Call of Duty: Ghosts
Several months ago, I discovered the joy of controlling PC games with a trackball hacked into a controller. I'll never go back. Now, perhaps I'll go forward, gaming with Steam's new controller, but for now, today, the Trackball Controller represents the best possible option for gaming on the PC with a controller, retaining the best features of the controller, while eliminating its largest weaknesses.
Because I'm a hack, I've neglected to publish this review for several months (years?) after its completion. If you read no further, know that I wholeheartedly recommend the Trackball Controller, specifically those created by the fine folks at Trackball Controller.
The Trackball Controller is an intuitive, logical modification for an Xbox 360 controller. Having used the controller on both PC and Xbox 360 for a number of months, I entirely prefer the action of a trackball over the joystick in a great number of games. It's no surprise to me that when Valve was engineering their "perfect controller" for the PC, that they couldn't get beyond the concept of the trackball for a good long time. Specifically, Valve moved beyond the trackball when they couldn't adapt it to all control types.
The Trackball Controller's design is pretty simple. The right joystick in the controller is replaced with a high precision trackball, and that trackball in turn controls your "look" as right stick does with a traditional controller. In many games, the substitution is most welcome; response times with the trackball are far lower than with the joystick. Likewise, the level of aiming precision that you can get with the trackball approaches that of a mouse, to the degree that I'm competitive enough with the controller that I can use it interchangably with the mouse and keyboard. Although I'm not the best of players, in Call of Duty: Ghosts on the PC, as well as the Battlefield on the PC, I have not had an appreciable difference in score using the Trackball Controller over the mouse and keyboard. That's a strong statement, so I'll repeat: this controller has reduced the difference between control schemes to irrelevance.
It boils down to this - when I'm leaning back in my chair, I use the Trackball Controller. When I'm sitting at my desk leaning forward, I use the keyboard and mouse. I will often switch between the two; in several situations, I just prefer the feel of a controller in my hand. Very specifically, I prefer the feel of THIS controller in my hand.
When the Trackball Controller is used on the Xbox 360, it's a near-cheat, given its high degree of accuracy, speed, and natural extension of the joystick concept.
The Trackball Controller isn't exactly like playing with a mouse, but it's a heck of a lot better than playing with joysticks. There are a few areas where the controller is weak, but the strengths of the controller far outweigh the weaknesses. Nonetheless, I will enumerate every single weak spot I've ever noted with this controller. Bear in mind that even given the below, this controller is by far the best that I've ever used.
The first weakness of the controller is that it needs to be wired. Even if you're dealing with a wireless controller, the Trackball Controller needs to draw power from the Play and Charge cable to function properly. Second, the controller takes about a second and a half to initialize. When you first start gaming with the controller, you'll need to wiggle the trackball around just a bit to get it to respond to the game. Once it's up and running, there is no lag or other issues. The third issue with using the trackball is actually a weakness of the controller it's attached to - very broad sweeping motions will not have a 1:1 response from the controller, instead, you'll fall victim to joystick acceleration; when you slam a joystick into the wall of the well that it's contained in, the machine will interpret that as a need to continue accelerating to make up for the limited range of motion inherent in joystick control. Flinging the trackball in one direction or another will briefly also translate to more motion than is needed. This doesn't happen very often, it's quite avoidable by cranking up the sensitivity, but in general bears a mention as a potential weak point of the control scheme. Finally, the trackball isn't locked into the controller - it's meant to be taken out of the controller to allow for cleaning. This means that it's possible to drop the ball out of the controller if you toss it or drop it. This isn't an issue in practice, but if the controller gets knocked around in storage, you'll need to keep an eye out for the trackball.
Sometimes, the difference in controls can have an impact in how you use the controller. Launching a missle in Call of Duty means that you have to spin the trackball more than simply pressing the joystick in a particular direction. Likewise, steering the RC car in Call of Duty Black Ops takes some getting used to. Game sections that require a more fluid motion in the right stick do suffer somewhat while using the Trackball Controller. In example, when controlling the RC-XD in Call of Duty Black Ops, the movement becomes more ‘chunky’ because steering is controlled using the right joystick rather than the left.
The benefit of using the controller in first person shooters is that you can be exceedingly precise in aiming relative to the coarse movement of a joystick. Likewise, you can definitely turn on a dime (cranking up the sensitivity actually benefits this controller), and you have a nearly effortless means of controlling your character. There is no tension in this controller. You don't mash your fingers against this controller. You don't even have to rest your thumb on the trackball, and you can still respond in time to be effective in games.
I highly recommend the Trackball Controller. It's been my favorite controller thus far.
The following is a video produced by the creator of the controller - if you're interested in play videos from me, let me know in the comments section below.
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