, because while it clearly does support analog movement, the most you can do with it is make it emulate keystrokes (along with a "walk" area), which is kind of a waste. It also makes the Record button a programmable button instead of, well, a record-on-the-fly button. Note that you need to have Strategic Engine running at all times for the Strategic Commander to work.

In spite of a few flaws, I still wish they made more devices like this in terms of joystick sliding action + lots of buttons. Nowadays, it's mostly Nostromo N52 variants and Logitech G13s and other devices that simulate part of a keyboard, but don't replicate that sliding action. If the buttons were more keyboard-esque, then it could easily be up to the user as to whether four of the keys or the sliding motion would be used for movement.

Part of it could be that a lot of those devices are pitched toward FPS gaming, whereas Microsoft tried chasing the RTS crowd with this one (hence the name), not realizing its FPS gaming potential.

Given that this place is a haven for people with exotic input devices, maybe someone else in here has one of these?

Offline tarknuz

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Microsoft SideWinder Strategic Commander impressions
« Reply #1 on: Thu, 19 April 2012, 10:05:01 »
I used to use this in WoW in a level that I just couldn't play anymore without it. It was an amazing tool in pvp. I had to stop using it because of driver issues, but now that's not a problem anymore, so I might use it in a new MMO that's starting today. It's a bit tricky in the begining, but it's like any new peripheric. After you get used to it, you'll love it. It's really sad that microsoft doesn't make them anymore. I bought 2 of those already and planning to buy another one.

Online Findecanor

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Microsoft SideWinder Strategic Commander impressions
« Reply #2 on: Thu, 19 April 2012, 15:56:54 »
I found one in a dumpster the other day. I thought that I would try it out...
However, I have only Windows 7 and Linux, and I use only Linux.

Anybody know how to test it under Linux?
"Smart" phones make people stupid.

My daily driver: Phantom (lubed Cherry MX Clear, thick lasered Cherry PBT, custom retro case, custom firmware).

Offline JoeC

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  • Location: Bend, Oregon
Microsoft SideWinder Strategic Commander impressions
« Reply #3 on: Sun, 13 May 2012, 05:07:29 »
Quote from: ripster;590673
I fly using my iPad   Air Supremacy is fun like the golden era of flight sims.

http://toucharcade.com/2012/03/21/sky-gamblers-air-supremacy-review-buckle-up/
Only counts if you use the accelerometer as the pitch/yaw control.
Lurk Moar!!!!!

Offline NamelessPFG

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Microsoft SideWinder Strategic Commander impressions
« Reply #4 on: Mon, 14 May 2012, 10:35:17 »
It looks gorgeous on the new iPads, but I simply cannot stand the controls. They weren't made to fly aircraft or play most traditional games. It might be a hell of a lot less unwieldy on an iPhone or iPod touch, though.

Give me a proper HOTAS and a TrackIR any day...or at the very least, a Microsoft SideWinder Force-Feedback 2. If I need a portable fix, I'll pick up Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy.

The game itself is very forgiving to help compensate for that, though, and surprisingly for a Namco-published title, they didn't even bother tying this one to their Ace Combat series, where the arcadey gameplay fits perfectly.

(And by "the golden era of flight sims", do you mean the time before they went so far off the hardcore end that you have to study the various subsystems for hours in order to know how to do anything, taking "simulator" very literally? I suppose that's why I ended up gravitating more toward Rise of Flight and IL-2 Sturmovik: 1946.)

Offline symphonic1985

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Microsoft SideWinder Strategic Commander impressions
« Reply #5 on: Tue, 15 May 2012, 02:19:53 »
Wow, this device looks almost exactly like what I want. I've spent a lot of time thinking about what would be the ideal device for my left hand in FPS games. I decided that the best setup would feel like

left hand- mouse, right hand - mouse,

where the left 'mouse' is actually a short throw joystick in the shape of a mouse. This should give the ability to rapidly center for WASD type movement, which is difficult with a full flight stick, and also have better precision than a thumb stick.

I've wanted to build one of these from an old mouse and PS controller but haven't had the time yet.

Is this how the strat commander works? Slide it around for analog WASD and use the buttons on top for jumping etc.?

Offline NamelessPFG

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Microsoft SideWinder Strategic Commander impressions
« Reply #6 on: Thu, 17 May 2012, 00:09:30 »
Quote from: symphonic1985;593066
Wow, this device looks almost exactly like what I want. I've spent a lot of time thinking about what would be the ideal device for my left hand in FPS games. I decided that the best setup would feel like

left hand- mouse, right hand - mouse,

where the left 'mouse' is actually a short throw joystick in the shape of a mouse. This should give the ability to rapidly center for WASD type movement, which is difficult with a full flight stick, and also have better precision than a thumb stick.

I've wanted to build one of these from an old mouse and PS controller but haven't had the time yet.

Is this how the strat commander works? Slide it around for analog WASD and use the buttons on top for jumping etc.?
That's precisely why I bought it, actually. I came to the same conclusion a long time ago, that a device like the Strategic Commander with analog movement would be more practical than a keyboard for most FPSs.

The only thing is, the Strategic Engine software only allows for keyboard or mouse emulation with the analog axes. I don't know why the developer didn't consider passing it off as a DirectInput device; several older FPSs can map DirectInput axes and buttons. XInput would also be a consideration, but would complicate things immensely since I don't think games that use it expect simultaneous X360 gamepad and mouse movement (or even allow it in some cases). For starters, you'd have button prompt icons constantly shifting between X360 and KB+M.