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X-Arcade Trackball
October 28, 2005 | Eddie Park
Pages:123


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It seems that nostalgia continues to permeate the gaming industry these days, particularly with the release of various compilations that include a variety of ancient titles. This is to say nothing of arcade emulators such as MAME which have allowed people to play old arcade ROMs for many years now, allowing older gamers such as myself to relive the glory days, and newer gamers to discover why gameplay will always hold sway over bump mapping and six trillion rendered polygons per millisecond.

Of course, the problem with many of the really old arcade titles is that many of them came with specialized controls. Before the joystick and smattering of buttons became standard issue, arcade game creators were left to their own devices when creating control schemes. This resulted in a variety of formats, including twisting knobs, bi-directional joysticks, and a personal favorite of mine, the all-button setup of the classic shooter Defender.

One of the early forms of control that caught on for many popular titles was the trackball. Atari's Football, released in 1978, was reportedly the first arcade game to make use of the device. However, the venerable classic Centipede is probably the title most gamers will point to when dredging up trackball memories. Many titles have since made use of the rolling interface, including Millipede, Crystal Castles, Marble Madness, and even current titles like the ongoing Golden Tee golf arcade game.

The problem with games that use the trackball is that they tend to fare pretty poorly under emulation, simply because it's difficult to replicate the control a trackball gives with the standard interface devices used today. Gamepads and joysticks are poor substitutions, and even trackball mice aren't robust enough to handle the abuse that takes place when in the middle of a fierce game.

Enter X-Arcade's latest entry into the controller market: the X-Arcade Trackball Mouse. Designed to replicate the look and feel of arcade trackballs, the Trackball Mouse is touted to deliver an authentic arcade experience, allowing gamers to garner the unique control and feel that only a trackball can provide. However, is the experience everything that retrogamers are looking for? More to the point, is the experience for Mac users as friendly as it is for PC folks? The answer really depends on what you may be looking for.

Indestructible
The Trackball Mouse is a beast. Approximately the same size as the X-Arcade Solo Joystick, this is not a controller made to be held in your lap. I highly recommend a sturdy table or floor when setting it up for a long session. Like X-Arcade's previous offerings, the Trackball Mouse is pretty much arcade-perfect. The wood base is of the same type used in most arcade cabinets, and the buttons and trackball are made from the same parts used in your average arcade game. Given the expertise and the availability of parts, you could easily swap buttons and the trackball with any arcade parts supplier and not notice any difference in performance.

This solid construction is important, because trackballs tend to take a beating when in play. Whether being utilized in a rapid series of directional changes or being slammed in one direction with alacrity, trackballs spend most of their time being hit and rolled. Thankfully, there's nothing to fear with the Trackball Mouse, because this sucker is built to take all the abuse you can dish out, even if your gut reaction is to slam the thing angrily every time you miss a shot or die horribly.

The layout is also practical, catering to both left and right-handers. The trackball is planted squarely in the middle of the unit, while a slightly diagonal row of three buttons is set to either side. Each set mirrors the other in function, so players can choose whatever setup they like. In a nice addition, there are also buttons on both the left and right side panels of the unit, which can be used to mimic the buttons on a pinball machine if folks are so inclined.



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