Nowadays, you’re generally out of luck if you’re not a fan of the clicky sound of a modern arcade joystick. That wasn’t always the case, with joysticks like the HAPP Perfect 360 and Sanwa Flash providing silent gaming. Both achieved this by foregoing traditional microswitches for infrared technology, allowing for uniquely quiet play.
These sticks were not without their flaws. Many people couldn’t cope with the fact that the HAPP 360 required you to play without a gate — something that years of playing on a Sanwa JLF or Seimitsu LS-32 made very difficult. On top of this, installation of these sticks required you to do additional modding work besides dropping them into a stick and plugging in the standard jumper that most sticks can use. The Perfect 360 and Flash needed you to supply a 5 volt current to the lever, requiring soldering on almost all commercial sticks. If your joystick circuit board was powered by less voltage, you were forced to use a battery pack — and hope it doesn’t run out of juice in your grand finals match.
With the joystick renaissance that was sparked by MadCatz in 2009 relying on Sanwa JLFs as their stick du jour, optical sticks were relegated to a niche market. Sanwa ultimately abandoned the Flash, and originals were fetching a high premium when found for sale. While Marcus “Toodles” Post created a replacement model of the Flash, it saw a limited run and was available only in kit form, which would require you to also sacrifice a Sanwa JLF to install. For the longest time, people in the market for an alternative were left paying exorbitant prices on either the Flash or the Toodles’ alternative when they could be found.
Those people — as well as people who may not have ever even considered such a thing — may finally see their search come to an end. Bryan Armitage of Paradise Arcade Shop has been long working on an arcade stick that has long been named Project Magenta. It has been a whisper within the Shoryuken.com Tech Talk forums since 2013, and at Evo 2017, it entered the mainstream market with a roar as Armitage arrived with a full production model available for preview at the event.
As a tech aficionado, I couldn’t miss this. I’m always on the search for the perfect joystick. I have played on JLFs, Seimitsus, Myoungshin Fantas, as well as the Crown equivalents in the CWJ-303 and CWJ-309. While I can appreciate every one of them, I always found something lacking about each of them. Even Armitage himself had hyped this joystick up to me at Evo 2016, without letting me actually see the product yet. I was excited, needless to say, but apprehensive that this joystick would live up to the hype.
Did it? Yes, and then some.
To optical or not to optical
First off, let’s start with some of the nitty-gritty technical details of this product. This stick is similar to the optical predecessors in that it does not use microswitches. However, this is where the similarities between the Flash or the P360 end. Whereas these two sticks read inputs from infrared sensors, the Magenta uses Hall Effect technology to determine the sticks location.
Hall Effect technology relies on sensors on the PCB for the Magenta and a shortened JLF shaft with a magnet mounted to the bottom. The relationship of the shaft mounted magnet to the circuit board sensors allows for the Magenta to tell exactly where your stick it is all the time. We’re not just talking a general cardinal or intermediate direction, we’re talking down to degrees as precise as radians on a unit circle. This makes the stick itself fully analog, and quite possibly more accurate than any potentiometer on any Dual Shock or Xbox analog stick.
With these analog inputs, the stick uses a built-in microprocessor to translate all of this into digital cardinal inputs. Thus making it at the onset analog, but ultimately the stick itself operates just like any other stick you were to throw into your stick case. Well, almost, because there is so much more to this stick that any other production model simply cannot do.
The kitchen sink has been thrown in
One of the things I heard a lot when I mentioned opticals to people on the Evo floor was that people weren’t interested for one reason alone: the lack of a gate, a perceived misconception that was left over from the P360 that carried over to the Sanwa Flash. When I transferred from a Seimitsu LS-32 to a Myoungshin Fanta in 2010, I found out first-hand how relatable that complaint was. Having played some Rufus in Street Fighter IV, the ability to find diagonals on a circular or gateless stick took a lot of practice — more than some people are willing to put in.
This concern was something rightfully observed by Armitage, as the Magenta comes with the standard square gate (octagon and circle gates will likely be released in the future). This makes the Magenta feel very similar to your current stick — albeit with the lack of clicky microswitches. But given that the biggest concern has always been finding the gate to find your diagonals, this should assuage some of the biggest detractors of optical sticks. It is also worth noting that the Magenta allows you to have microswitches on the casing as well, so that you can feel them click without actually doing anything — an aesthetic element of the stick that allows you to work with a feel you’re accustomed to before removing them if you ever decide to.
Because it doesn’t rely simply on basic infrared technology and can tell exactly where your shaft is at all time, the Magenta is more customizable than any stick you have ever owned. You can now adjust the sensitivity of the cardinal and diagonals on the stick, giving yourself more or less neutral zone. Not only can you do this in general, you can switch to an advanced mode to adjust each cardinal and diagonal independently. Say you miss certain inputs on left side more than right. You can now adjust your joystick to compensate for this by making the dead zone on the left side smaller than the right side.
You can also make cardinal directions have more area for actuation than diagonals, or vice versa. Given my Rufus in Street Fighter IV example, if you were to routinely miss divekicks, you could make up for this by making the activation space for diagonals bigger than cardinals, and you could even make that specific for diagonals that involve down inputs. On the other hand, if you were to play Chun-Li in any game and miss her head stomp combos frequently, you could make the activation space for down inputs wider than down-forward or down-back, thus assuring you’re going to get her headstomp every time you need it.
Another interesting customization that you can do is to rotate the exact direction of the cardinals and diagonals a few degrees. This allows you to compensate for mounting errors or if you tend to pivot the stick in your lap.
All of this is amplified by the fact that you can store four profiles on the stick with various configurations. The sky is the limit with this, and could be useful to literally anyone. If a character specialist has execution perfection one day and flaws the next, he could tailor a profile to fit his off days and have no issues with his execution no matter what. Another useful application is players who want their stick tailored to different characters or even games, so that their execution remains flawless in all games. All of this is facilitated by a button press on the stick itself. Players who use MadCatz TE2s or Razer Pantheras can simply pop open their case, press the button, and change their profile.
What about players that don’t have easy access to the insides of their stick? Paradise has thought of that too, and included a header to wire a button to, meaning you can wire the Magenta either to an existing button, or drill a hole somewhere on your stick to facilitate a new button for switching profiles.
The stress test
On paper, this sounds very good. What about in practice? I put it to the test at Evo, where Bryan sat me down with my game of choice — Super Street Fighter II Turbo. On Japanese sticks, I have often had issues with my main — O.Chun — in having conflicting inputs when attempting to do kara fireball (standing roundhouse closely followed by finishing her fireball motion) and have had issues of getting Spinning Bird Kick instead. I’ve also had issues of accidental air Spinning Bird Kicks, something that is useless with the character.
With the assistance of profiles to mitigate the odds of these accidental inputs happening, I can safely state that my inputs were the freshest I’ve ever had. I also used Deejay, and where I would often have inputs overlap between Sobat and Upkicks, I had none of that. But now for the ultimate test: motion characters.
I am a motion character scrub in ST. I always have been. I have a reasonably competent O.Ryu, but beyond that, you don’t want to see me manning a motion character. So I gave N.Ryu a shot. With the switch of a profile, I was getting what I wanted deliberately, including Super, which has long been the bane of my existence with the character.
I have often said that Korean sticks were the best for me getting the inputs I wanted. I still had issues with various inputs, even on the sticks I loved and swore were my weapon of choice. This stick has trumped all levers I have used and provided a precision to my inputs that — outside of a Hitbox — I thought were impossible. Whereas I would often drop many inputs over the course of a session, in the hour that I handled the Magenta, I experienced no drops.
This is far and away the best stick I’ve ever used, and I am already scheming to replace the LS-32s in my Madcatz SE sticks with the Magenta.
Cons—can there be cons?
Yes, I’ve spoke highly of this stick, but to be objective, there has to be something about this stick to talk about here.
Firstly, just like the Flash and the P360, this is a powered stick. This requires additional finagling to get to work on your joystick, as it will require a 5 volt power source. The positive nowadays is most circuit boards — particularly aftermarket ones like the Brook boards or Toodles’ Cthulhu and ChImp boards — have screw terminals that go to voltage, allowing you to merely run a wire from the Magenta to that screw terminal and be done with it. Another positive is that unlike the old era of consoles, all USB sticks run at 5 volts natively. If you are throwing this into a current generation stick, you will be able to use the Magenta no matter what. If you are trying to throw this into a PlayStation 2 stick, you’re going to need some technical prowess to make it happen.
Another thing to consider is the price point. The stick will release with a price of $100. Not everyone is going to want to pay that much for one lever when a JLF is $23 everywhere under the sun. However, given the amount of features available on the Magenta, as well as the level of customization available, I feel like this a fair market price for what you are getting.
If this information has whet your appetite, and you are like me and throwing your wallet at the screen right now, you have a little bit of time to wait. While there were 10 models of this stick available at Evo, they were all snatched up very quickly. These were completed with 3D printed casing, and the production models are being molded and made as we speak.
Bryan Armitage pointed to a September release, at the above cost of $100. You will get a selection of springs with the stick — so if you want the tension to mirror a JLF, that is possible. If you want it to mirror an LS-32, that is also possible. If you have brute force strength and want it to mirror a iL Competition, you can do that as well. The stick will come fully built, and all you will have to do is install it into your stick, and follow the directions given on how to use it. There will also be Link shafts available so that you can detach the top part of the shaft, much like what a lot of people currently do with their JLFs and LS-32s now.
These sticks will only be available at Paradise Arcade Shop, so be on the look out when this stick hits the market.