Section 2.3. Game Controllers

2.3. Game Controllers

Windows XP's built-in game controller software works very simply. When you plug your game controller into your PC's USB port (Section 1.8.1), Window greets you by name and lets all your games know what model of controller lies waiting in your twitching hands. It can even test the buttons to make sure they all work.

The Analog vs. Digital Dilemma

Game controllers come with either analog controls, digital controls, or both. What's the difference and which one should I buy ?

Just like choosing between vanilla and chocolate, there's no easy answer. It depends on your taste buds, or rather, the particular game you're playing.

The buttons on digital controllers, like anything else digital, contain only toggle switches. For instance, a four-position digital controller lets you navigate the dark underground passage in four directions only: forward, backward, left, or right. Since they simply toggle between "straight" or "turn," they leave out the subtleties like " turn northwest." A few extra buttons may let you jump or crouch .

In fact, many games turn your keyboard into a digital controller, assigning events to different keys: tapping the Spacebar unleashes a torrent of metal- eating bacteria, for instance. Digital controllers bring speed and a high degree of accuracy to games, since computers easily interpret the simple "On" or "Off" instructions. However, some games, like flight simulators or driving games, require more finesse than a simple Up or Down. That's where an analog controller comes in handy.

Analog controllers send a constant flow of measurements to your PC. Move the analog joystick or game pad delicately from Up to Down, and the PC responds to your movement's speed as well as its direction. That lets you land the plane with just the right finesse for a graceful swoop. However, analog controls aren't as quick or accurate as their digital counterparts. Different controllers, even of the same model, send slightly different measurements, resulting in less precision. That's why calibration (Section 2.3) lets your PC grow accustomed to each analog controller's particularities and automatically adjust for them.

Most game players keep at least one analog and one digital game controller in their quivers. The best game controllers contain both analog and digital controls. The Saitek P880, for instance, bears two small analog joysticks along the bottom, along with a digital game pad and digital buttons near the top.

But the real power lies when you install the game controller's bundled software. That software lets you program your controller's buttons to match the particular game you're playingthat same left button can be a block during a football game, or a rocket launcher in a shoot-'em-up. The software saves each game's settings as a Profile . When you switch games, switch to that game's Profile to swap buttons quickly, something that's beyond the intelligence of Windows XP's built-in software.

To save you from programming your own buttons, head to the manufacturer's Web site and visit the Customer Service or Downloads section. Download and install the game controller's latest driver, as well as custom-built Profiles for games you own or plan to buy.

Tip: Computer games and their accessories represent the PC industry's technological leading edge. Visit the controller's Web site often to grab the latest drivers as they appear.

Although you can start playing the kid down the street immediately after plugging in your new game controller, fine-tune your game controller's action by calibrating it. The game's software asks you to move the controller's pad around in all directions so it can measure the response. As the software notices any discrepanciesperhaps the controller doesn't move to one corner as far as it does to all the othersit stores those settings and compensates for them during game play, automatically "padding" a weak corner's movements to perform as well as the others.

Note: Digital controllers, unlike analog controllers, don't need calibrating.

PCs: The Missing Manual
ISBN: 0596100930
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2005
Pages: 206
Authors: Andy Rathbone

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