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Belkin's Nostromo n50 and n30 game controllers

A mouse and.. err, something else


FIRST-PERSON SHOOTERS HAVE pushed the technology envelope more than any other game genre, yet the vast majority of us still use the same ancient keyboard and mouse combination that's been around since the original DOOM. Over the years, many have tried to improve on this control scheme, but none have really succeeded. Microsoft's creations never caught on, and the SpaceOrb never developed more than a cult following. Even consoles, a relatively new market for the FPS genre, have generated complaints due to their lack of a keyboard and mouse.

Someone over at Belkin must be tired of his keyboard, because they've introduced the Nostromo n50 Speedpad: a controller that almost defies explanation. Borrowing elements from game pads, joysticks, and the tried-and-true keyboard, the Speedpad is unlike any other game controller on the market.

To complement the n50 Speedpad, Belkin's also introduced the n30 Gaming Mouse. Though not nearly as radical as the Speedpad, the n30 has a few notable features that differentiate it from the rest of the digital rodents on the market.

Has Belkin created the ultimate game controller combo with the n30 and n50? Read on to find out.

n30 Gaming Mouse
Belkin's n30 Gaming Mouse is a bit of a departure from the Logitech and Microsoft critters that occupy the majority of desktops today. Heck, it doesn't even share that much with the game-specific Razer Boomslang.

The n30 is short, stocky, and a little angular in its design. Although the weight is well balanced and the buttons are quite responsive, the shape takes a little getting used to; this is no Intellimouse Explorer as far as curves go. Like the vast majority of mice today, you plug the n30 into a USB port.

Built like Henry Rollins

Belkin includes a bumper along the back of the n30 to improve stability, but the inclusion seems mostly cosmetic to me. The "Battle Wing," which moves the third mouse button away from the mouse wheel and next to your thumb, is actually quite useful, especially if you're accustomed to using your first and middle fingers on the first and second mouse buttons.

On the left: Belkin's different take on the third mouse button

While the movement of the third mouse button is an improvement over previous designs, the n30 is saddled with old mechanical technology: a mouse ball. The first generation of optical mice from Microsoft and Logitech had some problems tracking quick-flick movements, keeping mechanical mice attractive for the gaming crowd. However, both companies have beefed up the optics on their new mice, which have no problem tracking quick-flick movements.

For gaming, a mechanical mouse is probably precise enough, provided you keep the internal rollers free of dust and grime. Optical mice are even more precise now, and they don't require any cleaning, which puts the n30 at a distinct disadvantage.

Belkin's retro mouse ball

Although the n30's mechanical tracking didn't impress me, its mouse wheel certainly did. There are two different types of mouse wheels: those that roll smoothly, and those that ratchet. Smooth-rolling wheels tend to be better for things like scrolling down web pages, while the more precise ratcheting wheels do better for gaming.

Perhaps the perfect mouse wheel

The n30's wheel can be best descriped as having a smooth ratchet feel: it's precise enough for gaming, but no so stuttered that scrolling through web pages is annoyingly noisy. Grip can also be a problem with mouse wheels, but not with the n30, whose tacky wheel is backed up by deep grooves that are in no danger of wearing away.

Good vibrations
For the lonely, the n30 integrates Touch Sense technology from Immersion. In other words, it vibrates and stuff. Using Immersion's Touch Sense technology effectively makes the n30 a force-feedback mouse, which can add a lot to the gaming experience, if a game takes advantage of the technology. To date, there are a slew of games that take advantage of Touch Sense. Unfortunately, the quality of the force feedback in the games available is inconsistent at best.

Also, force feeback has questionable merits for multiplayer gaming. Feeling your mouse shake with the rumble of your shotgun is certainly cool for immersion, but it makes aiming a little more difficult—not good if you're competing with people that are using mice that don't fight back. Immersion's demos do show off some pretty impressive potential beyond simple vibrations, but we're going to need to see more widespread adoption of the technology before game developers devote the time necessary to really take advantage of what it can do.