Its name is the Logitech Extreme 3D Pro. Not an imaginative or inspiring name, not like some of its predecessors in my gaming history – Sidewinder or Magnum 6, for instance – but beggars, as they say, can’t be choosers. Starting now, I call it “Extry.” Because truncating things and then putting a ‘y’ at the end totally works for names. Like for my Loftwing in Skyward Sword, which I named “Beaky,” short for Commodore Beakington the Third. But I digress.
Extry has one very important feature that his predecessors, however beloved, sorely lack: Windows 7 compatibility.
It is sad commentary on the state of the gaming peripheral that the once-lofty joystick has long since been reduced to an endangered species. Despite making the Sidewinder itself, Microsoft has given up on updating its drivers; most other peripheral producers, those that have survived, don’t feel much need to bother with a modern ‘stick. Probably has something to do with the fact that few game developers (much less publishers) feel the need to bother with any games that might require one, unless you are so touched in the head that you like using a joystick for your first-person shooters. (You shouldn’t. It sucks.)
I want to briefly meditate upon my fallen peripheral and BGPFF (Best Gaming Peripheral Friend Forever), the Microsoft Sidewinder Force Feedback 2. Still, in my eyes, superior to Extry, as one might suspect from the fact I don’t call it “Windy” or “Forcy” or “Feedbacky.” Extry doesn’t shake, rattle or roll when things happen in the digital aether. The Sidewinder does. It has soul. But Windows 7 recognizes Extry’s throttle and rudder and hat.
You know, peripherals aren’t what they used to be. I don’t know about you, but I tend to get attached to certain devices as I use them, especially if they see me through games I adore and/or play a particular role in that. If motion control offered anything I found terribly compelling as a controller, I’d likely have a special fondness for my Kinect or PS Move or Wii MotionPlus that I deny your average Sixaxis or even DualShock 3. Joysticks were always the cream of the crop because they provided a very necessary and specialized service and were integral in many of my favorite games. Indeed, a joystick was one of my first grown-up purchases ever.
It was probably in or about 1995 when I decided to save up my modest allowance and the occasional extra take I’d get from odd jobs around the neighborhood and send away for the TIE Fighter Collector’s CD-ROM (for Macintosh) that existed, it seemed, only in catalogs and dreams, never in reality or on shelves. I had languished too long in the desolate gaming landscape of the Mac owner. (Like, probably like six months, guys. But before that I had no computer at all in my house.) But I knew that TIE Fighter Collector’s CD-ROM (for Macintosh) would not be a standalone purchase. So when I trooped down to the bank to take out my meager savings – a little shy of $60, $35 of which was already earmarked for the TIE Fighter Collector’s CD-ROM (for Macintosh) – I knew that part of my quest would be to find a joystick.
This turned out to be a remarkably simple task, actually, involving the retailer where we got our computer in the first place (a PowerMac, back when Macs weren’t at all colorful or sleek but looked just like everything else except with just one mouse button) and a joystick whose name I can’t remember, which they sold despite not selling any games to play with it. It was an off-white and teal job, friendly looking, not some hardcore faux military yolk that those PCers probably played with. This was a buddy.
TIE Fighter was one of the big revelations in my gaming life, and even though it was just about the only game that this nameless Mac ‘stick flew through, boy, did it work for it. That’s a long game, for one, and I played it quite a bit. I knew someday I would be playing more of these things, even if my poor Mac couldn’t handle much more than that (not that there was much available for it to handle). I almost killed it trying to make it play Starfleet Academy, of whose 80 MB of required RAM the Mac only had 75.
My PC ‘sticks have a longer legacy, now, from the Magnum 6 – black and red, with big buttons and a pointy hat – to some Saitek whose name I can’t remember that had a throttle and rudder (the Magnum had a throttle but I’d never used it). Then, finally, the Sidewinder. This was the promised land right here. The Magnum was my wingman for X-Wing Alliance; the Saitek probably got me through Starlancer or maybe Tachyon: The Fringe; the Sidewinder survived replays of those games besides initial runs on the Freespaces and several MechWarrior games, amongst others. For years. The thing lasts.
So having to replace my long-suffering Sidewinder with the young upstart, Extry, is kind of a melancholy thing. On the one hand, I can play starfighter sims again for the first time in years – in time for things like MechWarrior Online and Star Citizen to come out a little down the line. But on the other, Extry feels slightly alien, the contours not quite the same, the heft, the weird button under the thumb…and I can’t help but think that even as I reopen a chapter of my gaming life, I’m closing one, too.
So long, Sidewinder.