Me and my $20 flight stick (Not NSFW)

So over here I mention that due to the Current Crisis I’m playing the older X-Wing game. And to aid that, I spent slightly over $20 on what must be the most basic flight stick available.

The Flightstick is (I think) Thrustmaster’s oldest product they still acknowledge. It comes in a pretty basic box and I initially thought it was ‘renewed’ but nothing on the package said that… Although, as per recommended protocol, I’ms tripping packaging and washing hands on anything that comes in. It shipped in a box with no external box for some odd reason.

I was totally set to receive a non-functional knock-off or similar, but this seems to be good, albeit basic stick. Lack of weight or clamps makes it a bit less ‘functional’ than some, but again my needs are pretty basic. I just want to blast some TIE fighters over lunch every now and then.

So it comes with nothing. No CD, just a very simple sheet of ‘instructions’ which consists of the warranty info in multiple languages and a diagram showing all the buttons. Not the most detailed, but there’s nothing wacky like trim controls as far as I can tell.

Does it work?

It does! It was a little cranky at first, but some of that is going to the stone-age calibration X-Wing uses (Center stick, press button. Upper-left, press button. Lower right, button. Center, button.) and the design choice to have a half-dozen logos and animations to click through before you get to the calibration, and if you mess it up you’re SOL unless you quit and re-do it.

Buttons, buttons, buttons!

With nothing fancy it works, but only the main trigger and one other button work (which causes it to toggle from ‘cockpit’ view to ‘hidden cockpit’ view). Functional, but disappointing. So I went to the old standby of USB Overdrive. USB Overdrive is an ancient Mac program, dating back to the Classic era! It allows remapping keys and all sorts of tricks. There’s a few glitches with it, but it works surprisingly well for key mapping.

Here’s the controls on the Flight Stick and how it works:

  • Main trigger: Worked fine with no mapping, but mapped to main mouse button.
  • top ‘Hat’ switch has 4 directions.
  • Left is the w key to change Weapons.
  • Right is the X key to change firing modes (on the X-Wing it changes the main lasers from single/double/quad firing)
  • Up is the R key to find a target fighter
  • Down is the T key to find other targets
  • a switch to the side of the main trigger is used for the ‘adjust angle’ function (spinning the craft)
  • a ‘caution stripe’ button. Still playing with this one.
  • a final top-of-stick button does the ‘u’ key to target whatever I’m pointing at.
  • There’s a ‘Throttle’ control, but that’s the one place the USB Overdrive hackery fails. It’s seen as two buttons, so I can set them for ‘-’ and ‘=’ for Throttle Up/Throttle Down… But they’re not the ‘throttle’ control you’d expect. May be something I have to live with.
  • The stick basically emulates a mouse, so works as pointer control device.

But, X-Wing
I feel like I am slightly less terrible with a controller like this. Not good, but at least it’s workable. It’s a new game to me, only 27 years late. I turned up the graphics options and such because I can. I hope to try TIE Fighter soon and see how it works.

So, am I committing any cringeworthy button assignments?

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There are no cringeworthy button assignments. If it works for you, then so much the better.

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The ‘throttle’ control is the biggest loss. Not sure if it even would work if the layers of emulation were removed. (I’m running X-Wing in a DOS emulator, technically… Which talks to USB peripherals which are emulated in some fashion. But USB Overdrive converts it to basic keys, and I have no idea if ‘era appropriate’ PS2 flight sticks would have throttle controls anyway.

Making some slight changes: The ‘danger stripe’ button is now ‘u’ for ‘targetting U’ and the button to the right is ‘s’ to mess with shield configs.

I’m hoping this basic config works in X-wing vs. TIE Fighter which I can apparently convince to work on my system with a little work and looks like it combines being the Good Guys with the graphics/mechanics upgrades the later games added.

I’m having a little problem with the centering process… Takes me a few tries to get it centered. I think it’s just because of the way my desk is arranged.

These would be great games to get a modern remake. I’d even be OK with a Paradox style release (if Paradox made flight sims…) where the base game was OT craft only, then DLC added Prequels, Sequels, and other stuff. (Maybe even a limited support for larger ships or multi-crewed ships.)

Here’s my setup:image

For the record, I broke down and got X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter and it is awesome.

Had to work with it a bit: It’s a Windows executable (the older game was DOS-based, and came bundled in an app with DosBox) but there’s a ‘Porting Kit’ script that auto-installs it into a ‘wineskin’ style wrapper. The previous is only meaningful for Mac users, though.

XvT requires a joystick of some kind. And, surprisingly, it seems to work fine with the old one I got. However, after a bit of playing some major advantages over the earlier games:

  • Improved graphics. Not wining any awards by 2020 standards, but totally playable. The ‘cockpit’ bitmaps even look higher resolution.
  • Missions have a lot less ‘filler’ and feel better designed overall. In general, there’s less “fly from point A to point B for 5 minutes” that kind of padded some missions.
  • More variety. X-Wing has… X-wings. And A-Wings, B-Wings, Y-Wings and maybe a couple special craft, but that’s about it. And one config for them. In this one you add the whole family of TIE Fighters (of course) plus some gunboats and similar. The ‘iconic’ that a re in the title play very differently: A key ‘thing’ for Star Wars is the Empire’s fighters are kind of fragile garbage (no shields, no hyperdrives) while the X-WIng is a rugged masterpiece that may look like it’s barely holding together, but is incredibly capable.
  • I had repeated issues with the flight stick and calibration in the DOS game. Not so in the Windows one. I had to disable my USB Overdrive profile, and just let the app pick up the stick. Then assign buttons. I’m hoping they stick through disconnects/reboots/etc. The support even seems to handle the throttle control, although I’m still using the keyboard most of the time.
  • The overall ‘feel’ is a bit tweaked. In general, it feels a bit more like I have some idea of what is going on.
  • There’s actually well-done ‘tutorial’ levels! They start you out learning the basic of shooting, then levels focusing on scanning (which is basically ‘get close to ships’) and other stuff. Later ones have the squad stuff. There’s variants for both sides, even if they seem to be pretty similar. The other minus to this is you tend to jump around ships a lot which is meaningful as you do want to learn the layout of whatever you’re flying.

Some downsides, though:

  • It feels like a “Multiplayer first” game in many ways. A lot of the interfaces for starting missions are multiplayer focused, for example. I’m reminded of games like Unreal Tournament from around that era that were similarly built with multiplayer in mind, so single player was heavy on bots.
  • This holds over to things like making it very difficult to quit mid-mission. You can eject. but sometimes that just puts you in another fighter.
  • The keys are similar to the earlier game. But not identical. And I need to redo my config as there’s a few I need.
  • the GoG.com release does not include a manual. I think you can google it, of course.
  • I’m still not good at the game.

I’d still recommend jumping in to XvT if you’re at alll interested in a 90s space flight sim based around WWII dogfighting imagery.

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Sounds like you’re having fun there. :slight_smile:

I have fond memories of playing TIE Fighter, many years ago. For some reason playing on the Rebel side (ie, getting hold of X-Wing) never appealed…

It’s a good way to deal with being homebound.

XvT is also mostly widescreen friendly, which is a big plus. The interface is very 90s.

One thing I noticed is the way the game works the Imperial ships have a definite advantage in visibility: The X-Wing, for example, has a ‘cockpit’ silhouette that covers the bottom quarter of the screen and the expected windscreen pillars and such. The TIE by contrast has more ‘clutter’ but you get a bit more visibility below your viewpoint. This helps a bit with situations where a target is flying upward.

Again, I feel like a modern version of this game could be an easy win for the right company. Maybe have some modes ranging from ‘arcade’ to ‘full sim’ so you don’t have to worry about shield management or coms if you just want to play a quick game.

As I said, it could be a DLC goldmine, too. Imagine this model:

  • XvT (2020): Includes playable X-Wing, A-Wing, B-Wing, Y-Wing vs. regular Tie Fighters, Interceptors, and Bombers.
  • “Death Star!” DLC includes playable multi-crew Millennium Falcon (So if you can get a couple friends to handle the gun turrets, you’re good. This is basically pre-release for future DLC. Also play as Vader or one of his wingmen. Maybe introduce a one-key ‘Force’ button for the special pilots that occasionally does special stuff.
  • DLC focusing on playable ground-strike missions (where there’s geography) so you can have the Hoth battle. Adds speeders and others. May not add walkers: That may be a step (ah ha!) too far.
  • Clone Wars including a Clone Troopers vs. Separatist Forces. Includes the Jedi & Clone fighters (there’s a bunch, I think) as well as the Droid and other ‘enemy’ versions.
  • Early Rebellion adds the U-Wing (from Rogue One) and some additional ‘gunship’ style missions. Maybe the Clone gunship, too. Imperials get more TIE variants and some shuttles and such.
  • Unnamed DLC adds playable capital ship scenarios. They’re big multi-crew vessels (which can be delegated to AI if you don’t have friends handy) and really only balanced against each other. Losing your Star Destroyer to a wing of X-Wings your friends are driving is supposed to be embarrassing.
  • Resistance DLC adds First Order and Resistance variants. I feel like the First Order really makes out here: They got several new TIE variants and such. The Resistance/Rebels got… A new model X-Wing? That weird sideways shuttle?
  • Cosmetic DLCs out the wazzoo, or as unlocks. Unit markings, “special” variants, etc. (There’s a funny scene in the Rebels cartoon where they’re forced to use a stolen TIE for a mission that has been grafittied over the entire ship. I bet people would use this as their skin.)
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Hit kind of a weird wall with this over the weekend: My flight stick is slightly broken!

One of the controls, which makes me feel like I am piloting a spaceship, is the ‘hat’ or ‘pov’ switch.It’s a little ‘devo hat’ on the body of the stick that you can move in directions to do things. So I had it set up in XvT to cycle through weapons, cycle through firing modes, and trigger the modes for selecting targets. Mine is apparently stuck up, and has been since purchase. This causes some annoyances.

I opened a ticket with Thrustmaster, but if they bail I honestly am not that annoyed. If they basically wash their hands of this ancient but still sold device, I guess i’ll try taking it apart.

Two other somewhat related things:

  1. I hooked it up to Kerbal Space Program over the weekend a bit. It’s much better for KSP than the default keyboard controls, even if it’s a pain to configure. Recovering from a spin or similar tends to be tough in this game at best. It’s much more possible with the precision of a flight stick.
  2. I managed to get the X-Wing CD edition from the 90s working. Same basic game as the original X-Wing, but improved graphics. It’s also Windows-based (Like XvT) so it runs with less annoyances even using WineSkin and such. Getting it to work was annoying, but it means I can play the most revised form of the ‘plot’ scenarios from X-Wing with the much improved engine of XvT.

The hat switch issue actually brake the config tools in the X-Wing CD version as far as I can tall, and made configuring keys in XvT more trouble than I realized.

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…Or not, as I did some experimenting and it may be some oddity of how Windows (well, WINE) is handling the device. Or it’s sending data one way, and the application expects another.

So in USB most controls are either binary or analog. Binary are simple on/of or 0/1. Analog tend to go from -127 to 127 or thereabouts. The Hat switch, according to a tool I found, seems to broadcast a number based on the current position, and ‘0’ is neutral. 8 spots around the edge. WINE seems to think 0 is part way up or something. No idea how to fix this.

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Better than the hardware being broken, I guess

There should be an ap to center it. But damned if I know where that would be.

I wanted to read some of our Benevolent Overlord (@Lee_Ars) articles on joysticks over on ars… Which led to a search for ‘Lee Thrustmaster’ which is totally a name for a D&D character.

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… or a porn actor.

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All I can hear in my head is the MST3K riff where they just keep listing off more ridiculous names for the protagonist…“Big McLargeHuge”…

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I was thinking of that, too.

Should Our Benevolent Overlord ever decide to act in a cheesy action movie, I demand he do so under the name Lee Thrustmaster.

Wait, that goes for anyone here. And I include myself.

69edcca757fefd2c27b449195754dd4d

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Yeah, I’ll take one of those.

I’ma actually back to “plain” DOS-based X-wing: I found some tricks to make it run more interestingly and while XvT has a lot of ‘quality of life’ features, I like that X-Wing has a good ‘story’ and the upgraded DOS based versions run reasonably well after some tweaks.

Tweaks include changing the DOSbox config to emulate a Thrustmaster better, which included flipping a couple axis and installing a TSR application to get the throttle control working.

Does anyone remember TSRs? Never dealt with them much, but they were small applications for DOS based applications that you’d run and they’d keep running after ending, so you could then have some function remain. Some early dial-up networking and memory management did this kind of thing. Horribly cringe unsecure by modern standards I’d assume.

In general I lament that Apple abandoned their ‘input sprockets’ technology. I think one idea of it was a suggestion (maybe coming in the never-released next version) that you could map ‘physical’ functions of a USB device to more ‘logical’ functions. So, essentially, at a application-neutral layer set up so button X would be the ‘primary shooter’ button, and so on. And Axis Y would be throttle, while Axis Z would be for banking left/right. And these would be the base for application-specific mappings as needed. I think there was some ideas that they’d go this way: The larger GameSprockets project had a lot of the kind of stuff that Microsoft rolled into the DirectX projects: Game-friendly networking and sound. Some stuff got some representation in Mac OS X, but a lot just got dropped.

Anyway, the TSR makes the throttle work, but it’s still a little twitch. At full power/no power it’s fine, but it only ‘supports’ 1/3 and 2/3 (which were keys in X-Wing) and it tends to ‘spam’ those settings a bit. Not a huge deal, as you use full speed a lot in these games.

I’ms till playing X-Wing for the story: It’s slim, but you’re doing appropriately Star Wars themed stuff, which I find enjoyable. And the X-Wing missions, while not overly complex, do have some fun scripting and such. In XvT it seems to be more ‘deathmatch’ style missions, even in the campaign mode.

I may need to dig into TIE Fighter as I’ve heard it’s the best of both worlds in general.

My stick mostly works in the game, but remapping is only workable for some features. So I’m adapting that the center ‘danger’ button is both click-to-target and ‘hold-to-spin’. Hat switch seems to work better, though.

TSR… Now that’s a name I’ve not heard in a long time. A long time.

Many are the hours I spent reordering the memory, sound, and mouse drivers in my config.sys and autoexec.bat to eke out a few more kb of main memory.

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