FRAGnSTEIN Facilitates PC Gamers' Move to Consoles
By Jim Bray
Gamers wedded to using a keyboard and mouse for their adventures have an ally in playing their favorite console-based games.
It's Bannco's FRAGnSTEIN, a two piece gaming controller that helps make PC gamers more comfortable with consoles such as the PS3, especially when it comes to first person shooters.
My favorite type of game is the first person shooter but, as a casual player who cut his gaming teeth on various computers over the decades, I have trouble succeeding on the PS3. The reason is that I can never get comfortable with the multitude of buttons mounted all over the top and front of the normal PS3 controller. Couple that with my need to wear my reading glasses just to differentiate which button is which – let alone having to remember which one to use at any particular time – and I tend to die quickly and "virtually" painfully.
Okay, I admit it. I'm an old fuddy duddy with 10 thumbs – but I still like games. And while I'm probably not very representative of gamers at large (or even at medium!), my inability to get comfortable with the same PS3 controllers other gamers seem so to handle so comfortably has cost me a lot of high def butt kicking enjoyment since I embraced the PS3 a few years ago.
That's why I gibbered with delight when my eldest son pointed out the FRAGnSTEIN to me. Here, theoretically, was a way to move my comfort zone with a PC's keyboard and mouse – the way I've played games for decades – to the PS3 platform.
Maybe there is a gaming God after all.
It isn't just me, either. My son has been gaming his entire life, thanks to a gadget-crazy family that has had computers and game platforms since the Radio Shack Color Computer and the Magnavox Odyssey console. Needless to say, neither of those were much good other than as novelties (though we still managed to have a lot of fun), but it puts our gaming history into perspective – basically from one generation beyond the abacus through the Apple II and every PC generation from the first IBM generation, various Nintendos and Segas and, well, you get the picture.
But I'm a fan of the PS3 now, because I can sit across the room from a 106 inch front projection screen and really groove on the high definition, surround sound gaming experience it offers.
Except for those 10 thumbs….
Another reason to move from PC to console gaming is the tiresome routine of having to check our systems' requirements constantly, to make sure we have the right version of DirectX, that our video card is up to snuff, etc. etc. etc. At least a PS3 updates its own software!
The most frustrating part about the PS3 when we first started moving our gaming to it was the discovery that it supports a mouse natively, thanks to a nice little USB port on the front as well as its built in Bluetooth capability! Sony had actually included all the pieces necessary for mouse-controlled gaming, but until Bannco unleashed the FRAGnSTEIN it didn't seem to get used.
So thank you, Bannco.
My son and I have also been first person shooter fans since the original Wolfenstein 3D for the PC, which is a dinosaur by today's standards but which revolutionized gaming with its first person perspective. Then there were the Doom and Quake franchises and, more recently, I've been going after terrorists and other bad guys with the Call of Duty titles.
And dying horribly, usually.
Bottom line, we love having a "fragging good time" and thanks to this FRAGnSTEIN doohickey we're enjoying the games even more now.
Still, those darn 12-year-olds seem able to snipe with the regular controller as well as we manage to do with the mouse. It makes me feel almost like a Ninja with a broken leg: it's hard to frag someone when you're on crutches! And those people competing online are GOOD! And vicious.
I hate them.
The FRAGnStein retails for $84.99 and consists of three parts: a mouse, a control stick, and a USB receiver. Since it's USB, it can be used both on the PS3 and on a regular PC, giving you the best of both worlds if you happen to have games for each type of system. That might seem a little silly, since the PC already has the keyboard/mouse combination, but it's always nice to have choices.
The mouse part of the FRAGnSTEIN is very much like most PC gaming mice on the market, with two buttons, a scroll wheel (that also tilts left and right), and four thumb buttons that match the 4 'shape' buttons (X, square, triangle, circle) on the PS3 controller. It feels nice in the hand and all the buttons fall naturally to your fingers; in fact it feels so natural that you never have to think about it. And that's a good thing.
The control stick (they call it the "left grip") is a small, wand-like controller, similar to some presentation remotes that are on the market. It's "wanderful"! There is a round analog direction stick near the top, which falls nicely to the thumb, with the 4-button "d-pad" below it and two buttons on the end for your index finger. The left grip doesn't feel as natural as the mouse does, but it's not bad. It looks almost as if they took the left half of the PS3 controller and straightened it out, so there's almost no learning curve involved in changing over to this controller from the PS3's.
The USB receiver, when plugged into a PC, allows the unit to be upgraded via software (Windows only). Firmware seems to be released quite regularly, with at least half a dozen updates in the last six months. There is also a configuration tool that allows one to tweak parameters such as sensitivity and button layout, with separate configs for PC vs. PS3 modes.
The newer firmware even allows adjustment of the radio transmitter in cases where interference makes for choppy motion.
We had some trouble re-syncing the three pieces of the FRAGnSTEIN after the firmware update, but once the instructions were consulted (who knew?) it wasn't bad.
So the million dollar – or $85 at least – question: "how does it feel?" Well, to be perfectly honest, the Bannco folk have made a wonderful attempt, but missed just enough of that real mouse feel to leave us a bit wanting. Most of the motions you'll use regularly are fine, but there's a bit of lag on fine-tuned movements (such as when you're sniping) where it starts out moving too little and then it becomes too much – kind of like turbo lag on a car. This is surely because it's essentially translating your real "mouse" movement into a virtual "stick" movement to send to the game but, regardless, we don't like it.
To be fair, you do get used to it after a little bit, and it's definitely an improvement over the regular PS3 controller. Different games seem to work a little differently, too, which takes a little more getting used to. It's like moving from one mouse brand or model to another: they all work basically the same, but no two quite track exactly alike.
Still, overall, it's a good controller and we're very glad to be using it.
So for anyone who has resisted getting into the First Person Shooter genre on the Playstation 3 because of that darn PS3 controller, consider trying a FRAGnStein. It isn't perfect (and what, other than my wife, is?), but it's pretty good.
Copyright 2010 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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