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OSCAR Controls Vortex Spinner

I have to admit something right up front: Tempest is probably my favorite arcade game to date, and a big reason that I got involved in this hobby in the first place was to be able to play Tempest in a more arcade-like setting. So obviously, when OSCAR Controls announced the Vortex spinner - a clone of the original Tempest spinner - I was interested. Very interested.

Before my Vortex spinner even arrived, I knew that my affinity for Tempest had the possibility to skew my reactions to and perceptions of the spinner in a couple of different ways: On one hand, I knew it was possible that I would be so happy that someone actually released a clone of the Tempest spinner (with a replica Tempest knob even) that I'd love it no matter what. But on the other hand (and this actually turned out to be even more true), because I'm such a huge fan of Tempest, I knew that this spinner damn well had to perform well if I was going to like it. In other words, I had a pretty high standard that the Vortex needed to hit. My thought was "If you're going to claim to have duplicated not only the specs and dimensions of the original Tempest spinner, but the weight and feel of the original Tempest spinner as well, you had best carry through on those claims."

So I guess you could say I had pre-existing biases on both of the opposite ends of the spectrum: I was excited about the Vortex's potential, but skeptical about its performance. Hey, they say that acknowledging your biases is the first step toward overcoming them, right? :)

The Package

I emailed OSCAR Controls on a Saturday getting details and such, and my Vortex arrived the very next Wednesday - four days later (of course, with the replica Tempest knob).

 

It was packaged very nicely and firmly in multiple layers of bubble wrap, with paper padding to fill up any extra spaces in the box. The package consisted of the Vortex unit (with the knob attached) and the receptacle connector needed to wire it up. You still need a way to interface it to your PC though. OSCAR Controls' page gives brief instructions for connecting the spinner to an Ultimarc Opti-PAC or a Hagstrom ME4. I opted to hook it up via the OSCAR Controls USB Mouse Interface Kit, which worked very nicely. Windows XP recognized it immediately as a "USB Human Interface Device" (which I guess is the fancy way to say "USB mouse") and loaded it up the instant I plugged it in.

The Setup

I whipped together a quick little "testing table" to put the Vortex through its paces. Following the installation instructions on OSCAR Controls' Vortex page, I had the spinner mounted in a matter of minutes: take off the knob, drill out a 5/8" - 1 1/8" hole for the shaft to poke through, mount the spinner from the bottom of the control panel, re-attach the knob, and you're rockin'. I thought it was kind of unusual for the instructions to call for a 5/8" - 1 1/8" hole just for the shaft, but there's a c-clip on the shaft on the top side of the frame (visible if the spinner knob is off) that would rub up against the bottom of the control panel otherwise.

 

My testing was done on an Athlon 1.3GHz running Windows XP Professional with MAME32 v0.71.

The Games

Of course, the first thing that I fired up was good old Tempest. At first there was a horrendous amount of skip and backspin. Then I remembered that I had previously futzed with MAME's Analog Controls "Speed" and "Sensitivity" settings a lot in order to get Tempest to play nice with my Twisty-Grip mouse hack spinner. OSCAR Controls' Vortex Page claimed that "little to no adjustments to the MAME settings are required for perfect gameplay", so I reset everything back to MAME's defaults for Tempest (which are Speed=20, Sensitivity=25%), and everything was perfect. Hey, whaddya know, those instructions are actually there for a purpose!

Arkanoid ran pretty good with MAME's default settings (Speed=15, Sensitivity=30%), but tapping the Sensitivity up to 40% made movement a bit quicker. Pole Position handled beautifully under MAME's default analog settings of Speed=50 Sensitivity=100%.

The Feel

Nice. Very nice. The mass and weight of the Vortex spinner gives it a good amount of momentum, but it's still "light" enough to the touch that you can use your fingertips to change direction quickly. Nailing the Flippers after they've reached the edge in Tempest was no problem. :)

In a word, the Vortex is a beautiful balance. You can get it spinning quickly without having to crank on it, but it never feels like it's out of your control. "Feel" is one of those things that's kinda hard to put into words, but the Vortex really is an excellent blend of "oomph" and finesse...weight and lightness...speed and control. Too much of any of these properties would be a bad thing, but like I said, the Vortex has a great balance of all of these properties. The Tempest replica knob is grooved, so it has a good grip to it without feeling like it's sanding the whorls off of your fingerprints.

The Conclusion

I absolutely love it. Great feel, great action, and great response. And since it's a part-for-part replica of a genuine Tempest spinner, it's full-out arcade feel and quality. This is the real deal. If you're gonna go through the trouble of putting together arcade controls to play games on, get the appropriate spinner.

This is the appropriate spinner.

 

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