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SpaceOrb 360 Review

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06/06/04
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Kiss your joystick goodbye.

The first video game system I ever had was Pong. Yes, you heard me, PONG. It had two simple paddle controllers, which were just basic rheostats. Then the Atari 2600 brought the joystick home in a big, boxy, awkward form. The Intellivision soon developed the disk controller, with an overlay pad (in many ways and exceptional and superior controller). Apple gave us the flightstick (or analog joystick). Coleco introduced the irritating too-short-joystick. Nintendo gave us the gamepad. And now, the next innovation is here: the SpaceOrb 360.

While paddles might be the perfect controller for Pong, you wouldn't want to fly a helicopter with them. A gamepad works best for making Sonic the Hedgehog run around, and how could you possibly play Marble Madness without a trackball? With 3D madness sweeping the gaming scene, someone finally noticed that Duke Nukem is not an aeroplane. So why the hell have I been flying him around with my Thrustmaster?

Well, Spacetec IMC has the answer. The SpaceOrb is based on an interface that was originally designed to manipulate objects in 3D space. It is a tool of 3D graphic designers and engineers. But it makes a swell 3D game controller too!

It looks quite a bit like a standard video game controller. It has buttons and a cord and (this is where it gets different) a big rubber ball on the left side. This is obviously the 'orb' part of the SpaceOrb. The black ball is firmly attached and about the size of a racquetball.

You control the Spaceorb by pulling, pushing or twisting the ball in any direction that you please. In techspeak this is known as '6 degrees of freedom' (different from '6 degrees of separation', mind you). To help you visualize this, if you are simply manipulating a 3D object on your computer screen and you twist the ball clockwise while pushing it down and to the left, the object will move diagonally down and to the left while rotating clockwise (did that help?)

Leaving simple objects aside, this give you much better control in 3D games. For example, in Duke Nukem you can run diagonally forward to the left, while turning to the right, looking up, and firing at the same time. Wow. And yes, it does take some getting used to.

Descent 2 is much more intuitive. In Descent your ship is not confined by gravity like poor Duke. It has a full 6 degrees of movement, just like the SpaceOrb, so it behaves exactly like the aforementioned 3D object. Any direction you push, pull or twist the orb, your ship moves in the exact same way, as if you were manipulating the ship itself. The SpaceOrb and Descent 2 are a match made in heaven.

Once you get used to all this, you become a much deadlier opponent. Waste those levels you couldn't pass before, and destroy your so-called friends in net games.

Installing the SpaceOrb, however, can be more difficult than using it. First, you must have a free COM port and IRQ's to match. Hardware conflicts can be very frustrating. I still have not managed to get the SpaceOrb and my SimulEyes 3D glasses working at the same time. The installation software is a bit confusing, but the manuals are actually pretty good.

To play a game using the SpaceOrb, you must launch the game using the SpaceOrb software which currently supports about 25 different games. There is both a Win95 'launcher' and a DOS 'launcher'. While it does have joystick emulation, the orb really works best with games that you can launch via Spacetec's software. Free updates with support for new games are available on the Spacetec website.

What I'm saying here is that if you're playing pong, you still want paddles. Leave your flightstick hooked up, because you'll still want it for flying jet fighters. But for 3D games, the SpaceOrb has no equal. If you're serious about Quake, Duke Nukem, or especialy Descent 2, the SpaceOrb is a must-have.


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