Author Topic: "What controller do I need?"  (Read 4465 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

"What controller do I need?"
This is a question that has been asked a lot. By which I mean a lot.

It is a complicated question. It all depends on how much money you have, which is the main thing. There's also a choice between different setups. Unfortunately, the joystick market is not exactly oversaturated, so sticks and such are going to be a little more expensive then you may expect.

Since this guide assumes that you want to play FS2_Open, which currently only supports one (1) Directinput controller at the same time, setups which don't allow for this (Such as the Warthog) will not be listed.

Keyboard and Mouse:
Obviously the cheapest way, as you most likely already have both. There's quite some people around here that use the Keyboard for rough manouvres and the mouse for precision aiming. Some prefer it over joysticks.

Alternatively, you can use a script like this, which changes the mouse controls to a more freelancer style of doing things rather then the default "FPS style" of doing things.

Keyboard and Joystick:
For a long time, this was my option. I often used cheap, second hand gameport joysticks in one hand and had my hand flying over various keyboard controls with the other.  Luckily, you don't have to use cheap second hand gameport joysticks. There's quite a few options on the market, but there's only a few ones I can recommend.

Thrustmaster T. Flightstick X Joystick (30 dollars):
This is a beauty for the price. Although it has potentiometers ("pots"), which are not as reliable as the magnetic sensors all the other joysticks on this list use, it has all the functions you ever need for any flightsim game. Rudder, Throttle, POV hat, and even adjustable friction . If you never used a joystick before and are hesitant to spend money, I highly recommend you get this one. Unless you are left handed.

EDIT: It has been reported this joystick has some deadzone issues. I personally think they are quite alright, but there you go. If you are worried about this being an issue, just look below.

Thrustmaster T-16000M Flight Stick (50 dollars):
In case you are left handed, or want to spend a little bit of extra money, this is a highly recommended stick. The first and most important bonus is that it can be disasambled and re assambled to fit the left handed. This alone makes it worthy of recommendation: No new other stick of this quality (or beyond this quality) can do that.
Another bonus is that it uses "Hall Effect" sensors for it's X and Y technology. In short, it uses magnets for it's stick movements, which is the same technology the ultra high-end thrustmaster Warthog uses. As a result, the stick itself is a lot more reliable, although the throttle and rudder twist still use pots.
It can also be programmed with Thrustmaster's high quality programming software, and can be used alongside their more high end products just fine.

Microsoft's Sidewinder Joystick (Second hand):
The time that Microsoft made PC gaming peripherals is long gone, and the Sidewinder has since been retired. However, if you can snuggle this legend up a flea market or whatever, you do get the best Force Feedback joystick ever made (According to various flight sim enthusiasts). A pity it has been cancelled. It originally sold for 100 dollars - now the prices on it are much higher.

CH Products Fighterstick (100 dollars):
In case you don't have a lot of money now but will have later on, just buying this part of the legendary CH products HOTAS system (further explained below) can be a smart choice. Read on below on why this is.

HOTAS systems:
Hot ass? No, these systems don't have that (Although they will attr... nvm). HOTAS stands for "Hands-on-Throttle-and-Stick", which means that, just like in modern fighter aircraft, you don't have to remove your hands from the throttle and the stick to acces all of the sticks functions. As a result, these sticks are highly programmable. The Saitek X52, for example, has 30 buttons and several POV hats. It also has a "pinkie switch", which functions similar to a shift or ctrl button. It also has three different modes. As a result, you'll never want for buttons for any of these sticks. You can setup different modes for different uses: Dogfighting, subsystem bombing, all that stuff. Don't worry: You won't have to. But once you get used to it, you can't live without it.

These systems do take a lot of time to setup though. To get full functionality, you have to "program" them. It's not as hard as it sounds, but it does take a while.

These joysticks are rather expensive, but do use full magnetic sensors for all their control axes, making them more reliable.

Saitek X-52 (110 dollars):
If you want to try an HOTAS, try this one. It's the cheapest HOTAS system available, it has a ton of programmable buttons and it looks cool. I have one. I love it. It also has a nice HUD which tells you the name of the function you assigned to a button (if you used the profiler that is). I had some problems with the drivers, but support has been nice and the issues have now been resolved trough updates. Which is very neat.

Although I neglected to mention this: The two parts of the joystick (throttle and joystick) are connected using a PS/2 cable. This cable can ocasionally knock loose for a split second, which throws the calibration off. This happens to me that I don't care much for it, but the fix is simple: Pause the game, pull out the cable entirely and pull it back in again, nad you have got yourself a fully calibrated joystick again.

Saitek X-52 Pro (140 dollars):
If you have a little bit of extra money, try this one instead. The X-52 pro has a few extra features, which you don't need. It does, however, have a significantly higher build quality.

CH Products Fighterstick - CH products Throttle - CH products Rudder (over 300 dollars):
When you hear about "CH products", two things come to mind, depending on your line of work. It's either "Who are they?" or "They make entertainment products?". That is because CH products is not a gaming company. It is a company which produces controllers for industrial applications, who happen to have a side hobby which is producing flight sim gear. As a result, their sticks are EXTREMELY reliable (after all, unreliability can be lethal in their line of work, or unfathomably expensive at best). And - CH even sells replacement parts! Their sticks don't look as flashy as other products (the only change to their line up in the last decades has been switching from gameports to USB), but they don't lack in functionality, nor do they lack in build quality (you will find the same plastic you find in Boeings). If you have the money, this is the "Buy this and you will never buy anything else ever again" option.

Their programming software is also of a very high standard (although I did not find the X52 software lacking in any way, apperently the CH products one has even more functions). Also, if you are daunted by the price, you can buy the components seperately.


This guide is a bit of an WIP - suggestions and testimonials are highly welcome. I intend this to become a sticky.
« Last Edit: October 08, 2013, 08:48:23 am by -Joshua- »


Offline Al-Rik

  • 27
Re: "What controller do I need?"

I changed from a T-Flight HOTAS to a Saitek X52 pro.
The Saitek X52 pro is much more precise than  the Thrustmaster T Flight. It's a noticeable difference, especially then picking turrets in Freespace SCP.
On the other hand is the Thrustmaster T Flight much better in Battlefield 3: Turning is much faster, and the stick is better recognized by the game.


Offline Herra Tohtori

  • The Academic
  • 211
  • Bad command or file name
Re: "What controller do I need?"
Testimonial #2:

The regular X52 is prone to having a big deadzone (fixable with a slight modification), fragile wires that can chafe through in extended use both in joystick AND throttle, the joystick ergonomics are questionable, and the aluminium part on joystick's handle will eventually... well, image tells more than thousand words:

Although your mileage may vary depending on how corrosive your sweat happens to be. This was after years of nearly-daily use.

Additionally the connector cable between joystick and throttle base is prone to disconnects which end up re-calibrating the center of your joystick to whatever position it happens to be (this can be very destructive in the midst of a dogfight when suddenly your ship stops turning to one direction, or ailerons gain permanent deflection to one side).

ALLEGEDLY, the X52Pro has, supposedly, fixed some of these flaws - the joystick handle, for example, is all plastic so corrosion (of all problems, should no longer be an issue - but some problems apparently still linger, such as the large deadzone. Saitek's spring gimbal centering system also divides opinions; personally, I didn't much care for it.

The ergonomics of X52 throttle are superb, but the the issues with fragile wiring have been... an issue. Fixing broken wires is possible but cumbersome and you need hands of a hobbit (which I have) to deal with the short wires in constrained space.

Summary: X52 - and moreso X52Pro - is s decent gateway HOTAS controller - in many ways better than a single-unit joystick, but in some ways a flawed product.

If you need a serious HOTAS rig, I'd advise you to save some money and go for CH or Thrustmaster devices, because if you buy the X52/Pro, you'll probably either wear it down or outgrow it with need for quality - and then you'll have your X52 that makes you feel like you should have something better, and when you spend the money for new stick and pedals you end up with having spent money on both the X52 AND your new HOTAS rig. Which means you would've gotten away with less money by getting the good stuff to begin with.

Speaking from experience here  :p

If your needs are just occasional space sim flying like FSO, I would rather recommend a Thrustmaster T.16000m at this time - from specifications only. I'll stress that I don't have personal experience with this joystick at all.

Hope this testimonial/recommendation helps.
There are three things that last forever: Abort, Retry, Fail - and the greatest of these is Fail.


Offline redsniper

  • 211
  • Aim for the Top!
Re: "What controller do I need?"
A CH setup will allow you to literally reach your hand into the FSO and position your fighter at will. It's the kind of controller God would use.
"Think about nice things not unhappy things.
The future makes happy, if you make it yourself.
No war; think about happy things."   -WouterSmitssm

Hard Light Productions:
"...this conversation is pointlessly confrontational."


Offline Flak

  • 28
  • 123
Re: "What controller do I need?"
I have been using just keyboard and mouse so far. Originally just keyboard, but that was hard.

Re: "What controller do I need?"
The top of the line HOTAS

I have used CH Products, Saitek Evo, Saitek X45, and Saitek X52 Pro. This is just a great stick and throttle if you have the money and are serious about flight/space sims

Re: "What controller do I need?"
Hi guys, I got myself a Thrustmaster t.flight hotas x. I've used for a couple of days and I feel like I have to learn to fly again. But my biggest concern is about the deadzone issue. Does anybody know any modification that could fix this problem?


Offline jg18

  • A very happy zod
  • 210
  • can do more than spellcheck
Re: "What controller do I need?"
Keyboard-only is perfectly enjoyable using the numpad for maneuvering the ship. You can even use a laptop keyboard, although it might get a bit crowded. This is a great option for people who don't want (or aren't ready) to shell out money for a joystick and/or people who find playing with a mouse to be a pain.

The Logitech Extreme 3D Pro seems to be popular around here, although I have no experience with it.

The CH Flightstick Pro is kind of pricey given the limited number of buttons (1 trigger + 3 push buttons + 8-way hatswitch), but it has the same high-quality reputation as the Fighterstick and may be a better choice if you've got small hands like I do. It's arguably enough buttons for space sims and is even compatible with the CH Pro Throttle and also Pro Pedals I think. However, I probably wouldn't recommend it if you want to play other flight sims, especially realistic ones with lots of controls. The price tends to fluctuate from week to week and even day to day, so if you're patient, you can get it at a tolerable price; I've seen it go as low as around $70 USD.

The CH Combatstick is generally not worth it, though, since the Fighterstick has more features and tends to cost only slightly more -- although why does the Fighterstick now cost $140 on Amazon? :eek: It was ~$100 last I checked.

Hi guys, I got myself a Thrustmaster t.flight hotas x. I've used for a couple of days and I feel like I have to learn to fly again. But my biggest concern is about the deadzone issue. Does anybody know any modification that could fix this problem?
I remember seeing complaints about that around here. -Joshua-, that's worth noting in the OP. Unfortunately the only solution that I remember offhand was to get a different stick. I hope that someone else is able to be more helpful than that.
« Last Edit: October 07, 2013, 11:46:53 pm by jg18 »

Re: "What controller do I need?"
Thanks for the testimonials folks, I have updated the main post with a few recommendations. I must say a few things:

I intentionally left out three HOTAS systems which already have been or are going to be mentoined, these are the Logitech G940, the Thrustmaster Warthog, and the Saitek X65F. These have not been included as they have problems with the rudder.
The G940 has three components (rudder, throttle, and joystick) which all show up as a seperate controller in the Windows Control Panel. FS2Open, at the moment, can only select one controller - therefore, you will not have full functionality. Although you can easily fly with just the joystick and keyboard combo, having to buy a complete HOTAS for that purpose would be... questionable.

The Saitek X65F is an amazing piece of tech which has all the controls you dream off, and is extremely reliable (due to it having no moving parts. at all, and being made of full metal to boot). However, it's rudder controls are reported to be very problematic (due to the touch nature of hte stick, "Bleeding" occurs).

The Thrustmaster Warthog is the single best thing ever, but thrustmaster does not sell it's own rudder anymore, and therefore, if you want to play FS2Open, you are left without a rudder control due to it's one-controller-at-the-time nature.

Should that FS2Open issue be resolved, then I shall include the above mentoined joysticks into the list.

I remember seeing complaints about that around here. -Joshua-, that's worth noting in the OP. Unfortunately the only solution that I remember offhand was to get a different stick. I hope that someone else is able to be more helpful than that.

I didn't have any issues with the deadzone, strangely enough.

Re: "What controller do I need?"
I use Thrustmaser Warthog and Saitek Pro Rudder Pedals. Just have to use PPJoy to combine them into one virtual controller.

Re: "What controller do I need?"
Just theoretically (I'm not gonna do it for now), would this problem be fixed by changing potentiometers with hall sensors?


Offline Davros

  • 29
Re: "What controller do I need?"
How about the
Speedlink Black Widow Flight Stick


Offline Herra Tohtori

  • The Academic
  • 211
  • Bad command or file name
Re: "What controller do I need?"
Speedlink is not a well known manufacturer, so I had to check a few reviews.

The name of the device doesn't convince me. It sounds like a really cheap product given a cool name to try to appeal to customers who think cool name makes the product cool.

Feature-wise, there's eight buttons, hat switch, X/Y stick and throttle with a rocker arm type rudder on the throttle. That puts it at about same feature category as a Logitech 3D Pro. It doesn't have true force feedback, just "vibration" action - I guess you could use that as stick shaker stall warning in flight simulators, but that's about it, I wouldn't put great value on this feature.

Based on what I'm seeing at in reviews (videos and written), it seems like a rather cheaply produced device. In other words, I'm not convinced on the build quality, but I should stress that this is only based on the appearance which can be deceiving; CH joysticks look like cheap plastic, but in actual use it turns out they must be made of molten and re-used Nokia 3110's and Nintendo GameBoys, and their electronics would probably be good enough for spacecraft.

The Black Widow does use the tried and true axis layout for the stick - a rotating cylinder where the other axis is mounted, rather than using the single gimbal construction popular in Logitech and Saitek sticks. That may be a good sign or a bad one. Reviews also note that the device is quite lightweight and tries to combat stability issues with suction cups. This will not work. Anyone who's ever had to try to deal with suction cups on a joystick knows that any amount of dust will be their undoing.

So while the apperance is not great (based on video reviews which are never the same as getting to look and handle the device yourself), it may be forgiven if the electronics inside are solid and durable.

General ergonomics look like they would be acceptable for a right-handed person. Very conservative design, but not adjustment options. Hard to say anything about the actual performance in prolonged use.

Unfortunately, no one who reviews controllers seems to have any idea how to actually review the raw performance where it matters - precision, axis poll rate and latency, signal noise levels and jumpyness. These are where a truly good joystick will be separated from the unwashed masses; typically, cheaper sticks have some jitter straight out of the box, and this is usually indicative of not being worth the packaging material. Though, it should be noted that in most cases, joysticks - even bad ones - start out OK and develop electronics issues in prolonged use - the ****ty ones can get them quite fast, but it may still work fine in an "out of the box" test, which most reviews consist of.

Reviews seem to indicate that the drivers for this controller cause system instability, which should set another alarm bell ringing when it comes to estimating quality of a computer peripheral. Apparently it can still be used, as long as you don't install the actual drivers (which probably don't have all that good profiling options anyway) and just use Windows' generic drivers for USB joysticks.

Without having personally tried out this device, I would give it a 4/10, would not buy (but still potential competitor to Logitech budget sticks IF it has even reasonably good and durable sensors and other electronics).
There are three things that last forever: Abort, Retry, Fail - and the greatest of these is Fail.


Offline Sushi

  • Art Critic
  • 211
Re: "What controller do I need?"
Hi guys, I got myself a Thrustmaster t.flight hotas x. I've used for a couple of days and I feel like I have to learn to fly again. But my biggest concern is about the deadzone issue. Does anybody know any modification that could fix this problem?

It's a hardware problem, no way to fix it in software.

I briefly owned one, and got rid of it after about two weeks. The enormous deadzone made it unusable for me, and I've been happy sticking with KB+Mouse ever since.