Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The NotAddicted Hardware Lab Presents: The Belkin N52 Gamepad

Accessorize your Addiction!

Every once in a while I come across a forum thread asking if anyone has any experience with the Belkin N52. Since I’m a lazy bastard, I’m going to write an article about it here, so I can just spam the link to this article from now on in such threads.

First off, let me get this out of the way: I can’t play without this thing. If I try to play WoW on my laptop or something, and didn’t bring this thing with me, I’m absolutely retarded. I can mine ore, but anything involving any kind of reaction time is out the window. I revert to clicking all the buttons manually with my mouse, and feel like most people must feel the first time they ever played the game. With it, however, I’m a force to be reckoned with. I can stance dance on my warrior like silly; can pop into battle, throw an overpower, and be back to popping berserker rage for a pummel before my little “you’ve entered battlestance” icon has faded. I fell in love with the original n50 model a long time ago, and got the n52 the week it came out (a long time ago).

I can’t understand how people play with a regular keyboard, using the actual #9 key waaay over there on the right hand side of the keyboard. Then again, I can’t crouch in counterstrike with my pinky on control and still move freely with the WASD keys, so I guess I’m just retarded. With this thing, though, any game is a breeze. There’s an initial setup time involved where I launch a new game, write down its default controls, then go into the profile editor for the n52 and start to assign its keys. There’s always a bit of tweaking, but once I’ve got an idea of what to do, it falls into place. Most FPSes share common controls (reload, jump, use) that can be shared across profiles, and the few that support other fuctions (Rainbow Six and peeking around walls, for example) can easily be intergrated into an existing layout without losing the ‘basic feel’. Games like WoW, Guild Wars, and DDO (and EQ, I imagine, never played EQ) share similar ‘action bar number key’ schemes. RTS games are a bit trickier; but basically, if you can use a keyboard for it, you can do better with this thing.

I guess the best way to start is just to show you my layout for WoW, and the logic behind it… you can see if it works for you, and give it a shot or not. One other thing I need to mention before someone else does is the “Wolfpak Keyboards” or the “Z Claw Specials” or whatever. The ones that either double the size of your keyboard, or give you some fruity piece of cardboard to lay over the keys so you can see that the B key does, in fact, open your Bags. I don’t like them, and here’s why: I still have a regular keyboard at the end of the day for when I’m typing stuff like this up. I don’t have an autofire turbo switch on my spacebar or whatever. The belkin is a separate unit, and if I want to type and eat ramen, I can pick it up and move it out of the way. Other people swear by the Logitech G15, and I’d actually probably get one if they offered it with kana on the keys. I use a Japanese version of windows and, subsequently, a 106/109 key Japanese keyboard (I live in Japan). They actually sell the G15 at my local shop, but it’s an English-only keyboard. The keys look all naked without hiragana on them, and there’s no dedicated key to switch to Japanese input. Plus, people get all hot and bothered when they tell me that they can see who’s talking on vent by looking at the LCD, but I have two monitors, so that’s never really been an issue. I can look 3 inches to the right to see the entire 40 man raid in vent without needing to scroll or alt tab or whatever… so… yeah.

Anyway. Moving right along.

Let’s start with a basic rundown on the hardware itself. It’s got 14 buttons in the main ‘clump’ of keys, with 2 other secondary buttons, a wheel, and a Dpad that your thumb rests comfortably on. The handrest area can actually be adjusted between two different positions, as well. You lift it up, and set its pegs into a differentset of holes… no hinky movement once it’s in place. Its got a nice rubber grippy area on the underside that keeps it from sliding around during use. There are three little lights in the bottom right corner which can indicate a “shift state”. Basically, you can hold a button down (or push to toggle) and enter the ‘green shift state’.. all the other buttons are then free again to reprogram.. so we’re not really looking at 16 buttons, we’re looking at 4 different sets of 16… regular mode, green, blue, and red. It’s a bit overwhelming, and I really don’t use that feature too much (I only have 2 green shifted buttons, and they aren’t used at all in combat), but if you’re into that kind of thing, then by all means, have at it.

In some people’s descriptions of their usage, they describe using the Dpad for movement, which ‘took some getting used to’. I guess these people got this thing, and decided WoW had become Super Mario Brothers 2 or something, but that idea seems absolutely ridiculous to me. The WASD keys are how you move in the game, and I’ve never personally tried to operate those four keys with my thumb. Ever. I’m actually kind of tempted to log in and try it right now, but I think I’ll pass.

The basic theme behind my setup revolves around wrapping the number keys around the standard WASD configuration, thereby eliminating the problem I mentioned earlier where the 9 key is ‘way over there’. The big button right below my thumb is Tab for targetting, and the little orange button is the 11th button on my action bar. I use it to execute on my warrior, or sap on my rogue… it’s got a satisfying little click when you push it, and sapping or killing with it just feels right. Rolling the wheel downwards one click activates the 12th button on my bar. I use it for thunderclap in battle stance, and not much else (I have cleave on it in other stances, but also a real button bound for it). Rolling the wheel upwards is Death Wish, I have it on a different action bar, and have that slot bound to the decimal point on the Numpad. The Dpad itself is the crown jewel of this thing, and I use it as follows:

North (pushing ‘towards’ my monitor) is jump. Woohoo.
West is my ventrilo ‘push to talk button’.
East is the Alt key, and is used in a variety of ways (more in a sec).
South is the Ctrl key, and is used Exessively (see below).

I have mainly one action bar I use in game. In my warrior, stance dancing switches the bar out itself between battle or defensive stances, and the same is true of my rogue (stealth or not) and druid (cat, bear, caster). I used to have two pages I would scroll between (using the wheel on the belkin), but it got too crazy during combat so I began using Ctrl+

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