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Product: SideWinder Strategic Commander
Company: Microsoft
Website: http://www.microsoft.com/sidewinder
Estimated Street Price: $64.95
Review By: Julien JAY

Buttons

Table Of Contents
1: Introduction
2: Buttons, Navigation, Drivers & Game Tests
3: Conclusion

Programmable buttons: The six programmable buttons can be pressed alone or in combination with the shift ones to execute game commands faster than ever. When you activate a game profile by moving the slider button all the active buttons light up like a Christmas tree (they display an orange color). So you instantly know which buttons are assigned to a game action and which arenít. With the buttons you can deploy, command your forces faster and more efficiently. 
  

Zoom buttons: This two buttons ( + and - ) let you zoom in or out in your favourite games if they support this feature. For example in SimCity 3000 you can zoom out to view the whole city youíve build or zoom in to view just the life of a district. If you donít want to use this buttons you can reprogram them to achieve other commands using the SideWinder Strategic Commander configuration applet. 
  

Shift Buttons: These three buttons are dedicated to extend the functionality of the six buttons: you can press simultaneously one of the six reprogrammable buttons with the shift button of your choice in order to execute up to 4 commands per button. 
  

Rec Button: The record button that blinks in red when you push it is here to program buttons 1 to 6 on the fly without leaving the game or launching the SideWinder Strategic Commander applet. Strategic games always use keyboard keys to perform a defined action. To program the Strategic Commander youíll have to assign a button the keyboard strike. It works like this: in your game press the rec button, press the button you want to program (itíll now blink), push the keyboard key that corresponds to the command you want to execute and push the rec button again to stop the record process and save your new command shortcut. It is similar to recording a macro but hands on.  
  

Profile Switch: This lateral 3 positions button allows you to change game profiles during gameplay easily without the need to launch the Strategic Commander applet. Note that these three profiles donít obviously concern other games. You can use two different profiles in the same game.


 

Navigation
  

Not happy having tons of button combinations to command your troops easily by sending them orders? The SideWinder Strategic Commander upper pad can be also moved in the direction you want to easily scroll long maps like the ones used in Microsoft Age Of Empires II. When using the Strategic Commander to navigate in your favourite games your mouse and keyboard are available to perform other tasks. Always with my fetish game, Age Of Kings, the strategic commander lets me move the battle map while my standard mouse is available to select units at the same time.

    

SideWinder Software Controller

  

The provided Strategic Commander Software allows you to program easily buttons and is your place to create, modify, or delete games profiles. When you launch the software a very stylish black window is displayed: at the left bottom part of the window a picture represents your Strategic Commander device and can be used to test the device: when you push a button, this button is lighted on the screen so you know everything works great. But thankfully thatís not all! Once youíve launched the software four tabs are displayed as well as a small list in the menu bar. The list lets you select one of the 30 existing profiles (that are bundled with the device) or to create a new one. Creating a new profile is very easy: select new profile in the list, name it and follow the four steps represent by the four tabs. The first tab provides you with some explanations and with a link to freely download new profiles on the net. Then you have to eventually write in the second tab some remarks about the current profile, after you switch to the third tab to program buttons.
 
  


Microsoft SideWinder Strategic Commander Applet
  

To do so you have to push a button on the device, type the name of the command you want to associate to the button and jump to the command label: here you have to push the keyboard keys that are required to perform the action you want to execute: when doing so the command label show the keys you have typed. Note that you can insert some special characters into one sequence to add pause, or to use mouse or keyboard special buttons like Tab, Enter, arrows, etcÖ Each actions associated to a button is shown in a tab and you can obviously program four different actions for each buttons using the appropriate shift keys. Then the fourth and final tab lets you choose the most appropriate navigation mode you want to use in your game. The different navigation modes can be assigned to direction keys, numeric keys (1,2,3, etc.), custom keys and more. When you affect the custom key to the navigation mode you can program for the fourth direction a keyboard command to execute. Finally the Zoom in & out buttons can be reprogrammed to do a totally different thing than zooming in the game while the rotation mode of the pad can be changed. To assign the switcher button a profile simply move the switch to the desired position and select in the Strategic Commander software the game you want to be associated with the switch position. The latest feature offered by the software is the ability to print each profile.

Game Test

Like every new device the SideWinder Strategic Commander requires a period of acclimatization to acquire new reflexes when playing in strategic games. However after a few hours of use youíll handle it as if you were born with! During our tests we use the Strategic Commander device with the following various games:

 

  • Microsoft Asheronís Call

  • Microsoft Age of Empires II

  • Microsoft Age of Empires II The Conquerors Expansion

  • Command & Conquer Tiberian Sun

  • Microsoft Close Combat III

  • Populous

  • SimCity 3000 World Edition

 

During our tests we really appreciated the incredible versatility of the device as well as its unrivalled ease of use that take strategic games to a new level. If the device provides a quick way to do actions faster than ever in games you have to remember what action is associated to the buttonsÖ Indeed with more than 72 possible combinations a button error can be fatal for you. If youíre forgetful you should consider sticking a postit in front of each buttons to remind yourself each button does! More seriously the navigation feature of the device justifies itself the cost of this new equipment since it provides an elegant & easy way to move maps in games without the need to right click and move the mouse at the same time. The only thing we regret is that the base of the device is too light so you can move the whole device instead of the navigation pad while playing intensively.

   

 <-- Introduction Conclusion -->

 

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