E3 '09: CompuExpert

We stopped by the CompuExpert booth to check out FragFx v2 by SplitFish. This is a PS3-only peripheral made distinctive mainly through its unique approach to ergonomic design. The FragFx splits the functions of the PS3 controller across two periphery, with an optical right hand mouse and left hand grip-style controller that makes their trademark lawyers cringe every time they encourage the nickname "FragChuck".

FragFx is aimed at simulating the ergonomics of PC-style gaming- that is, a mouse with two or three functions on it and a completely distinct handful of controls way over on the left hand. As someone who spends the lionís share of her gaming time on the PC (as well as being a left-hander), I can tell you that dedicated console players who sit down at my computer find this sort of control scheme utterly baffling- having your hands working on two distinct devices imparts by necessity a kind of ambidexterity less dire on the contained controller typical of game systems for the last 20 or so years. These controllers have changed over time only by increasing the number of buttons, triggers, and knobs that you can possibly cram onto a piece of plastic about 7x3x3" around. While there havenít been any class-action carpal tunnel lawsuits leveled at the console giants yet, it speaks to the decline in console design innovation in the past few decades that nobody has tried to do it a better way.

On the other hand, you'll be into SplitFish for $80 USD for one of these, so I expect only people that have a real dislike for the PS3 controller layout or who, like me, played Duke Nukem with a serial mouse and arrow keys when they should have been writing term papers and are looking to carry over their PC style of FPS play onto their Playstation 3.

I got to test out a FragFx in a few rounds of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, a franchise that I admittedly hadn't previously touched. I was immediately struck by the impact of the split controls on my ergonomics- I stayed upright in my chair and didn't feel the instinct to hunch over my controller (granted, I was at the time getting an outstanding butt massage from the Free Play game chair I was also testing), my shoulders didn't slump in to accommodate placing my center of gravity at my core, and neither of my wrists were flexed at all inward (the fatigue position that at best leaves you sore and at worst can strain muscles after hours). In short, I sat very naturally and didn't have to move any extremities- if the chair I was in had an armrest wide enough to hold the mouse pad, I could probably have comfortably played with both arms at full rest, which would have made me look like a female Dr. Evil or Stephen Hawking.

The "FragChuck" has a few other special features giving you some enhancements over the traditional controller- a "frag button" which effectively staggers down mouse controlled movements (to, for example, take pinpoint aiming on small/distant targets), and a game speed dial which works essentially but less ridiculously like the old NES Advantage controller with slo-mo and turbo (except this time you don't have to put a rubber band over the A button so you can go out for pizza while you buy 99 Heal potions in Final Fantasy). I didn't have much use for this feature (and find myself wondering how it works in multiplayer modes), but the aforementioned frag button seemed like it would be a nice sniper aid in the right situation.

Again, though, the style of movement felt nothing like a console controller, so FragFx is probably going to find its strongest devotees among moonlighting PC gamers or hardcore FPS players willing to learn a new system in the name of better performance. Only make a left-handed version of the grip, guys. Really, I'm used to this kind of design discrimination and I'd even consider paying extra.