Driving Stick

If there is one specific genre of game that I am into, it’s fighting games. Within that rather broad category I’m not even all that fussy, but if I were to be sent to a desert island with a lovely hut, widescreen television and a variety of consoles, the genre of game I would want to take with me wouldn’t even require a second thought. I would simply gather up my little library of fighters (and I have a fair few) and I would toddle off to my hut on the beach and live happily ever after. Give me the ones that I don’t already have and I wouldn’t even complain.

Before I got distracted by the idea of that haven on the beach, my point was going to be that I play games of the fighting variety quite a lot. At the moment, I’m on my third day without any and I’m already starting to display symptoms of withdrawal. For those of you interested, these include sudden outbursts of “SHORYUKEN!”, muttering incomprehensibly about upcoming changes in Ultra Street Fighter 4 and hallucinations of a certain jaguar-masked wrestler lurking in my house. But I digress.

As someone who can, at times, take a “good enough” attitude, I’ve long rubbished the idea that changing your hardware can improve your game when it comes to things like Street Fighter. What difference can changing the chunk of plastic you use have, really? Just because it is a different shape, or has buttons in different places, doesn’t automatically mean you are a superior player. In fact, once I saw the prices that companies like MadCatz charge for fightsticks, I became convinced that they were for gamers with a superiority complex and more money than sense. Even a brief stint with one of the contraptions in my hands did little except evoke a sense of faint nostalgia; growing up playing Tekken at the arcade has left a strong impression on me, and playing games with the stick was fun in that regard. It did little to improve my paltry Street Fighter skills, however, and so I once again dismissed it out of hand(s).

Over the last few months I have been getting more into Street Fighter than ever before. I find myself watching people playing online during the quiet moments where I have nothing else to do, and almost invariably find a bit of tournament play to watch when planning out articles like this one. With that increased interest came a significant improvement in my skills, thanks in no small part to finding a gaming partner who was just as bad as I was, but just as interested in getting better. The more we played, the more I found myself losing close matches because of a mistake here, or an input error there, and the more convinced I became that I needed to start playing on something better than the, frankly horrible, PS3 controller.

So, putting aside my hatred at even the thought of what I was doing, I began my search for a fightstick. I skipped over all the obscenely priced ones, however, and settled for a cheap and nasty Datel Arcade Pro. Here’s a little spoiler for you: there’s nothing “pro” about it. It is, however, cheap, with the added bonus of being compatible with both the Xbox 360 and PS3 without the need for expensive modifications to the hardware.

I think now is the point where I look back at the attitude I previously had, and apologise heartily for it, because I love my stick. I didn’t when it arrived but, much like the games I now use it for, or some sort of fungus, it grew on me. I had browsed through various forums before making my purchase, and so went into it with few expectations. I knew that when I started playing with it, it would feel wrong. I knew that I would probably suck even harder than I did with the controller. But I fought through it, just as those wise internet gurus suggested, and now I’m better than ever before. Unfortunately, being the young, idealistic fool that I am, I decided that as good as I was getting it wasn’t enough. After a few weeks using the stick, I was starting to see the problems with getting one as cheap as it was. The buttons were spongy, the stick was unresponsive and, once again, I had hit a plateau where I wanted more from my equipment. So I decided to mod the stick.

It was going to be easy! I had found a tutorial online that was very clearly written, and had plenty of pictures, to boot, and how hard could it be to just follow the instructions? I would be deviating very slightly from the tutorial in the materials I wanted to use, but it said that should be alright, so I wasn’t all that worried. I had checked the size of the buttons to make sure they would fit, and all accounts suggested that they would. Unfortunately, I hadn’t thought to check the stick. I just ordered one that looked like it would match the buttons (which it does, very nicely), never thinking to check that it would fit the moulded slot for the stick itself to sit in. It didn’t. It wasn’t the end of the world, of course, and I managed to bodge it into place, but it took days of sanding down plastic, and by the end of it I was a rather grumpy modder.

Discovering that my model of stick was newer than the one in the tutorial only served to make me more annoyed, as did the revelation that I’d actually cut the wires that had connected the previous buttons to the board too short, and would, instead, have to solder directly onto the board itself. I don’t think I really need to say that it went badly, do I? By the time I was done with it, my stick was only capable of kicking and some basic movement. It was vexing, but hilarious, because no matter what buttons I assigned to what action, my characters were only ever capable of kicking.

In the end, I did what any sensible young modder would, and took the stick home to my father. He would know what to do with my terrible wiring, my awful soldering and my fire hazard of an end product. Thankfully he did, though he muttered darkly throughout the rescue operation and, by the time he was done with it, it was a functioning stick again.

Honestly, by the time I was done with it, it would have been cheaper to just buy one of the posh ones that I had balked at, but the experience would never have been the same. I am back to using it, and this time I’m doing better than I have before. I’ll probably reach a point where I want more, but I think I might have to accept that I may be reaching the limit of my skill, rather than the limits of my stick. I might have had to call my old man for a rescue, but I think that buying that stick was probably the best thing I have ever done for my gaming. I was wrong about the hardware, and that’s really rather galling, but in some ways I’ve never been happier to be wrong. Getting my stick was a small adventure, but it was an adventure nonetheless, and it’s revitalised what was slowly becoming a marginalised part of my life.

I’ve had my gaming adventure now I think. It’s not for everyone. I know a lot of people who don’t like playing on a stick, and will preach the virtues of the standard gamepad until the cows come home. I don’t blame them. I do think, however, that maybe they are missing out. Not on the stick, especially not if they are happy with their pads, but on the adventure.

Last five articles by Keegan



  1. Ivan Bloo says:

    You wanna try playing with a Xbox 360 pad, it’s a total nightmare. I think the reason some don’t want to spalsh out on a stick is the people that tend to say they’re the only option tend to be massive arseholes. Add in the upkeep factor too. Just when you’ve it broken in and the stick is the way you want it, the buttons begin to wear out

  2. Lorna Lorna says:

    I always wondered how much of a difference to a person’s skill level that game sticks actually made. I guess I now have my answer. Like you, I always thought they were for show-offs and modders, not really making a difference. That they do is truly interesting. Shame you hit the wall once again with progression, but at least it means that you actually have talent and don’t have to resort to cheap Ken spamming tactics online.

  3. Keegan Keegan says:

    Ivan – I was hesitant because it was such a big chunk of money to splash out for something I wasn’t necessarily sure I would like. I can imagine that buttons and, in particular, the actual stick elements, can get expensive, but for now I’m just enjoying having it. Even if it means I’m straying into the arsehole realm (I’m trying not to, honest!)

    Lorna – The day I beat one of those spamming Kens for the first time I genuinely did a little dance. It was an awesome moment XD

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