CYBERMAN from Logitech

Reviewed by Sir Launcelot du Lake

The Logitech CyberMan is touted as a 3D controller that is ideally suited to the current rage in first-person perspective 3D environment games, the most famous of which is Id Software's Doom. It is built to circumvent the limitations of the mouse, giving six degrees of freedom that is supposed to make movement natural and intuitive. Along with the ability to move the controller in the X, Y, and Z axes, the CyberMan also allows actions using pitch, yaw and roll manoeuvres. It also boasts tactile feedback, in the form of vibrations made by a small motor powered by two AA batteries or plugged into an AC adapter.

The CyberMan is also able to coexist with a regular mouse attached to your system, i.e., with the regular mouse attached to the first serial port and the CyberMan attached to the second. However, one would have to use the CyberMan mouse driver and include the command MOUSE DUAL in the autoexec.bat file. The regular mouse driver must be disabled.

How do the different dimensions offered by the CyberMan get translated into game movements? Naturally, there will be differences between each CyberMan compatible game, but generally speaking, the X and Y dimensions are like the standard mouse movements - two dimensional on a flat surface. The Z axis may be used to jump up or crouch down, yaw is used to rotate the view left or right, roll is used to make left or right lateral movements, and pitch is used to move forward and back, or to look up and down.

Is the CyberMan the ultimate device for 3D environment games? I put the CyberMan to the acid test by using it to play the full version of two supported games - Origin's Shadowcaster CD, and SSI's AD&D Ravenloft: Strahd's Possession. I also looked at the demo of Bethesda's Terminator: Rampage and the shareware version of Id's Doom v 1.2, which were included with the CyberMan (a demo of Shadowcaster and Body Adventure were also included, the latter a replacement for the delayed Mechwarrior II: The Clans from Activision). Although the movements of the CyberMan are somewhat intuitive, I have to report that the ergonomic functioning of the device is abysmal.

I have two serious problems with the device. Firstly, it is well nigh impossible to pitch forward without inadvertently pressing down on some of the buttons, and thus setting off whatever those left and/or right buttons are programmed for in the game. The middle button is seldom used, so technically, one can judiciously place the index finger on this button, but this completely defeats any ergonomic sense. Most games take advantage of the extra pitch dimension offered by the CyberMan to use it for forward/backward movement and the X. Y axes for moving the cursor to other parts of the screen without affecting movement. Thus, because one is unable to pitch comfortably without doing finger contortions in order to avoid the buttons, one essentially cannot play the game for long as fatigue will invariably set in.

Secondly, the CyberMan is supposed to be able to function as a standard mouse if a game does not support it directly. I tried playing Id's Wolfenstein 3D with it but couldn't get anywhere because I am unable to prevent the device from registering a movement along the two dimensional X, Y axes whenever I try to lift the device and place it back in the centre. This is because the CyberMan mousepiece is only given about a square inch to move around in a depression in the base. Thus, suppose one reaches the left side of this square, and one still wants to move left, it is completely impossible because the moment one attempts to lift the mousepiece back to the centre or to the right to create more space, a right movement is registered and the cursor will move back to the right. Consider what happens when using a regular mouse in this same situation - the mouse is simply lifted off the pad or surface if there is not enough room in the intended direction, and then placed back on the surface without any opposite movement registering during the process.

Apart from these, the vibratory tactile feedback (which usually activates when the player is hit by a weapon or monster) loses its novelty quickly and doesn't really add any significant information to the player from what is already obvious on the screen. This tactile feature can be disabled by simply removing the batteries or unplugging the AC adapter. Making yaw and roll movements can also be quite tiring after a while.

The concept of having six degrees of freedom is inherently intuitive. Logitech has, however, failed to implement this in an ergonomic and comfortable way, which is very surprising considering that they have a good track record in the design of mice and other pointing devices. I suspect that the CyberMan fails because it is still inherently a two- dimensional device, with the other four dimensions implemented while still anchored to the flat X, Y base. The breakthrough in 3D controllers will probably come from a device that works in a true 3D space, where one can make free flowing movements in three dimensional space without being hampered or anchored to any base. I have seen a prototype of Creative Technology's forthcoming Aeromouse, and although still rather crude in terms of the resolution of movement, the direction they have taken seems to be the logical one.

This review is Copyright (C) 1994 by Sir Launcelot du Lake for GameBytes. All rights reserved.