30 July 2016

pushing the right button

Well hello there! Sit down and hold on to something solid - I've actually sort of done something. [Post-edit: also steel yourself for some Jenga-level sentence constructions.]

Secured? Okay. I've been getting up in the chair some. It hasn't been very much, just for a few hours at a time on Saturdays and/or Sundays. But it's a start! Just the first day that I got up was more time spent donating to chairity than I'd accumulated over the past 9/2 years. Of course, it's generally too cold in the rest of the house, and my power chair battery doesn't hold enough charge for me to go anywhere, so all I really do is sit around in my room instead of lying around in my room... Wheee!

Well, that's a bit of a lie. Using the "carrot" motivational approach, I did lure myself out of bed. I've been known to take occasional pleasure in diversions of the interactive digital variety, but as I've boo-hooed before, I'm mostly stuck playing meticulous talky-talk RPGs or myriad variations of glorified Risk or chess (sorry, Civ and XCOM, I'm throwing you under the bus again.) Not anymore! Thanks to the lovely folks at Broadened Horizons, I have traded most of my net worth and an undisclosed portion of my soul for a game controller I can sort of operate. That, mes amis, is a good reason to get up.

Uploads are misbehaving, so here's a picture of one of their controllers that's pretty similar to mine. It's a so-so apropos BroHo photo.

At first glance, it looks like the controls ripped out of an (admittedly complicated) arcade cabinet; a "fight stick" with enough buttons and sticks to completely replicate the inputs of an Xbox/PlayStation controller. (They're isomorphic!) It's split into halves, which lets me play some simpler casual games while in bed (one half on each side of the laptop monstrosity), but anything more complicated than run-and-jump needs to be played seated upright for maximum whackability. That's partially why I got it, after all!

The large, whack-friendly layout alone lets me fumble through some games, but there's more to it than that. On the back panel of one of the halves, there are quite a few ports to connect various external triggers, including some standard 3.5mm (headphone-style) switch jacks, a couple of connections for extra analog joysticks, and a little nozzle to connect tubing for sip/puff functions.

Quick note: If you're not familiar, sip/puff switches are a pretty standard accessibility control method. It's just some tubing connected to some sort of pressure-sensitive activator. You use the tubing like a straw to change the air pressure and trigger the activator - inhale (sip) or exhale (puff). I had one of these to call the nurse and operate the ECU while I was in inpatient rehab post-injury at the RISL. It's a closed system, so you don't have to keep inhaling/exhaling to keep it activated; if you want, you can trigger it and then just put your tongue on the end to maintain the reduced/increased air pressure. Don't worry, you weren't sharing the mouthpiece... I hope...

I use the controller mostly as-is, only adding one orally-activated control. At first I tried using a simple bite switch - chomp to activate - for whatever a game's most pressing (ha) function may be: think "jump" for a platformer, "shoot" for a, uh, shooter, or "gas pedal" for a racing game. That worked great for a solid, oh, three weeks or so before I started feeling that slight tingling sensation of electricity on my tongue (come on, you've all licked a 9-volt before), and I realized that I had turned the bite switch into a nonfunctional electronic snack. Oops! So I replaced that with a sip/puff apparatus, which has the added bonus of granting me two mouth-operated functions (inhale and exhale) instead of one. It's not quite perfect - I can't seem to sip and puff simultaneously, for some strange reason - but it means I can play a surprisingly large number of games with just the left stick and sip/puff.

On top of that, all of the buttons can be reassigned on the fly without external software, and with the necessary cables, adapters, and other requisite gizmos, it'll work with PC, PS2/3/4, and Xbox 360/One (plus a few others, but those are the highlights). It's occasionally a little fiddly to get it to work on PC; not all games recognize it as a controller. However, you can map keyboard and mouse functions to the controller with Joy2Key or Xpadder and trick games that way if necessary. That's how I fumble through Payday 2 - with the dual sip/puff actions, I can even fix those stupid drills. Seriously, millions of dollars of heistybucks, but we can only afford equipment with a 100% failure rate?

So there you go. I'm sooo productive. But hey, it gets me up in the chair.

Is it worth it? I can work it. (push the prog button, flip keys and reverse sticks)