Ultimarc Mag-Stik Plus Joystick Part Two
Review by James McGovern
So after much gnashing of teeth and wailing and all that, the Mag-Stiks are installed and the control panel is back in the test unit. Time to play test, here are my impressions.
When I first installed the control panel and hooked it up, I could not get the switching function to work properly. I was worried at this point that I had screwed something up when I took the sticks apart or when I installed the newly created mounting plates. Andy at Ultimarc was at a loss too, so I pulled the panel back off and took a look. Turned out to be an easy fix and it was indeed my fault.
The locknut at the base of the shaft pictured above, has to be be fastened snugly or the pins on the u-shaped clip will not clear the clipped washer and engage the plastic actuator. I gave the locknuts on each joystick a few turns and was back in business.
The switching function, also available on the t-stick is just as cool as can be. Toggling between both modes is a snap and to me is the major selling point of these and of course the t-sticks.
Speaking as someone who has suffered through games like Pac man and Rally-X all to long with the 8-way handicap, I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a proper joystick for those and other 4-way games. My scores have doubled in many and are on the rise the more I play. I also find I choose the 4-way games much more now as the have become much more enjoyable to play.
The throw on these sticks is very small. I measure it to be 5 degrees or less from top dead center to the point at which they engage the micro switches. As a comparison, the Wicos have approximately 13-14 degrees of throw from top dead center. It is this difference that would keep me guessing for quite a while on these sticks.
Playing Robotron, one of the two games that see the most action on my Omega Mame cabinet, I am generally worn out after an hour or so using the Wicos. It is literally a work out that leaves my shoulders, biceps, and forearms sore for an hour or so after the session. This was the first game I tried with the new Mag-Stiks. The difference is like night and day. With such as small throw, playing Robotron with the Mag-Stiks, requires little if any movement of the upper arms or shoulders. I found myself resting my palms on the control panel top and moving the sticks with little more than my fingers. Very odd feeling in comparison.
The difference in throw really had me wondering if there was something wrong with the sticks at first. Usually with the Wicos, my main problem especially in Robotron, was hitting the diagonals. I often found myself 'sweeping" the play field while firing horizontally or vertically. Not a great strategy if you are looking for mad points and I was interested to see if the Mag-stiks would help in this regard.
They, did, but I found that with them, I had a hard time hitting the vertical and horizontal shots. The joystick seemed to roll into one diagonal post ion or the other and it felt difficult to keep the shaft in a vertical or horizontal position.
This issue though, is really a non-issue and speaks to the subjectivity and familiarity aspects of choosing a joystick. After realizing my difficulties were rooted in my familiarity with the long throw Wicos, I set out to "learn" the new sticks. After a weekend of marathon Robotron sessions, I am hitting the vertical and horizontal shots like a champ and my scores are increasing well past my previous high-scores.
The experience is quite different as much less exertion is required to navigate the frenzied action of Robotron. Rather than throwing my entire body around to fend off death before I take a few more evil robots with me, the game play now requires a bit of a delicate touch to last just a little bit longer. I won't say if it is better or worse, I honestly don't know which I prefer yet, but it is certainly different.
Click-Click Goes the Joystick. Slap, Slap Goes the Magnet
As most everyone in the hobby knows, joysticks with micro-switches are inherently noisier than their leaf-switch counterparts. The Mag-Stik is no exception to this rule. Mine are mounted under a metal control panel that is topped with plexiglas. Though they can be heard, in my opinion it is not overly distracting from the gaming experience. I hardly notice the tell-tale clicks at all during game play.
One additional source of audio emissions from the Mag-stik comes from the magnetic return system. During more furious gaming sessions, you may hear the white plastic sleeve smacking the magnet below. Early on, when I was playing Robotron as if I were using Wicos, I noticed the additional sounds. After my marathon session in which I became more accustomed to the sticks, and I began using less force during game play, the sounds were barely if at all noticeable.
So How Does the Magnetic Return System Fare?
Overall, I like the very unique magnetic return system on the Mag-Stik. I had one instance in which the right joystick was sticking in various positions, but that too turned out to be the fault of my cleanup efforts after creating the mounting plates. It turned out I had not wiped off that plate after the final sanding which left small metal filings all over it. When I installed the joystick base the magnet pulled all of the filings into the return chamber and ended up fouling the system. Since that mess was cleaned out, the behavior has not surfaced again.
The joystick shaft returns back to center quite well and has very little resistance to overcome in order to actuate the micro switches. I measured approximately 0.14 lb/0.06 kg of force required to engage the switches.
I am very interested to know what the original purpose was for the magnetic return mechanism. I would imagine one benefit might be the wear and tear factor. Springs and rubber grommets do wear out over time, though not terribly quickly in my experience. I would be very interested to take a look at the magnetic return components after a year or so worth of use to see how well they hold up.
As with the switching feature of this stick, the magnetic aspect is very interesting to me and I am drawn to any attempts in search of the better mousetrap. For the most part though, this unique system has no real drawbacks or benefits over joysticks with the more traditional springs or grommets that I can see.
I will say this though, there is a certain "Spinal Tap" amplifier scene factor in effect in having these things installed. It's just plain cool to say, "Yeah, but THESE are magnetic joysticks." The switching function adds to the wow factor of these units and in my mind sets them apart from the pack in that regard.
The 4-way to 8-way switching function is the show stopper here in my mind. If you have limited control panel space as I do, having the ability to toggle between modes without having to head underneath the control panel is worth the price of admission.
The magnetic return system is, in my mind, a very cool design idea and a well executed engineering exercise. Aside from the possible benefits of long-term wear and tear, the system does not stand out from my perspective as having any show stopping drawbacks or benefits as compared to other sticks with springs or rubber grommets. There is a definite wow factor in my mind that cannot be discounted though and frankly I like unique components on my projects. It adds to the character of the item and sets it apart from the rest in one way or another.
As with all Ultimarc products I have used in the past, these sticks are built very well. From the way in which they are shipped to the overall feel and construction of the units, quality prevails. They feel strong and sturdy today and I see not design choices that may cause excessive wear or tear over time.
For my application, I believe I have found my new joysticks. Unless I migrate to a dedicated Multi-Williams cabinet , thus removing my need for 4-way sticks on the Multi-Williams panel, I think these are as close to what the Doctor ordered as I can hope for...that is unless anyone plans on something similar, but with leaf-switches!