Thursday, August 21, 2008

Nostromo, Part I: Introduction

Alright, so following up on my idea from yesterday, I'm going to start a series of posts about the Nostromo (or Belkin SpeedPad n52), and today we're starting with an introduction: what it is, what it does, how it does it, and what you shouldn't do with it. This post is mostly for those of you who have heard lots of people talking about it, but still don't know what it is.

Let's Talk Hardware

So, this is what it looks like, here on the left (image courtesy of Google Images - mine is actually a different color). As you can see it has a keypad with 14-keys on it and a scroll wheel (that black thing where a 15th key would have been) where you can conveniently reach them with your fingers, and for the thumb we have a D-pad, a small round key above it, and a big "flat" key underneath. It also has 3 color LEDs just under the "flat" key, whose purpose will be explained later on.

When playing, you rest your palm on the big black surface (which can be adjusted between 2 states, depending on the size of your hand) and gives you easy access to all the Nostromo's keys. And, as you can see, it's intended to be used with the left hand. If you're one of those "freaks" who use the moust with their left hand, the Nostromo may not be right for you.

That's it. Nothing too complicated, not too many buttons (at least compared to a regular keyboard), and if that was what it's all about it wouldn't be worth wasting our time with...

The Software - Where All The Magic Happens

The real power of the Nostromo, is not just having keys where they're easily accessible, but rather that those keys can be mapped to do just about anything (for a given definition of anything). That's where the software comes in, letting you configure and tweak the Nostromo to your heart's content.

In the center of the screen you'll see a wireframe drawing of the Nostromo, surrounded by all the different keys and their mapping. For ease, whenever you mouse over one of the key mappings, the relevant key position in the wireframe lights up, and vice-versa.

And, if you look near the top there are 3 "colored" tabs, labelled "Map 1" through "Map 3". This gives you the ability to have 3 different sets of keymappings for every Nostromo configuration. That's where the 3 LEDs on the Nostromo come in - they show you which keymap you're currently using.

Clicking one of the button mappings opens up a menu letting you choose what to map the button to. The mappings you can select fall into several categories, each with its own uses:
  • Single key - Most of the buttons on the left part in the image above are mapped to single key presses on the keyboard. Basically, this is just like going into the interface menu in WoW and changing the key bindings.
  • Macro - Macros come in a lot of variations and can do just about anything with a single key press. They can press buttons, wait for delays, run several times or even indefinitely once started, you name it. However, when playing WoW using most of those features can get you banned. So as far as we're concerned, macros are just key combinations - you want to press Shift+5? That's the way to do it. Of course, being such complicated things, macros have their own editor where you can (relatively easily) manage them.
  • Keymap - These bindings give you the ability to switch between the different colored keymaps. You can cycle between them, switch to a specific one, or switch to one "momentarily" (only as long as the key is pressed).
  • Mouse Button - Pretty self-explanatory, isn't it?
  • Direct Input - Uhmm, yeah. I'm not sure I understand what those are, so I don't use them. If any of you know, feel free to put up a comment.
  • Clipboard/Windows/Media - Other features for switching windows, copy+pasting, starting and stopping playback, etc. Not very useful for WoW, but might be helpful for other stuff. Well, OK, maybe, if you have a spare keymap, using it to control the music playing in the background would be handy. Since I usually stick with WoW's music or no music at all that's irrelevant for me.
And that's it... You have a lot of keys, which are arranged in a pretty convenient way and you get to choose what each of them does (and they can do alot). That's what the Nostromo is all about.

Botting FTW

So, this thing is pretty impressive. I mean, if you consider macros with delays and stuff, you can set it up to Hunter's Mark, send in your pet, and fire off an Arcane Shot whenever it's off cooldown, with just 1 keypress. Who needs to be around the computer for a fight? Pressing one key per fight should be more than enough, no?

Well, NO. As we all know, Blizzard doesn't like botting (and for that matter, neither do most players who don't bot), and bans anyone they catch in the act. Using something like the Nostromo is fairly easy to catch, as when you're using programmatic delays they are always exactly the same delay, making it pretty obvious it's not a real person doing the pressing. In fact, this was one of my biggest worries before getting the Nostromo - won't the software running in the background be detected by the WoW launcher and get me banned?

The good news is that, no, it won't get you banned. As long as you follow the "spirit" of Blizzard's macro law - one physical key press for one in-game action. So as long as you only bind keys to a single keypress, or several buttons simultaneously (the macro recorder has the option to ignore delays in key presses, thus creating macros that are fine to use with WoW), you should be fine.

That's it for the introduction. In the next posts of this series I will tell you how I bind my keys, and then how they're mapped in-game for the different classes I play. If I remember, I'll even update this post with links to the next ones. *grin*

Posts in this series:

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