ACT LABS helps unlock the key to peripherals and USB ports

ACT LABS helps unlock the key to peripherals
and USB ports

By Michael Lafferty

You are ready for the ride. Reclining
in your favorite chair, the trusty and reassuring grip of your favorite
controller tells you that it is time to put fear and worry behind you, that it
is time to rule the cyber universe.

It has been documented that the game
industry is one of the fastest growing segments of the entertainment world.
Sales continue to soar, but not just in software sales, but in hardware sales as
well. Computers are more powerful, and the game programmers and designers are
hard at work to create products that not only embrace the technology available,
but also take players further into their fantastic realms than ever before.

An intricate part of any game is the
controllers. Players must be comfortable with their choice of product, and it
must do everything that a player demands of it.

So, the subject is peripherals. And
when you want to know about them, and what those in that segment of the industry
are thinking about the present, and the future, then you get in touch with one
of the leading companies in the field, ACT LABS. Raymond Chow was kind enough to
take some time out of his busy schedule to talk about the industry.

Question (Ok, more of a leading
statement, but it is geared to generate a response):  From devices that send a
small electric shock to players to dance pads and "surf boards," the business of
peripheral support for computer games seems to be exploding.

Raymond: “The growth in the
video game peripheral business has been phenomenal

over the last few years. Never before has
there been such a wide selection of controllers in so many different categories.
These new categories of controllers are really allowing gamers a whole new level
of immersiveness and interaction.

“What makes video games so appealing
is the fact that they are interactive entertainment. Since it is the peripherals
that ultimately allow gamers to interact with any given gaming platform, it is
natural that the market for them grows as gamers seek deeper levels of
interaction with their favorite games.”

Q: Please explain what you think
every gamer should have for his or her machine?

Raymond: “Without doubt, every
gamer should have one each of the ACT LABS product

line. 🙂 Seriously, what each gamer
should have is going to depend on the type of games that he/she plays. The
basics are of course, a good keyboard, mouse, and mouse pad. In addition, a good
gaming set-up should include a game pad and joystick as these types of
controllers can be used with many different genres of games.

“A more serious gamer’s needs,
however, are going to be much more different. If one is looking to get the most
out of their games, he/she is going to have to invest in genre specific
controllers. A good example of this is the use of racing games/sims and steering
wheels. I still remember playing Test Drive 1 with my old AT keyboard on my 286.
The keyboard made this loud clicking noise whenever I tried to make fine turning
adjustments with the arrow keys. I didn’t even dream of trying to shift gears at
the same time.

“Today, gamers can have total driving
control in modern racing sims by using a force feedback steering wheel, shifter
and clutch. Any gamer serious about getting the most of their favorite racing
title should definitely invest in such hardware. As games get more advanced, I
really feel that there will be an increasing demand for such genre specific
controllers that provide a much more immersive experience than your standard
keyboard, mouse and game pad.”

Q: What should they look for when
purchasing a device?

Raymond: “It is important to
make sure that the peripheral is ergonomic (this will be different for each
user) and durable. More than most computer devices, gaming controllers need to
be very well built since they are ‘abused’ more than any other piece of computer
equipment. I am sure that every gamer has at some point ‘lost it’ and thrown
his/her controller across the room. :)”

Q: There was a time, not long ago,
when all devices used pin ports on the back of computers. Of course, to install
or uninstall required shutting down the machine. Now the industry has gravitated
to USB port connections. What are the advantages to USB?

Raymond: “There are many
advantages to the USB as far as gaming controllers go, including but not limited
to the ability to hot swap controllers and ease of installation and support for
multiple devices on the same root. Being a hard-core gamer myself, I have
several gaming controllers that are often hooked up simultaneously. I still
remember when I could only hook up one game pad to the game port as daisy
chaining more than one controller on the game port would mean the loss of some
buttons. This was bad for games like NHL that require many buttons. USB allows
many controllers to be hooked up and used simultaneously without any practical
degradation in functionality. The USB has allowed ACT LABS to make peripherals
that would not have been feasible with the game-port standard. By allowing
multiple gaming controllers, ACT LABS, for example, has been able to work with
game developers so as to allow the simultaneous use of a racing wheel, stick
shifter, and clutch pedal.

Q: Can you address the advantages,
disadvantages, or hazards of investing in a USB hub? Again, what should people
look for if investing in a hub?

Raymond: “If USB works the way
it was intended to (there are glitches), then I think it is a huge blessing to
the computer gaming world. I don’t really see any disadvantages or hazards in
investing in a USB hub. Given the proliferation of USB devices, it is inevitable
that computer users will need more than the 2 ports that are standard on most
computers. Personally, I do not really have a preference for one USB hub over
another as I think they are pretty much homogenous products. The one thing I
would look for is to make sure the hub is a self powered unit.”

Q: What’s new for ACT LABS? How
does the new products enhance the playing experience?

Raymond: “ACT LABS has several
new products in the works. The most exciting of

these include our new line, ACT LABS
ProLine, a new line of high-end controllers that are designed with the serious
gamer in mind. The first two products in this line include the ACT LABS USB
Universal Shifter and the ACT LABS Performance Pedals (with clutch). Up until
now, only ACT LABS Force RS owners had the luxury of free shifting. With the
introduction of our new ACT LABS USB Shifter and USB Performance Pedals, gamers
have the ability to experience racing sims with a whole new level of realism.
Nothing beats the exhilaration of dropping a clutch to spin the tires of
dropping from 5th to 2nd, into a hard turn.”

Q: Relationships with game
designers must be symbiotic, with each group feeding off the other. It must also
mean keeping a close eye on what is out there, and what is being developed. Can
you elaborate on the working relationship between a company like ACT LABS and
game designers?

Raymond: “Product development
and game developer relationships are headed by our

Vice President of Development, Brandon
Crick. The working relationships between our development team and game
developers are vital to the introduction of new features in video games and
controllers. It is great to see cooperation on this front because the end result
benefits everyone. For example, ACT LABS was the first to pioneer free shifting
in driving games.

Without the support of game developers,
however, this would have been near impossible. The end result is a better gaming
experience (through better gear shifting), a more interactive, intuitive and
realistic controller and a more immersive gaming experience for the end user.”

Q: Can you explain the creative
process in coming up with a new peripheral device? What kind of mad, warped mind
conceives of devices like, say, a Force RS Wheel?

Raymond: “We get new product
ideas from everywhere. Many of our products, in fact are in response to user
demand. After initial concept, we all look at the idea. It helps that everyone

ACT LABS is a gamer as it allows us to
really understand what other gamers want and need. Also, we are the perfect size
where we can still listen to our customers and execute in a timely manner.”

Q: How about a little background
information while we are at it (how you got into the industry, what games you
like to play)?

Raymond: “Like all my
co-workers, I love all sorts of video games. I have spent more time on Starcraft
than probably all games combined. I have a Protoss Zealot cardboard figure in
the glass of my office and play with other guys at the office all the time. In
fact, it is common for us to stick around late after work for a few hours.
Lately, I have been playing Jimmy and Grant 2 on 1. 🙂 They are kind of newbies.
I can’t believe it myself, but I have over 1,500 games logged on

“Other games at the top of my play
list include GT3, Rally Championship, F1 Racing Championship, Diablo 2
Expansion, Quake 3, UT and Deus Ex. Working at a video game company really
provides me with the opportunity to try all sorts of games. Brandon, it seems,
plays a new video game every week. Like clockwork, he will come into my office
with a big smile on his face and say, ‘Ray, do you have a sec? You have to come
check this out…’

“Even our VP of Operations, Norman,
plays Diablo 2 with me online. I love that fact that we are all so passionate
about games. I really think it is this love that makes our team so special and

“How did I get into the games
industry? That’s always an interesting question. I spent seven years in
university to get two Bachelors degrees in business and economics. I worked in a
bank for five years before working at a computer company for a year where I
really rekindled my love for computers and video games. It is kind of funny
because when I first started my first computer job, I didn’t know what minimize
and maximize meant. I then applied at ACT LABS for a sales position, but ended
up taking a job in tech support because that is all there was at the time.
Shortly after, I moved into sales and then marketing too. I’ve never looked back
because ACT LABS is such a great place to work. I still cannot believe I get
paid to work with video games!”