PC hardware evolves at a frightening pace. Processors double in clock speed every 18 months, every new generation of graphics card claims twice the pixel-pushing power of the last, and now soundcards are in on the game, adding additional speakers in directions and dimensions previously undiscovered. It can’t be a matter of more than a few years before our machines reach the point of complexity where they become acutely self-aware, develop a hatred for our kind and mercilessly slaughter us all.
That slightly inflammatory comment would see me shot down in flames without a little clarification, so here I go…
Granted, consoles such as the Xbox and GameCube have seen top titles in the form of games such as Splinter Cell, Zelda and Halo, but it’s only a matter of licensing which keeps 99% of the a-list from making it big on the PC, Splinter Cell and Halo both arriving much later than their Xbox counterparts – both hugely enhanced with the obvious PC addition of a mouse.
Consoles have never really gotten the whole ‘mouse thing’ right, granted they’ve tried – the Dreamcast and Playstation both had semi-abortive attempts, but with many developers keen to make games which require little more than button-mashing, neither got any further than a couple of first person games and a point and click misadventure.
Because PCs are far more than dedicated games boxes, mice are a necessity. You might be able to navigate around your desktop with they keyboard and carry out basic tasks with a few shortcuts, but then it comes to surfing the web, muddling with Excel or getting creative in Photoshop, you’re going to need the assistance of your trusty pointer.
The beginnings of the humble mouse were with the revered computer scientist Douglas Engelbart who invented the pointing device way back in 1964. Of course a mouse is no use without an environment in which to navigate, and so he went on create the first GUI (Graphical User Interface) too – not bad for a mornings work. Engelbart’s mouse consisted of a wooden
shell with two metal wheels, which he patented in 1970. Unfortunately for him he wasn’t able to obtain a patent for his version of ‘windows’ at that time. Had he succeeded, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs would today be paying him him a truck load in royalties. Nearly 40 years later, the mouse is still with us today, but Engelbart’s key contribution to the computing industry has by no means stood still.
Once upon a time, back in the days when I could game day and night and not have to worry about such trivial matters as rent and who was going to cook my next meal, most of the games I played didn’t need a pointing device of any kind. There were exceptions of course; I played games such as Lemmings and Warcraft with a mouse, flight sims with a joystick, and fighting games with a joypad. But the majority of games used a keyboard as their primary control method.
With the birth of the 3D action genre, after the release and popularity of Wolfenstein 3D, closely followed by Doom, it became obvious that a different control method was necessary. Especially when DIMS, or Doom induced motion sickness, was so common that it became a recognised medical term! That new controller turned out to be what we now know as the stereotypical, bog-standard, beige, two-button mouse, which had about as much visual appeal as a lump of crudely sanded wood.
It wasn’t until 1998, 34 years after Engelbart’s original invention that anyone really did anything with the design, the first significant addition came in the form of Microsoft’s Intellimouse – the first mouse to sport a middle wheel, and 12 months later they followed it up with the most
significant addition to date – optical technology. Gone were the days when my mouse became clogged up with sticky beer and crumbly gaming snacks thanks to their newly neutered rodent, aka the Intellimouse® Explorer. Waving goodbye to the ball and other mechanical workings, the Explorer instead sported an optical sensor and red LED in its base, increasing accuracy and reliability tenfold.
On another level, companies finally realised the popularity of the mouse for gaming, and tried to reinvent the wheel by producing the ‘hardcore gaming mouse’, starting with the appearance of products such as the Razer Boomslang in 1999/2000; a fantastic gaming product in its own right, with its high DPI, easy adjustment and 5 buttons, but still a ball mouse after all. Then there are other more recent offerings, such as Belkin’s Nostromo n30 GameMouse, with its unusual silver ‘battle wing’, brick-like design and pretty useless force-feedback mode – who in their right mind would handicap themselves in-game by trying to snipe with a vibrating mouse when grenade goes off nearby?
While it didn’t work out the first time for them, with bankruptcy in 2000, Razer are making a comeback, with the up and coming launch of the Razer Boomer Speed™, which shows that rodent+ball technology isn’t dead and buried just yet.
For the other 99.99% of users though, the ball-mouse has been superseded by optical, and while Razer continues to develop the field of mechanical mice, the likes of Logitech
and Microsoft have put their money on optical technology, which can deliver comparable accuracy at a much lower price.
With the chances of ball-jam out of the picture, the only possible remaining interference to accurate mousing that remains is the wire. Easily snagged on or under keyboards or other desktop clutter it generally only gets in the way, the scope for free movement is reduced, and then there is also the problem of beer spillage (again). One manufacturer – Everglide tried to combat this with the production of the Mouse Bungee, but a true wireless mouse seems a more logical step than more desktop clutter, as long as it doesn’t sacrifice response and accuracy. Microsoft have already made two clear in this market, the first being their Wireless Intellimouse® Explorer which was laggy and comparatively primitive, and secondly their Wireless Intellimouse® Explorer for Bluetooth® released earlier this year, with good range and great response, but abysmal battery life.
Logitech’s MX700 appears is probably the first wireless optical mouse that doesn’t suck for gaming – you can find our review of this here – and it will be Logitech’s effort that we are pitting Microsoft latest wireless doohicky, the Wireless Intellimouse® Explorer against.