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. dadioflex says:

    Cheers Azhrarn. Just curious why anyone would talk about using a joystick with Eve. Seemed incongruous. I didn’t think they’d changed the flight model. Eve is a game I’ve always intended going back to. I have another unopened retail box that I was going to use for dual-accounting it so I could haul my own ore back without interrupting my mining. Even typing that reminds me why I left in the first place, to be honest. Not the games fault, just my lack of involvement with other players.

  2. Optimaximal says:

    Likewise on the Precision Pro 2 ownership, although mine did go through a period of the fabled static-death before springing back to life… They are still ‘almost’ supported by Microsoft – it’s the first models that aren’t.

  3. Ravenger says:

    These days I use my old trusty Saitek Cyborg 3D USB, but back in the days of proper flight and space sims I used my CH F16 Fighterstick, CH Pro Throttle, and CH Pedals.

    When I showed these to a friend at the time he said all I needed now was a space helmet.

    Sadly I can’t use them these days because they use old keyboard and joystick ports.

    I’ve still got them in a box somewhere along with a first generation sidewinder force feed back stick and a couple of Sidewinder gamepads – all using, alas, the old style joystick ports.

  4. Azhrarn says:

    @dadioflex: they don’t intend to actually replace the current system I believe, just to allow joystick flight in certain situations. (like inside the giant planetoids shown, where EVEs point and click flight doesn’t work very well)

  5. IvanHoeHo says:

    Saitek Cyborg Evo, since it’s the only left handed one I can find – the throttle’s in an awkward place as a result, though.

    Also, I’m ashamed to say that my hand’s too small to hold it properly. :(

  6. Fat Zombie says:

    I have a bog-standard Sidewinder Joystick. It’s reliable, certainly, but it lacks things like a hat-switch or force-feedback. I should probably get a new one.

    In fact, I discovered that using a PS3 controller actually made it easier to play IL2 Sturmovik, as the d-pad doubles as a hat-switch. Crazy.

  7. Lack_26 says:

    I have two side winders, the older model is far superior to the featureless minimalist newer one. I love my Sidewinder precision pro (the older model), despite one of the buttons on the top having retracted into the joystick so I cant use it, but I just reconfigure the buttons in game and work around the problem.

  8. Lack_26 says:

    Sorry to double post, but I just realised that I’ve had my joystick literally longer than I can really remember, since 1995.

  9. Tommo says:

    Just finished reading the article and went looking for my Sidewinder. managed to find it, its been in storage for at least 5 years now. alas it dosnt want to work. plugged it into vista and nothing is happening, sob. i think ill go and bury “sam” in the backyard now.

  10. Gap Gen says:

    Can you use glovePIE to return some of the old functionality? I know you shouldn’t have to, but still.

  11. MustardMan says:

    Having just moved last week, I’ve just gone through the “what I carry with me and what goes in the trash” process once again – and I couldn’t throw away my joysticks.

    I have 2 – one has a MIDI output, fer freak’s sake. But I beat Tie Fighter with that stick! And for the X-Wing series’ sake, and Freespace 1 and 2, and for the faint hope that somehow, the joystick-central space sim will come back, I will NEVER part with my ‘sticks.

  12. James G says:

    I don’t think I’ve owned a joystick* since my Amiga years, although have had a few gamepads. Currently own a cheap unbranded Dual-shock rip-off which I managed to get working in Vista after using Hardware ID’s to track down the website of the Korean company which made it, which was very helpfully in Korean and none of the pictures on the product page quite matched up visually.

    I do like MS peripherals though, and would only ever buy a mouse/keyboard from them or Logitech. They have a satisfying solidity to them, are comfortable, and reliable. I’ve still got a ten year old Intellimouse in my cupboard, that only got replaced because I got itchy feet and decided to modernise.

    * I say think because I have vague recollections of a particular stick, which I’m pretty sure wasn’t on the Amiga. But my memories of it are far poorer than would be expected, given I can recall clearly just about every other peripheral I’ve ever owned.

  13. drewski says:

    I got a joystick second hand off a mate to play Falcon 4 with but it was rubbish. Can’t remember who it was by.

    If I ever dust off Falcon 4 and give it another crack, I suppose I’ll have to buy a new one.

  14. TheSombreroKid says:

    i loved my sidewinder it was my pride and joy and i was convinced rumble was the future when i bought it still got it at my mums but i doubt i’ve got the serial port it needs

  15. a says:

    man, go buy a cougar, then!

  16. Ravenger says:

    PC Flightsticks forced me to learn to fly right handed. There was only one ambidextrous flight stick originally – the CH Flightstick Pro. When I upgraded to the F16 fighterstick I had to learn to fly right handed instead. I still do, even though I’m very much left handed. I even fly right handed on my Saitek Cyborg 3D, despite it being customisable for left handed use.

  17. Jason Moyer says:

    I’ve burned through a few Precision Racing Wheels and a Precision Pro 2 stick and if they were released today they’d be better than most of what’s out there. It’s a shame MS quit making gaming hardware because all of their sticks/pads/wheels were very high quality.

    Although I’ve replaced my sidewinder wheels with a G25 and ended up tossing the stick in the trash after not using it for a long time (a huge mistake now that I’m on a Descent/Freespace/X-Wing Alliance kick), I still use an MS Optical mouse and the wired 360 gamepad. They’re both great – much more precise and reliable than the similar Logitech gear that they replaced.

  18. Mark says:

    I take issue with calling HAWX a flight-sim.

  19. Vandelay says:

    I too loved my MS Sidewinder Force Feedback Joystick (think mine was only 1 though) and I had forgotten it’s erection party piece.

    To those that say they dislike any controller besides keyboard and mouse and think developers are lazy for not working more on those controls I disagree. The wonderful thing about the PC as a gaming platform is its versatility. Without these other peripherals you are missing out on so many games, something that I only recently discovered after buying a pad for the first time.

  20. zor says:

    I still use my trusty Sidewinder whenever I crack out Falcon 4. Rapidly approaching its tenth birthday and still going strong.

    My favourite joystick is a fair bit older. I’ve still got an ancient Cheetah 125 which comes down from the loft with my Speccy every now and then when I’m on a nostalgia bent. Can’t beat that classic.

  21. Kast says:

    I don’t think I’ve used a joystick since… as long as I can remember. Oh, I did once borrow one to correctly pilot a Chinook in an Operation Flashpoint game (good god, that was an exhilarating extraction – now you’ve got me talking like that).

    I’ve never been one for simulations generally but a good joystick makes all the difference when it comes to big stompy robots. Games need more big stompy robots. Oh, I miss thee, Star Siege.

  22. pepper says:

    Im a simmer, whom has a Sidewinder, the old series, precision pro. Loved every moment with it, but currently a X-52 holds the favorite position, its much easier on the hand and has a finer control. If you ever get a chance to try one, do so. And there hand made, so if you need to mod anything about it then you know you can easily mess about in them.

  23. ImpossiblyDaft says:

    I bought a Precision Pro back in ’99. I bought it back in the day from Woolworths in Coalville to play Freespace 2 with. Why do I remember that but not where I put my keys?

  24. Jason Moyer says:

    m a simmer, whom has a Sidewinder, the old series, precision pro. Loved every moment with it, but currently a X-52 holds the favorite position, its much easier on the hand and has a finer control. If you ever get a chance to try one, do so.

    Has the quality of Saitek stuff gotten better recently? I had one of their USB wheels and some old-ish flight stick and both of them were broken within weeks of purchase. Recently I was fiddling around with one of their new sticks (PS33 maybe?) and I really found it hard to believe how cheap and flimsy the thing felt.

  25. Heliocentric says:

    Not a simmer, i’m a multiplayer person. I found trying to fly a jet with a mouse just fine. But using cover to deliver a squad in a helicopter requires more finesse than a mouse could deliver.

    After my own brand Game stick was passed down to my girlfriend(she never did finish learning how to fly) i got a saitek cyborg pro evo. As it was the cheapest one a could find positive reviews for.
    I was scared i’d break it for a while and i don’t like the spring recentring. But its great for flying down streets and pancake a few terrori- i mean insurgents.

  26. Buemba says:

    Microsoft makes some awesome PC peripherals. My Intellimouse Optical outlasted two of my PCs and I have no doubt my Sidewinder gamepad and joystick still work, though I can’t use them anymore since my computer doesn’t have a game port anymore.

    Plus, for all the crap the GfW initiative brought us, making every game support the 360 controller is a great idea. No more worrying whether or not a game will recognize my controller was a welcomed change.

  27. JonFitt says:

    I still use my trusty Saitek CYBORG 3D Gold/USB. I’ve worn out many a PC joystick over the years, and more Atari and Spectrum ones before them, but this Saitek is the most reliable.
    It’s also reversible for lefties should a freak-of-nature want to try it.

  28. wcaypahwat says:

    Well crap. Now I have to go install some mechwarrior again….

    I convinced my father to buy me a logitech wingman (can’t remember which model now) back when mechwarrior 4 came out.

    That lasted me a good many years, but then the twist lost its deadzone and everything started drifting to the left.

    So I then had to upgrade to the newer, lighter wingman. It feels light and cheap, but its surprisingly sturdy, and quite precise. It lives on my sub woofer, ‘just in case’

  29. Iain says:

    I still have my Saitek Cyborg Force Feedback stick, which is truly a GOD amongst PC joysticks. I still play Freespace 2 and TIE-Fighter with it every now and again.

  30. pepper says:

    Jason, never had any trouble with any Saitek gear, although i know the yoke they introduced late 07 was quite bugged, although most of those problems are solved now. The X-52 did have some problem then it went on to blink all its lights like a christmas tree, but it hasnt done that in a long time anymore. I figured it was some sort of memory problem.

  31. Alex Bakke says:

    I have the Sidewinder Force Feedback 2!

    A dream to use. Used it for IL-2 Sturmovik today.

  32. SJM says:

    I bought my Sidewinder Force Feedback 2 from ebay last year for £75. It was worth it just to play X-Wing Alliance. The experience is a lot more immersive.

  33. Jesucristo says:

    I have Ch Products, a Hotas System with:
    - Joystick CH Fighterstick
    - Pro Throtle
    - Pro Pedals
    Also, I have a Logitech G25 Racing Wheel

  34. Colthor says:

    It was a sad day when I missed the sound-card and plugged my Sidewinder 3D Pro into the network card. Both died, but I was more upset about the joystick. It had shot a lot of Mechs.

    I still have its Force Feedback Pro replacement (despite it being slightly larger than some of the cars I’ve owned. And more expensive.), but no gameport to attach it to.
    My original X-Box pad seems to work well with I-War 2, but a new stick will be needed next time I want to play a flight-sim. Thumb-sticks just aren’t the same.

  35. Wouldzey says:

    Mine too is the Sidewinder FF 2. Nothing has come close to it yet for me. I use it still every week playing it for all my aerial needs in Battlefield 2. Running across the airfield using keys and mouse doesnt get any better when you know as soon as you enter a plane or heli your sidewinder will spring to life.

    Like i said, i’ve had other joysticks but the sidewinder ff 2 just feels comfortable, friendly and beyond the user friendliness its still hard to beat performance wise. Maybe its just because im used to it so much now but im much better with it that others i’ve had and tried.

  36. vicx says:

    I get this same feeling with any old exotic hardware. Even though I know its pure foolishness to buy hardware that is destined to fail – I always have the urge to own it. It’s actually amazing that I have resisted most tempatations and I only have 3 sets of stereoscopic hardware and a SideWinder Game Voice (I was ebay sniped on a z800 headset last year). On my list of hardware to resist owning in the future is a Novint Falcon – z800 headset – ergodex dx1 (aka CH products MFP) – TrackIR and a Logitech Airmouse. The Novint Falcon is definately the least practical and most tempting item of course.

  37. compuguy1088 says:

    I’ve used in in the 90′s the original Wingman (they kept breaking), the Sidewinder 3D Pro (original), Some cheap Sidewinder joystik, the Wingman 3D pro (with force feedback….never had many games that used it). Currently I have the Wingman extreme 3d pro, which is a great bang for the buck joystick….

  38. mashakos says:

    @compguy1088: same here, had both the Saitek Cyborg 3D and the Wingman extreme 3d pro. Gave the Saitek to my brother.

  39. mashakos says:

    oops! meant Wingman Force 3D. No point in getting a joystick without force feedback…

  40. Gravekeeper says:

    My Sidewinder Precision Pro will not go quietly into the night… I’ve had it since the mid-nineties, and it has accompanied me through MS Flight Simulators 95, 98, 2000, 2002, and 2004 faithfully, and has flown with me through bloody dogfights in Combat Flight Simulator 2 and 3… It’s the ooooold one with the dome throttle and the game port… My old flight instructor was kind enough to give me his own Sidewinder’s gameport-to-USB cable, so I could carry it into the future unknown…

    The other day me and my friends all LANned CFS 2 for nostalgia’s sake… We cried manly tears.

  41. Xerxes says:

    http://www.joy-stick.net/reviews/joysticks/topgun.htm

    If only I had a PC that would still use the old school ports, or some USB conversion for my poor sweet Top Gun.
    Lost hours to every flight / space combat simulator using this, these days it is confined to storage.

    It was the Goose to my Maverick…. I suppose I should try and find one of those gameport to USB cables, and resurrect old faithful.

  42. DeuceMojo says:

    Logitech Wingman all the way, baby!!! Just kidding. I do not like my joystick at all. Aren’t joysticks like so C-64 era?

    My Wingman has:
    A) Caused me no shortage of embarrassment as more than one girlfriend has called me a nerd for owning a joystick.
    B) Destroyed two pair of perfectly good PC speakers, as my wife was searching for an A/C adapter for them and instead just grabbed the Wingman adapter, which fried one, then two sets of speakers. Hooray for interchangeable A/C adapter connectors, with wildly different voltages and amps.

  43. Thom says:

    I used a lot cheap $10-$15 crap sticks to fly MS Flight Simulator over the years. I finally broke down and spent some real money ($30) on a Thrustmaster Top Gun fox 2 a couple of years ago and was hooked. It weighed a ton, had a very comfortable (If you are right handed) handle and the best throttle I have ever found. I wore it out in about 18 months and went to look for a replacement and discovered that they are now around $90. So i went with a Xbox 360 gamepad for Windows and discovered it was great with flight sims and really handy to have for other games that are actually designed for pads. I miss my joystick but am happy with the gamepad.

  44. Alan Au says:

    I had a Sidewinder FF 1, which was way too clunky and hardly worth the trouble. I also had a Sidewinder Precision Pro, which sadly refused to initialized properly on my hardware so I bequeathed it to a friend when I last moved. Interestingly, the joystick that still works on my machine is the original Sidewinder, which I keep around in the hopes that another mech combat game will show up.

  45. DerangedStoat says:

    Wow, just yesterday, I had a very similar conversation with a friend about my Sidewinder FF 2. Funnily enough it also started with the mention of HAWX (I also believe that game is definately not going to be a sim). I too only ever use it a couple of times a year for bouts of IL2, but I will never get rid of it. The fact that FF isn’t supported in the latest versions of Windows will be a major strike against any of the reasons I have to upgrade to Windows 7.

    I originally bought it for Grand Prix 4, though I quickly purchased a number of flight sims to make the most of it. Hell, it even got a work out from far too many hours pulling off combos in Tony Hawk (I think it just made life harder in that case though!).

    Hell, if I never had that Sidewinder, I wouldn’t have gotten my Logitech Momo wheel, and then later the G25, which is the greatest peripheral I have owned.
    I like to think that years down the road when everyone is using Windows X, and USB connections are nearly as archaic as PS/2, the Sidewinder and the G25 will still have pride of place on my shelves.

  46. Rich Tysoe says:

    for a long time, I used the non force-feedback second-generation sidewinder joystick and was gutted when it became obsolete due to the passing of the 15-pin joystick port, and the USB adapter I had didn’t work.

    I then, a few years ago, went completely mental and bought a CH fighterstick off ebay, for Falcon 4: allied force, but didn’t really use it much. it’s cool that it has all the buttons, but the throw is way too big and it doesn;t twist for rudder (I know, it’s supposed to be used with pedals…)

    then, late last year, I found a USB sidewinder stick (3rd gen) at the recycling shop at the local tip. for £2. yay!

    I do think it’s a shame MS got out of the PC gaming perpheral market. The FF wheel was the best, and I used one for 5 years with total reliability.

    Was it MS who invented the twist-stick for Rudder input?

  47. Shawn says:

    ffb2 works in windows 7 with force feedback

  48. NooklearToaster says:

    Favorite joystick is EASILY the one that came in the special bundle of ace combat for the 360. I can’t imagine a more perfect stick and throttle combo, it just fits so smoothly. I’m surprised they didn’t sell more of them.

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