Monday, July 28, 2008

Nostromo First Impressions

I've been seeing the Nostromo mentioned in a lot of places, usually with good "reviews", so I decided to get one and see what it was all about. I went down to my neighborhood electronics shop (a mere 10-floors of anything you could ever think of), and after getting a little lost I finally had my hands on one of them.

The Setup

Of course, I first spent half the night configuring the thing instead of actually using it, but that's part of the fun, isn't it? For now, I started with a fairly simple configuration to try out with Enara:
  • D-pad remains mostly untouched, except for changing the right/left mappings to 'E'/'Q' for strafing. I still haven't quite decided if I prefer it as strafe or turn, so for now I have one map for each...
  • "Jump" button stayed the jump button.
  • The small round thumb button was mapped to 'R' (my auto-run binding).
  • Scroll wheel switches between the different mappings (red/green/blue) - I already have a scroll wheel on my mouse, I don't need another one to do exactly the same thing.
  • The button directly above the scroll wheel was mapped to Ctrl+Shift+'2', which I bound in WoW to my (hidden) bottom right action bar where I put Shoot.
  • The button above that is mapped to Tab - yes, I use tab-targetting most of the time, sue me.
  • Finally, that left me with 12 buttons - conveniently the same as the number of buttons on the action bar. The middle row is mapped to the '1'-'4' keys, since that's where my fingers usually are. Top row gets '5'-'8' and bottom row '9'-'='. Then I moved stuff around the action bar to find something that suits me. In Enara's case, I finally settled on a scheme that I hope I can remember: Top row for Frost spells, Middle for Fire, Bottom for Arcane. Then, index finger for "main damage spell", big finger for AoE, ring finger for CC and little finger for "utility".
  • For Fire spells that gives us (from index finger to little finger) Pyroblast/Fireball macro, followed by Flamestrike, an empty button*, and finally Fire Blast.
  • For Frost spells we have Frostbolt, Blizzard, Frost Nova and an empty spot (will probably put Cone of Cold there when I get it).
  • For Arcane it's Arcane Missiles, Arcane Explosion (will probably be replaced by a macro that casts Rank 1 when not in combat soonish), Polymorph and Blink.
The Good

After a whole night of playing around with it and trying to get used to it, I liked it quite a bit. Of course, I still get my buttons confused occasionally, but that's to be expected - I assume I'll get over that with time. Other than that, not too many good things to say about it. That's not a complaint, mind you - it does what it's supposed to and it does it well.

The Bad

Maybe it's just my physical environment, but the way my hand rests on the Nostromo, using the D-pad and "Jump" button is a little awkward. My thumb's "natural" position is around the NW D-pad, so I have to change my hand position to get to the East, South or Jump buttons. For the directional buttons it's not such a big problem - when I want to move right I push the D-pad from the left, causing it to "press" the right button, and same trick for when I need to back-up. Jumping is still a bit of a problem, though. Good thing I don't jump that much. :)

Another thing that bothers me (though this is very likely just a lack of familiarity with exactly what I can do and how) is that I can't figure out a way to use modifiers in macros. For example, my Pyro/Fireball macro is set-up to override the Pyroblast when a modifier key is pressed (Alt, as the case may be), but I don't have a spare button for the modifier key and it pretty much defeats the purpose if I have to press it on my keyboard. I'm gonna try to work something out with the "momentary" map changes - we'll see how that works.

The Ugly

First, I need somewhere to put the Nostromo when I'm not using it. My "environment" is set-up kind of weird, with me sitting on the floor next to my laptop and the mouse and the Nostromo are on either side of that (or on a low table I have near my left hand where I can put the Nostromo). But once I leave home and take my laptop with me, that leaves the Nostromo on the floor in the middle of the room, which I really don't like.

Second, and probably another thing that stems from only getting it yesterday, it seemed to me that in order to get a button combination (Ctrl+Shift+'2', for example) I have to make a macro for it. That macro sends both the button presses and releases when you press the Nostromo button, instead of the "usual" way that single buttons work.

What The Future Holds

As a geek, you give me something that can be messed around with and configured, I'll most probably be my settings for a long time...

First order of business is taking care of the macro modifier problem. I'll probably end up with a key map that casts all the action bar items with a modifier, and map something to temporarily switch to that map. I'm not sure yet if that temporary means as long as the button is pressed or that it switches maps for one button press. The first option would seem to make more sense, except that I plan on putting that functionality on the scroll wheel where it wouldn't really work. I guess I'll just have to check and see what it does...

I'm also considering remapping all the buttons to a different action bar that I don't use - the Left side bar, for example. That would have the advantage of not making me move stuff around on my main action bar, which is good in case I want to use the keyboard. However, that'll be a real problem for my Warriors/Druids/Rogues, where the main action bar changes according to "stance" but the other bars don't. I could change the Nostromo's mappings to fit the current locations of spells on my action bar, but then I'd have to remap them for every alt separately and I really don't want to do that.

And speaking of Warriors/Druids/Rogues (and, to a lesser extent, Paladin auras and Hunter aspects), where do I map buttons to switch "stances"? On the action bar? That'll work, but will be a terrible waste. A related problem, though not exactly the same is Hunter/Warlock pets. My current thinking is to use the 3rd mapping for all these commands, with another "temporary" mapping switch.

Whatever I decide, I'm sure I'll get a lot of fun out of simply customizing my settings for this thing, so it's all good. :)

Bottom Line

I guess it's pretty obvious I rather liked the Nostromo. Like anything in life, however, it costs money. While I have no problem shelling out money for whatever catches my eye at the moment**, I've heard that some people actually have to think before spending money. While the Nostromo definitely seems to be a welcome addition to my WoW experience, I don't know if I'd have bought it back in the days when I was a poor student in University...

* OK, so that's a lie. For now, I use that button as a plain Fireball for cases where I don't want to Pyroblast, but that's temporary. In the future, I'll probably put Scorch in there.

** I once bought an HDTV "on a whim" while walking through an electronics store and seeing a TV I liked. I wasn't planning on getting a TV. In fact, I wasn't planning on buying anything - I was only there with a friend of mine who wanted to buy some USB/PS-2 adapters...


Hulan said...

I'd be interested to know how you get on with this. I've been toying with the idea of getting one of these for a long time.

Tal said...

Well, I'm sure I'll post more about it as I improve the setup and the usage. It just might take a while, is all.