Summary: It's time for a revolution in mouse control! Well, not really, but the Sandio 6DOF 3D gaming mouse does some cool things. Jakub explains.
To attain the capability of giving a user full 3D controls, the mouse has three “3D Buttons” attached to it, which work rather like hat keys on joysticks. They’re essentially only four-directional though they do appear like analog thumbsticks more than anything. The only true full demo of the mouse’s capabilities is provided by an included test utility which has the user manipulate a cube in empty space. By pressing the left and right 3D buttons in opposite directions, it’s possible to cause the cube in the test demo to rotate. The top 3D button moves it away and towards the user, as well as side to side. It’s possible to rotate the cube and move it in a direction, and create angled movement (though it’s strictly limited to 45 degree angles due to the 4-way nature of the buttons).
In games the mouse has its ambitions curtailed somewhat. It’s possible to replicate map and movement controls, for example, which can free up the left hand entirely. In games like Civilization IV this is rather simple to do, but even in Rome: Total War the mouse is capable of taking full control of that game’s elaborate camera. This takes some getting used to and in our time with the mouse we didn’t ever replace the keyboard, though if we applied ourselves it’s not hard to imagine being keyboard independent for at least camera movements. The problem is that there’s little to do with the left hand other than select unit groups or give stance orders. We’re sure that if a game was developed with the mouse in mind, more functionality could be naturally transferred over, but at the moment we know of no such title. One can easily imagine the utility in a game like EVE, however.
However, the mouse does have other benefits. Much like programmable joysticks with the aforementioned hat switches, the Sandio Game O’ mouse can have its 3D Buttons programmed with key presses. There are no macros, unfortunately, but the mouse can replicate shift, ctrl, and alt-key combinations. All in all, the three buttons give up to 12 commands, which can make life easier in a first-person shooter, RTS game, or even an MMO like World of WarCraft. Ultimately, the mouse can take over strafing, weapon switching, weapon modes, score menus and all sorts of controls normally reserved for a keyboard.
Build is a bit of a question mark as well. The plastic used for mice rarely screams of quality, but the Sandio mouse seems a bit lower on the scale than usual. Perhaps it’s merely the bright red laminate paint, but its slickness and smoothness make it easy to sweat up a hand and begin to have grip issues. There is no softness to the feel, unlike the Razer copperhead, nor the more traditional slight pitting for improved grip. The primary mouse buttons work without a trouble, but they also feel a bit loose.
The mouse has some build advantages, however. On the performance side, the ability to scale from 400 to 2000 dpi is a nice feature for all sorts of players and even in the regular desktop environment. Also, the teflon pads that serve as mouse feet are quite thick and large. The rear pad is especially beefy, where the hand rests.
Since the 3D Buttons are really more hat switches than analog sticks, changing the design of the stick to a four-way switch with four clear directions may make the mouse easier to work for a new user. The typical four prongs from a traditional joystick would be ideal. That way, when trying to manipulate the controls, the operator will know precisely what he’s doing, rather than feeling his way to where “down” and “ahead” are.
Sandio has developed an interesting product and is taking a bold step in putting it to market, but at the moment there is nothing out there expressly designed to take advantage of it. The extra key presses are a great feature for many games, but it would take developer support to see the camera and control functions integrated properly. The best possibilities are of course a game like EVE, as mentioned before, and perhaps 3D modeling/CAD programs. Quick and easy manipulation of the object ahead of you is likely highly desireable in the art/design industry and Sandio may have more luck getting support there at first.