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Scott's Column
Cable Modems Suck... Get One ASAP, and I get a Force Feedback Joystick

January 1, 2000
By Scott Lewis

My Cable Yo-Yo (eh... I mean modem) has been having upload and download fits. The rest of the month has been slow with the exception of getting two new game controllers, one with force feedback.

Cable Yo-Yo

My cable modem went out on Thanksgiving. It took until the following Tuesday before I could get my cable company out to my house. When they arrived, it was in force. Three technicians showed up at my house.

They put meters all over the place to eliminate my house as part of the problem. They left and would be working on the node. Alas, my service kept coming and going. Mostly upload was out of the question. I have probably had 3 or 4 good days of uploading in the last month.

Download performance has been better than uploading, but it was still intermittent. To date (Jan 3, 00), technicians have been to my house over half a dozen times. One cable (TV, not ISP) technician found the connectors at my house were in "less than optimal" condition. He replaced a lot of them. He also determined that the wiring in the walls was "sub-standard."

That required another visit. They sent another guy out to replace the wall drop to my master bedroom, and the line to my son’s room. Alas, this did nothing to help the situation.

Another technician showed up just as the "wall drop" guy was about to leave. The "wall drop" guy was a contractor and could only do the items on his work order. I called the technician responsible for the entire job. He sent out a third guy. So technician #2 and #3 ran new wire to my house from the "telephone" pole.

Now I have all new wiring from the pole to my house and all my TVs. Still no help. But I have the best Television picture I have ever had in my house. They ran a cable directly from the telephone pole to technician #3’s laptop in his truck. He got the same results I have been having, no upload capability and slower than it should be download speed.

Now they say they need to get a cable TV technician (the ISP guys don’t handle the regular wiring) to start checking (again) all the connections between my telephone pole and the node. It works at the node. In fact, one of the technicians lives in my node and he isn’t having any trouble.

When I know more so will you. Don’t let my woes of cable modem service detract you from getting one. When it is working (and it has been completely reliable for my friend since we set him up) the performance is great. Download speed from my ISP is normally right around 200KBps (1.6Mbps) and upload speeds are typically around 30-40KBps (240-320Kbps). The maximum upload speed is set at 384Kbps (~48KBps). This is much better than my Telco’s 128Kbps (16KBps) maximum upstream limit for their ADSL service which I can’t even get.

Joystick & Gamepad

We got my son Disney’s Toy Story 2 Action Game for his birthday. In this game you control Buzz Lightyear to duplicate his feat of rescuing Woody from the evil toy baron, Al. Playing the game on the keyboard is a little difficult. We decided to get a gamepad, mentioned through out the instruction booklet.

We got Microsoft’s Sidewinder Game Pad Pro. It has a really nice feel, and its directional pointer is pressure sensitive. It is also the first USB device I have gotten.

But we came upon a problem. When I first hooked it up it didn’t work in TS2. The Control Panel applet used to setup/configure peripherals showed it worked perfectly. Still, TS2 would not recognize it. Just by accident my son pushed on my Joystick and saw that the game was responding to it.

I went back to the control Panel applet. Sure enough, the Joystick was listed first. I removed the Joystick. Now TS2 worked perfectly with the game pad. The game pad does make a big difference in game play for this third person action game.

But the problem continued. I re-installed my Joystick, Logitech Wingman Extreme. But when I ran Need For Speed High Stakes it would not recognize the Joystick. I had to remove the game pad from Control Panel to get the joystick to work. It seems that even though the Control Panel applet can see, and work, with both connected and installed my games don’t.

I setup the game pad for TS2 then added the joystick. Back in NFS:HS I went into its controllers section and had to manually select each item and point it to the appropriate item for "Joystick 2." This solved the problem of which to leave in the first position.

I got a Logitech Force Feedback Joystick for Christmas. My full opinion is still out. It installed itself but NFSHS would not recognize there was a Force Feedback Joystick available. To be honest, I can’t remember what exactly worked. I uninstalled NFS:HS, and re-installed it. That didn’t work. I checked Logitech’s web site, but all I could find was a reference that NFS:HS is recommended with their Force Feedback Steering Wheel. There was a driver update, but my poor connection kept failing trying to download it.

Here’s were I don’t remember exactly what fixed it. I removed both game controllers from Control Panel. I installed the Joystick just through the Control Panel. All I know is NFSHS started recognizing it. Not intuitive, but at least it is working.

As far as game play... so far I am not impressed. I installed European Air War that came with the stick. I was not impressed with the game, but it did let me feel the kick of the machine guns which I liked a lot. The plane’s controls didn’t seem to have much feel though. I got bored with the game before I could look into checking any of its settings. I did notice that force feedback was not on by default in the game. I thought that was unusual.

Need For Speed is a disappointment so far. I can’t even play at a competitive level yet. I am losing badly. I don’t know fully why. What I have determined so far is that the default setting in NFS are not the best for game play. I thought I would really lke the rumble of the joystick as I went "off road." Alas, in the default setting NFS is a major problem when going off road. The stick kicks so much it is like crashing into a wall, which you soon end up doing as you lose control of your vehicle.

This is a big problem when you need to cut across a median to run the fastest time. It is not possible. I adjusted NFS’s settings to turn down the "volume" of force feedback. I also lowered the level for "off road" and increased the setting for collisions. Unfortunately the collision setting doesn’t help much. I have not felt anything when being rear-ended by another car, and crashing into walls is equally unfulfilling. I blame this on NFS. Steering "feel" is decent when you have traction. However, the slightest loss in front wheel traction just lets the stick go limp. There is no feel for what is actually going on to help recover from a skid.

Overall I preferred playing NFS with my old joystick (Logitech Wingman Extreme... still highly recommended). But I have not giving the stick enough time to say whether or not it is recommended. Just be aware that installation may be tricky. When I start winning in NFS again, I will give my recommendation. I don’t remember if Wing Commander 4 supported force feedback. I don’t think so. But if it did, I will have to reload that and play it again.

Until then I am looking for a title that will really make the force feedback shine. Any suggestions?

Conclusion

Well if my cable modem is "up" long enough, this column will make it out. Otherwise expect it to be delayed. Then again Y2K will end the world as we know it, so what difference does it make.

Until next month.

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