When we checked out arcade joystick parts-maker Sanwa Denshi's booth over at the Tokyo Game Show, we saw something rather spectacular on display: a prototype joystick lever whose shaft was not connected to the micro-switch sensor, usually found at the base of the lever.
Instead, the base of the joystick lever has a magnet attached to it, which moves in the opposite direction of whichever way you push the stick lever in.
A sensor at the bottom then tracks the magnet's movement and translates that to directional inputs on the computer.
Sanwa Denshi calls this prototype a "small-type magnetic-sensor lever", and according to Nozomi Sato from Sanwa Denshi's sales department, this is the first time (here at Tokyo Game Show 2012) that they've ever shown off the prototype to anyone.
In fact, we were but only the second group of folks to approach the good people at Sanwa to find out more about the prototype lever – two hours prior to our visit, 4Gamer's reporters were there to check the joystick out. At the time we're putting this story online, 4Gamer's report on the prototype has yet to be published.
So unless there's a mistake somewhere, we might actually be the first in the world to report on the magentic-sensor prototype.
Oh, and in case you don't understand what in the world I'm talking about (since I'm really not a joystick expert by any means), here's a video to demonstrate.
Advantages of the magnetic-sensor lever
Kunio Saito, the engineer at Sanwa Denshi's technical department who created this prototype, said that it's several times more durable than existing levers; as the magnetic-sensor stick is not mechanical in nature, there is virtually zero wear-and-tear to worry about. "Infinite life cycle" were the words, in English, that sales rep Sato used.
Not only that, but the prototype lever allows for analog inputs by default. In that regard, you could say that although the magnetic-sensor lever's outward appearance might resemble that of a joystick, in terms of usability the prototype would essentially work like a bigger and sturdier version of the analog sticks found on our console controllers.
How much bigger? I wasn't able to measure the stick's "throw distance" (how far the lever can be pushed in one direction, from the neutral position), but a rough estimate would be about close to twice that of the Sanwa Denshi JLF lever that's equipped in nearly all of today's quality console fight sticks. Note, however, that a gate was not attached to the prototype; a square-bounding gate is usually attached to the JLF lever in fight sticks.
Saito said that the analog nature would be a good fit for games like Konami's Winning Eleven and Sega's Virtua Striker series of soccer games. Currently, Konami's Winning Eleven Arcade Championship cabinets are equipped with a standard joystick by default. However, the game also allows players to bring their own PS3 controllers and hook it up to the cabinet for analog controls, so there might be a market for this product.
But that's not all the magnetic-sensor stick would be good for. Though it may be analog in nature, Saito also said that it would be possible to implement digital-only controls for fighting games.
"In the computer programme, you can set 'trigger' values for the magnetic-sensor stick so that a directional input will only be detected when you push the lever to beyond a certain point," he explained in Japanese. "This acts as a virtual micro-switch, so the possibilities are there."
Sanwa Denshi has applied for a patent for the magnetic-sensor lever, and is currently awaiting for it to be granted. That said, currently Sanwa has no plans to develop this into an actual product that. Not at this point anyway.
Why make a prototype joystick lever if you don't have plans to deploy it as an actual product in the near future? When we posed that question to both representatives, they would only say that being a leading arcade parts manufacturer, Sanwa Denshi is often looking at new possibilities and challenging themselves from an engineering standpoint. So don't expect to see the magnetic-sensor lever released any time soon.
Speaking of prototypes to never come out as an actual product, we also checked with Sanwa on the status of the PS3 concept fight stick – called "Seiki" or "Hope" – showed off at last year's TGS. Again, there's been no progress on the development of Seiki, and no plans to turn it into an actual product. They simply decided to make it to show gamers, custom-stick modders, and manufacturers what might be possible.
Other sights at the Sanwa Denshi booth
Apart from the magnetic-sensor lever prototype, Sanwa also had on display a custom BlazBlue stick outfitted with lights, a clear ball-top, and clear buttons, as well as another concept prototype with rounded buttons that they said might be appealing for puzzle or music games (I'd love to play Pop'n Music with this controller; sadly, Konami no longer ports PnM games to consoles).
Stay tuned to SGCafe.com for more coverage from Tokyo Game Show 2012.
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