MS SideWinder Game Pad Pro Review
By: Neil Yates - October 9, 1999
Are you a joystick zealot, a keyboard fanatic, or a gamepad guru when it comes to game input devices? Some say that it all depends on the type of game - joysticks for flight sims, keyboard for first-person shooters, and gamepads for action and sports games. Other people are simply stubborn and stick to one input device if at all possible. I fit into this category, as do most of my friends and collegues. Traditionally, I prefer using the keyboard, but for any game that benefits the use of a joystick, I pull out my trusty SideWinder Game Pad from Microsoft.
Purchasing The Pad
Lately, I've been converting nearly every peripheral to Universal Serial Bus (USB) to save on precious IRQ 'slots'. A few days ago, I dropped-by my local Electronic Boutique store (to see if my GeForce was in; it wasn't) and spotted a strange-looking artifact. It finally happened - Microsoft ported the SideWinder Game Pad to a USB connector, and 'refitted' it with some new features. Without even reading the packaging, I dropped some coin and double-timed home - eager to interface both me and my shiny new Game Pad.
Without as much as a passive acknowledgement to my girlfriend, I 'jacked-in' to my PC - and sighed as I filled my 7th and last port on my bondi-blue iMac-ish USB hub. Although I was temporarily distraught to the fact that I would need a second hub, I brightened-up a bit after I realized that Microsoft did not follow the bondi-blue trend with their new Game Pad, as with most other USB devices. At least, the SideWinder Game Pad Pro is a semi-gloss silver - a testament to its redesign and renewed functionality.
Click. Bing. Zizz-boong. Insert CD, find driver, install driver, install SideWinder Central software. Done! The joys of Plug-and-Play USB - thirty seconds of pure admiration. With my girlfriend asking how my day went, all I could really think about was "Wow - this thing actually fits in my hands - comfortably". Lack of responses to her query made her realize that I was mind-melding and soul-bonding with some new piece of computer gaming hardware, as I frequently do when I toy with a new toy.
Game Pad Buttons
Ever sit in a public transit bus seat, only to painfully realize that the engineers designed the seats for people that have short femurs? Are us 6-footers a rare percentage of the population, or was this bus designed in orbit? The same goes for most console gamepads as well as mice and laptop keyboards.
The original Sony PlayStation (model 1000) had gamepad controllers that were designed to the specification of the average asian-male's hands. It took Sony a few months, but they eventually released new controllers with extruded palm grips and longer cords. Microsoft seems to have taken notice to the fact that most of its buyers (North American, Germans, Brits, etc etc) have a great number of tall and large-boned people in their respective populations.
The SideWinder Game Pad Pro is no exception. It has larger 'X, Y, Z' top buttons, proportional to the lower 'A, B, C' buttons, and the palm grips are thicker and more extruded. Even the forefinger trigger buttons are wider. At first I was taken aback by the sheer thickness of the palm grips, but within minutes of some trippy Motocross Madness, I seemed to have better control compared to the older Game Pad. With the older Game Pad, my right-hand fingers would over-shoot the lower ABC buttons by a fair margin.
More Details on the Game Pad
One feature that instantly became apparent was the Directional Pad (D-Pad) and the Shift key to its lower-right. The D-Pad sports two software-controlled modes; Standard and Proportional modes. In standard mode, the D-Pad performs much like an 8-way Hat-switch (like on advanced flight-sim joysticks). The D-Pad only relays movements of up, down, left, right, and each of the four diagonals - much like how the original SideWinder Game Pad performed. Standard mode is ideal for sports games, or top-down games that are centered around 8-way movement directions.
However, in Proportional mode, the D-Pad is 'transformed' into a free-floating infinite direction recticle. The beauty of this mode is that it behaves like a pressure (or velocity) sensitive joystick. The more pressure you exert on the D-Pad in any direction, the greater response in your game. The Shift button enables the ABC, XYZ, and Trigger buttons to act as a second set of different functions, in effect giving you sixteen programmable buttons. These can either be in Game Presets or user-bound and saved in the SideWinder Game Controller Software.
Features that are missing, but in my opinion can be easily forgotten are the original SideWinder Game Pad's daisy-chain connector and bay, as well as the original 'Mode, Start, and M' buttons. Some sports games used the 'Start' button, but in my experience, most of them were seldom used. As for 'daisy-chaining, if you require additional Game Pad Pros, you are only limited by the number of free USB slots you have left.
If you are a first-time gamepad buyer and have small hands and/or no USB ports, then the original SideWinder Game Pad Pro is still available in stores for a bargain price. However, If you have larger-than-life hands and seek to become the ultimate bachelor, then this new Pro version will do you nicely, especially with Microsoft's $10 US mail-in rebate.