Alt.Game-Gear

by Gareth Branwyn for Digital Living Today

With any obsession comes the desire to amass specialized tools for greater indulgence. Weekend warriors may be satisfied playing their computer games with a mouse and a deeply discounted joystick, but full-time game geeks crave more serious gear. Here are a few bleeding edge gaming tools that separate the casual gamers from the true twitch-addict.

Logitech has a well-deserved reputation for making top-of-the-line input devices that are as handsome as they are functional. Their WingMan Gamepad Extreme ($39.95, www.logitech.com) is no exception. It uses tilt sensor technology to translate your body movements (left, right, front, back) to corresponding actions within the game. You’ll never ride an on-screen motorcycle the same way again. The Gamepad Extreme also has ten action buttons, a precision eight-position digital pad (which doubles as a hat switch), and includes the excellent WingMan Profiler software.

If you fancy yourself a table top gun, Saitek’s X36 USB ($99, www.saitekusa.com) is the next best thing to an honest-to-goodness plane throttle. Designed for flight simulations, and any type of vehicle-based gaming (mechs, cars, jet bikes), the X36 systems is a joystick and a throttle for two-handed gaming action. The Saitek Gaming Extensions software lets you customize the oodles of buttons and switches to your hearts content. You’ll never have to touch the keyboard again while playing your favorite cockpit games.

If car racing games are your passion, you really need a good racing wheel. These devices can cost a bundle, but they don’t have to. Logitech’s Formula GP wheel has all the features you need for fifty bills ($49.95 from Logitech). It has a very comfortable 10″ steering wheel that doesn’t feel as toy-like as others in this price range. The foot pedals are also surprisingly realistic. The wheel has two gearshifts on it and four action buttons. A force-feedback version (to punish you when you crash or run off the road) is also available for $99.

Billiard games are surprisingly fun, with ball physics effectively programmed to feel like you’re whacking the ol’ cue ball around on the physical felt. But playing with a mouse or joystick just doesn’t cut it. InterAct’s PoolShark Controller ($29.99, www.interact-acc.com) lets you use an actual pool cue to play (one is provided, or you can use your own). As you slide your cue on the PoolShark input device, the screen cue matches your angle and speed. Of course, you may have to move your computer to a bigger table or you run the risk of impaling your monitor with the stick. The device also comes with the excellent Ultimate 8-Ball game.

If you’re a real game nut (with a disposable income), you’ll want to check out the Rock-N-Ride ($1,300, www.rocknride.com). This movement-responsive game chair uses hydraulics to pitch you from side to side and front to back in response to your joystick movements. You can even use it with a steering wheel and pedals and set it up so that it slams you back in the seat when you hit the acceleration. Is it just me, or do some of us have too much time (and money) on our hands?

If you’re the type of gamer who has multiple input devices for different game types, rummaging around behind your box can become a big hassle. Frontx to the rescue ($26, www.frontx.com). This multimedia port extender brings your game and other multimedia ports to the front of your PC so you can plug and play to your heart’s content. (Sorry, but you still have to restart your computer between installations.)

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