The Sidewinder Shall Not Sleep Tonight

By Alec Meer on February 27th, 2009 at 11:54 pm.

It’s not all that often that I peer curiously at a flight sim these days, but when I do I absolutely relish the chance to bring out ol’ faithful. I’ve been lugging the Microsoft Sidewinder Force Feedback 2 joystick around with me for years, even though it’s been out of print since around 2002 and is no longer supported by Microsoft. It’s a relic, but God help me, it’s one of my proudest possessions.


With each passing year I become convinced that’s it, it’s all over for the Sidewinder, that I can’t justify keeping this giant lump in my house anymore. Finding archived drivers whenever I dig it out is always a headache, and every new operating system is surely the final nail in its untimely coffine. By some miracle though, Windows Vista SP1 and the Win 7 beta recognise it automatically, so for now I don’t need to worry that there haven’t been new drivers for a half decade. I only discovered that just now, and I grinned like a loon when I did. Sweet Sidewinder, you shall live again! Sadly, the force feedback effects is absent – if I want that, I need to return to XP. Better than nothing, anyway.

I’m aware there are probably far better joysticks out there, but I love this one, and this one alone. There’s just something about its oversized unfussiness – today’s joysticks seem so angular, spiky and hostile, though I’m sure I’d probably get less hand cramp from them if I could get past the poor first impression. The sidewinder is subtle, and almost looks sculpted rather than constructed. In many ways, it’s the least Microsoftian piece of hardware you could imagine, safe from the awkward ostentatiousness and slap-in-the-face branding that often characterises their forays into the physical. Please, forgive me one “they don’t make ‘em like they used to.”

Traditionally, I’m a bit nervous about flight sims, purely because precision isn’t something that comes easily to me, but I find the Sidewinder 2 reassuring. I’ve won bouts of Crimson Skies with it, I’ve gunned down legions of robots in Mechwarrior 4 with it, and I threw a massively wobbly when, having diligently dusted off the old dear for the occasion, I discovered Freelancer didn’t support joysticks. It’s the most faithful piece of hardware I own, yet I only use it once a year at best. I see nothing in today’s joysticks that, to my luddite eye, supersedes this, so I’m strangely bitter that it’s been so entirely abandoned by its creator. At least I can still use it for now, but surely, surely Windows 7′s successor won’t cater for it. It’s a proud possession living on borrowed time.

Every time I do dig it out, I’m both mesmerised and horrified by its bizarre piece de resistance. Mounted in its shaft – no giggling at the back, please – is a light sensor. When you wrap your hand around the stick – I said no giggling! – and thus cover the sensor, it springs suddenly, startlingly upright. Alright, alright – erect. Happy now?

Yes, for some inexplicable reason, someone’s built an erection simulator into this fine joystick. This is a robot death-penis. It’s like porn and witchcraft rolled into one. There is, I suppose, something vaguely useful about a joystick that auto-rights itself to the centre whenever you reach for it afresh, but by Christ it’s disturbing. Somehow, it makes me love this tired old hunk of plastic and wiring all the more: a ridiculous relic of yesterday that’s still fit for today’s games. You’ve fought hard, trusty soldier – but the war ain’t over yet.

Favourite joysticks then, readers? Or are you far too cool for that these days?

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99 Comments »

  1. Down Rodeo says:

    Never had a joystick. In fact I have a massive distrust of controllers for PCs in general as the first one I got never worked until I tried it with Colin MacRae II at which point it sent mysterious signals to the computer making it try to join an internet game.

    God that was cathartic.

    Also I will copy that paragraph, ready to pull out when I need cheering up.

  2. Matt Kemp says:

    “it’s the least Microsoftian piece of hardware you could imagine, safe from the awkward ostentatiousness and slap-in-the-face branding that often characterises their forays into the physical.”

    I would disagree with this, considering the 360 controller is probably the most comfortable of this generation of consoles. Not to mention MS mice, which are generally quite nice – I’ve got a cheap one here that has lasted me many a TF2 session in good stead.

  3. wake says:

    The Microsoft Sidewinder 3D Pro was my old standby for as long as I can remember– I played the Mech Warrior series from 2 to the most recent batch with it, most of the x-wing games with it, crimson skies, Freespace… lots of memories on the old boy, and it still works to this day. Only problem is that its not USB so you can’t plug it in on any computers made less than 3 years ago. I felt like a traitor when I finally caved and bought a logitech joystick. Its good, but no 3D pro…

    http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Joystick_-_Microsoft_Sidewinder_3D_Pro.jpg

  4. RiptoR says:

    “When you wrap your hard around the stick – I said no giggling!”

    Sorry, but this asks for giggles :p

  5. Davee says:

    Iv’e got a favourite: Saitek CYBORG 3D Usb. Don’t think it’s as much of a relic as your, erm, ‘stick’ though, Alec. But it’s been with me for a long time now and has been my trusty companion in serveral hours of IL-2 Sturmovik and various other games. I think it’s my second one though, but I’m not sure accually… And I almost didn’t get my hands on it: it was the last one in the shop – the one thay had on display. But i knew as soon as I saw it that it was the one I wanted :)

  6. Nelson says:

    Just a few days ago I dug out the Suncom SFS joystick I purchased in 1999. It is a solid, handsome piece of machinery I got in order to play Falcon 4.0 back when that was still a recent game. Suncom went out of business years ago, and I think the last set of drivers they provided were for Windows 2000. It worked with XP, but sadly Vista seems to be the final nail in the coffin for it.

    Can anyone suggest a decent, reasonably priced joystick and throttle combo? It seems like the market is divided between the hardcore flight sim types costing hundreds of dollars and the garish Saiteks.

  7. wyrmsine says:

    My original Sidewinder (note: not actually my, uh, other wyrmsine) was my favourite – it’s so old Win2k didn’t support it. I still have it, and it’s in damn fine condition… I think. Crying shame about the lack of OS support.

    I’m ready to build my own proper joystick, at this point. Still unsure of the design, though. The main application would be space-sims, and they get complex. Functionality for EVE would be the A+ condition. Some hybrid of a Nostromo n52 and Sidewinder would be ideal, methinks. 5×4 keypad on the left side, host of triggers, switches and buttons on the stick. I’m reminded of an old ColecoVision (?) baseball controller that was the bees knees when I was a kid.

    Okay, that Colecovision joystick was actually the best.

  8. Scioptic says:

    There’s been many a day that I’ve looked at my old Logitech wingman interceptor joystick sitting in the corner, gathering dust, and I’ve wept. This really was the best joystick I’d ever used. The feel and comfort of it in my hand as I blasted people out of the skies/space was second to none. It’s such a shame that I can’t use it now with it not being a USB joystick. It may not have been force feedback, but the sheer amount of hours that we clocked up together; it truly was my ever-trusted wingman.
    http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/412H2FP0WRL._SL500_AA280_.jpg

  9. wyrmsine says:

    Ah, wake got to it before I did. Apparently, I need to google new drivers…

  10. Kelron says:

    The only properly working joystick I’ve owned is the Saitek Cyborg Evo I bought a few weeks ago, so I don’t have much to choose from. Good stick though, although I’m slightly worried about its lifespan given that Saitek decided it never needs calibrating and hence included no facilities for doing so.

  11. Muscrat says:

    Hahahaha wow what a co-incidence.

    To think I dusted off my old Sidewinder Pro Precision 2 a few days ago, to give IL2 and Lock On a burl – before the release of Black Shark. Hell now I might just reinstall Crimson Skies.

    Actually I dont think I ever bothered with the drivers – it simple worked right out of the box, plug and play – and I think my friend / neighbours Sidewinder Force Feedback 2 did just the same.

    Still I have been considering upgrading, even though my Sidewinder has served me well…

    Heck I still have the box, driver disk and manual to it.

    To think I bought it all those years ago after breaking a (cheap) Saitek Joystick, after a massive play session of Echelon (another awesome game).

    Mnnn nostalgia

  12. Cradok says:

    I used my original FF1 so much I wore out the motors. I loved that thing, just the button placement, the feel, the half-dome throttle. I got a FF2 to replace it, and it was pretty good, but it was no FF1.

    Microsoft, for all their OS woes and RRoD mess, make some of the best damn input peripherals there is. My mouse is a MS wireless laser, and of course there’s the wired and wireless 360 controllers I can use with everything.

  13. Andy`` says:

    Ah, Sidewinder. I have a Precision Pro (the first series non-force feedback one with the freaky flat wheel) – only joystick I’ve ever had, aside from the bland, nameless two-button joystick I got with an old PC, back when Tiny weren’t owned by Time, and before Gateway became a trainwreck. Considered getting a Cyborg, and they look quite awesome, but with the frequency I use joysticks it’s never been worth it, yet I never regret having to use such an old joystick because it still feels good to use, and more importantly, it still works.

    http://images.amazon.com/images/P/B00000JDFT.01.DTLS.LZZZZZZZ.gif

  14. Persus-9 says:

    I’ve still got my old Microsoft Sidewinder Force Feedback I, the one with the really HUGE squared off base. It’s no longer compatible with my PC due to the lack of game port on my latest build but I’ll keep it anyway, for old times sake.

    That sensor on the front is important. It’s a dead mans handle on the force feedback to stop the stick slamming about all over the place if you let go mid game. I sometimes used to play with my hand uncurled so as to disable the forces if I wanted to relax for a bit but didn’t want to stop flying.

  15. Rongonathon Magnuskavang says:

    Ah, always loved this one. Still have it after all these years, and still works like new.
    Mechwarrior 2 was brilliant with it. Getting hit with a railgun from behind was sometimes terrifying with the way the stick would suddenly violently remove itself from your hands.

  16. monchberter says:

    I never did own one, but i’ve been sold on MS peripherals of late. As a few have already mentioned, the 360 pad is bombproof and works with everything these days in ways pads never ever used to. (I suspect this is because most games get ported from console to pc these days). Never had a prob with MS meeces and chipped out for the first Sidewinder one a year or so ago, and then followed it up with the Sidewinder Keyboard last year, does more than enoiugh and the detachable num pad is very useful.

    I now want a revived Sidewinder joystick to complete the set! :)

  17. Nick says:

    I still have and use my MS sidewinder. It’s clunky, has two buttons and a throttle but it works and therefor I don’t need a new one.

    I only ever play the X-wing series or Freespace 2 with it anyway.

  18. TheLordHimself says:

    The company(ies) that Microsoft outsources its peripherals to generally make really good products.

  19. Hypocee says:

    I love my Cyborg 3D, but the pots went rather bad – fortunately, just about the time flight/space sims virtually dropped out of the ecology. I have these daydreams of converting it to optical, but there seems to be no such thing as a consumer-level absolute encoder and I don’t have the brainmeat to roll my own. I think I’m just going to stick new pots in and pray – when something finally comes along for it to drive again.

  20. RiptoR says:

    I have a Sidewinder Freestyle Pro (gamepad). Yes, the one with the motion sensor in it. It came bundled with Motocross Madness, had some pretty great times pulling tricks with a cycle in that game on my Pentium 133 with 32mb ram.

  21. Mr Pink says:

    IMHO Microsoft hardware has generally always been excellent. I have one of these sticks and it really is absolutely bomb proof. Gutted to hear there’s no force feedback in Win7/Vista. Yet another reason to cling to XP for now!

  22. Keith says:

    I bought a Sidewinder FF2 primarily to play MechWarrior 4 with, and loved every moment. Never mind that the force feedback was actually a fairly hefty disadvantage when playing online, the feel of the joystick trying desperately to tear itself from your hand when getting clobbered by a PPC-wielding Nova Cat on the ridgeline was too much “fun”.

    I broke the shaft on mine though (ouch!) when moving house. Tried supergluing it, but it’s just not strong enough. One of these days I’ll reinforce the shaft with a bit of metal pipe but …

    only if I can stop sniggering.

  23. Mr Pink says:

    Oh the irony of the first report I have read of the death of these sticks following 1 minute after I declare it “bomb proof”!

  24. Ben Abraham says:

    I never owned a PC joystick, however a few years back I bought a USB converter for Playstation controllers. I’ve since used my extremely old Mad Katz PS1 steering that came bundled with VRally (1997!) for an electronic music performance. It was pretty cool not having to make the VROOOM car noises with my mouth.

  25. El Stevo says:

    I splashed out on a flight stick (a Saitek Cyborg Evo) last year to replace my 360 pad when playing X-wing vs Tie Fighter with my housemate. Despite the fact that I’m worse at the game when using it, it’s impossible to go back (although I have been known to put an overturned bin behind my chair and pretend it’s Artoo in order to add tenuous authenticity to my experience).

    To be honest I haven’t got a lot of use out of it yet, but I still feel a warm glow in my heart when I look at it.

  26. Deuteronomy says:

    The only stick I’ve ever found worth owning was one CH Products, I forget the model number. It was a big brutal ugly thing that looked like it could survive a nuclear war. A quick check to newegg shows they’re still making very similar models.

  27. Atari Jesus says:

    I’ve been using this joystick for years as well. Every word written hear I agree with cause everyonce in awhile I’ll think its time for a new joystick. But nothing on the market can beat the sidewinder ff2. Every time I pull it out it works like a champ for the past 9 years or so.

  28. DigitalSignalX says:

    My only claim to non-KB/Mouse gaming is an ancient brick of a CH Flightstick Pro with a 25 pin serial connector, one of the first series they ever made. I played MS flight sim and x-wing/tie fighter with it, then promptly shelved it. It’s been buried in the basement ever since.

    A quick google just discovered they still make a USB version and it looks exactly the same as my relic. Wonder if it weighs as much, they put some serious steel in them back then to anchor it rather then high tech non-skid surfaces and suction mechanisms.

    Guess I’m a relic too, Always preferring PC games with mouse/kb rather then give into the pressures of using a newer console controller or joystick. Games that “require” (A.K.A. suck without) a separate controller, like most racing games especially, I firmly chalk up to lazy developers who can’t make a mouse or KB steer accurately. They pour all that attention into detail and physics, but then screw the users out of flexible easy to use controls that (imho) make PC’s always more precise then 3rd party devices allow. Control physics that have to port to console eventually of course. DAMN YOU DIRTY CONSOLES.

    edit: too long winded.. Deuteronomy beat me to it.

  29. Gap Gen says:

    I have a Logitech Attack 3, and have never been any good with it. I only really used it on Freespace 2, and was always far better at shooting with the mouse.

  30. Ginger Yellow says:

    “Sadly, the force feedback effects is absent – if I want that, I need to return to XP. Better than nothing, anyway”

    Heaven forfend that Microsoft should support their own peripherals on their own operating systems.

    I haven’t had a joystick for two PCs now, although if it’s any consolation my last one was a Sidewinder. And I’m getting a (PS3) arcade stick for Street Fighter IV.

    Didn’t someone put out a USB Zipstick a while back? Now that was a joystick.

  31. waffles says:

    I saw one of those at a goodwill a week ago, and now i regret not buying it.
    Ah well.

  32. loran says:

    I’ve been a huge flight sim and mech fan all these years…i first had an old two button joystick for TIE Fighter. Then when XvsTie Fighter came out, I got a Saitek Joystick that had 4 axes…

    Then i bought mechwarrior 4, and the new joystick didn’t work on it, so i bought a sidewinder.

    That thing is a high quality piece of equipment. Sadly, mine broke a year ago so i bought a cheap logitech joystick. It’s no where near the same, the joystick doesn’t twist (only 3 axes, x-y and a throttle) and it’s doesn’t have a hub. I miss my sidewinder….such a great thing.

    Now if only companies would produce space sims again, we’d have a bigger market for them.

  33. DMcCool says:

    Wow, i’m exactly the same way, my Sidewinder Force Feedback 2 will never leave my side, I don’t want to even look at another joystick, ever. Its plugged in right now, and long may it remain.

  34. Legendary Teeth says:

    I used to have a Sidewinder Presicion Pro. That thing was so ace. But it’s gotten a bit worn over the years, doesn’t work that great. So last year I sprung for the Saitek X52 Pro. Man, that is one mean joystick. I use it to play X3 mostly, and you need a tonne of buttons for that thing, which it gladly supplies. I like that it has a mouse AND a saftey on the missile button.

  35. Esc says:

    Oh god, memories of me using a Microsoft Sidewinder ONE (sans FF) on Mechwarrior 2 and Tie-Fighter on a win95 pentium compaq.

    Thanks for bringing back this flood of memories Alec. Those were indeed “good old days.”

  36. Erlam says:

    I currently have this beauty, which I actually bought to play multiplayer TIE fighter with my friends.

    Previous to that, I had a REALLLY old 3 button logitech joystick. It was a rectangle base, with 2 buttons to the left of the joystick, and 1 button on top of the joystick itself.

    God, I had that thing for… 10 years?

  37. Pax says:

    Long ago I bought a game port (I said, yeeaaaarrrss agggoooo!) joystick with suction cups on the bottom (of dubios utility) soley for the purpose of playing Tie Fighter. That thing lasted me a long time, until I had to upgrade to my current USB stick when I got a computer without a game port.

    Of course, whenever I watched Golden Eye I came to the startling conclusion that the bombs Bond’s placing near the end of the movie are my stupid little suction-cup joystick with a blinking red light instead of a stick!

  38. Tricky says:

    Bump for REM reference! Well done, good chaps.

  39. Anach says:

    I own two of these MS FFB2 Joysticks, one of which I brought back to life after receiving it from a friend, and I couldnt do without them.

    Even though they are heavy and massive, they are solid, stable and accurate. The controls fit my hands perfectly.

    Mostly the stick is trouble free. I’ve managed to get past the DEP and get macros working by adding the control panel applet to the DEP exempt list. However, I’ve noticed that in some games, the stick acts more like a digital controller than an analogue stick. One that comes to mind is NFS Pro Street, which worked fine with initial release, but with the released dodgy patches, the controller no longer behaved correctly.

    I plan to use this controller until I can no longer get it to work. I havent found any other controller which feels as good, works as well and is as steady.

    Another item I use regularly is my MS Game Voice. Although I never used the software which came with it, I use it with TeamSpeak all the time, and having a button away from my keyboard for Mute, PTT, Channel selection and other functions allows me to use my mouse and keyboard without interference.

    It’s a real shame that MS dropped support for these products. However, i’m thankful that Windows 7 recognises the Stick. I just hope I can get the macro software and my GV to work too.

  40. runcrash says:

    The Logitech Wingman helped me blast many Kilrathi over the years. Nothing else in the store even compared to how comfortable it was to hold. And every time the hat switch broke I would send it back to Logitech and I would get a shiny new one. And then one day the stopped making the Wingman and when the hat switch broke I sent it in and they sent me back the new model, the Wingman Extreme, now featuring a throttle! I still have it somewhere not that I’ve played any sort of space sim in a long time and my current computer doesn’t even have a place to plug it in.

  41. Stelios says:

    I completely understand. I have a Momo Force (the original red one) that I have had for many many years that I will keep around for as long as I can. And an 2-button Pacman by Aneroussis Control I bought with my first A500 Plus (was that in 1992? Not sure) that will just not die. Works great with Amiga Forever at least! Funny how we get attached to controllers (and sentimental )…

  42. Rob Zacny says:

    Logitech Wingman series, before the redesign, is the most comfortable and aesthetically pleasing joystick ever made, and like runscrash, I waged mighty war on the Kilrathi with it.

    I never understood why Logitech threw out the old dark-blue Wingman design, with the perfectly shaped grip and thumbrest. It remains unsurpassed for comfort. I use a Saitek X52 now, but it is a stick that I appreciate and admire rather than love.

  43. Vincent Avatar says:

    Ah, the Sidewinder. Many an hour was spent immersed in Microsoft Flight Simulator Whichever One It Was with the joy of the Force Feedback Pro shaking wildly as I plowed straight into the ground yet again. Whatever happened to rumble-tumble joystiqs I’ll never know.

    I loved that damn thing, bulky monstrosity that it is.

  44. bansama says:

    This reminds me of my Zipstick. The best joystick I ever had for an Amiga. I always wanted on for the PC but could never find a comparable stick that was affordable. My Zipstick had over 10 years worth of use in total and is still working perfectly (incidentally, it only cost my a tenner).

    Whereas the joysticks had for the PC all died after a year or two of use. Guess I should have forked out a lot more money for my PC joysticks =/ These days though, I haven’t even bothered to get one for the PC which is why I stopped trying to play any games such as flight sims.

    Bah. Now I miss my Zipstick and it’s yellow buttons even more >_>

  45. Idespair says:

    My joystick of choice was the Powerplay Cruiser – it came in a glorious mix of green, pink & yellow and had the most satisfyingly clicky microswitches in the base. A design classic.

  46. Frye says:

    Agreed, MS has always made excellent joysticks. How likely is THAT!? I need a new joystick for the amazing new heli sim Black Shark because my old one keeps registering ticks outside the dead-zone (basically making it impossible to hover without constant corrections) and i’ll definetly go for a MS one. Speaking of Black Shark, unless i missed it, it would be nice to see an article about it in RPS.

  47. dadioflex says:

    I’m another Sidewinder Precision 2 user. It’s had a LOT of use over the last couple of years from the X3 series alone.

    Someone talked about using a joystick with Eve – I thought it was all point and click. Been years since I played Eve, did they change the flight model?

  48. Azhrarn says:

    My first real joystick was a Gravis Phoenix. A massive 42-button monster with both a joystick and a keyboard plug. Fully programmable too, but unfortunately it is DOS only, windows throws a hissy fit whenever I try to use it, despite being one of the best balanced joystick I ever had.

  49. Azhrarn says:

    @dadioflex: no they haven’t changed the flight system.
    But at the last fanfest they did mention that joystick flight is in the 10-year plan for EVE and they showed an old demo of joystick flight inside giant planetoids.

  50. dadioflex says:

    Oh, Black Shark:

    http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2009/01/18/matt-wagner-on-black-shark/

    No interest in it at all, personally, but each to their own.

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