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CH Products Force FX
by Leonard Hjalmarson

In 1997 CH released the first force feedback joystick to the market. The benefit of force feedback is two fold: first, in suspension of disbelief, the feeling of "being there." Second, for the increased situational awareness. If you are diving too fast in your Spitfire, you'll know it by the rapidly increasing buffet. If your M1 Abrams takes a hit, you'll feel it. Other effects can be added, including inertial effects.


Install is relatively painless, unless you have a network card. I don't, but I had to do some fiddling with IRQs in my bios in order to get COM2 configured so the stick could find it. The stick really wants to use COM1. WITH a network card this might be more complex.

The stick has three connections: a serial connector, a joystick connector, and a power connector. Yep, thats right! It comes with its own power source to plug in to an AC outlet, with a small plug that goes to the stick. The stick is large by any standard: the base is roughly nine inches square and three tall. The handle itself is much like the Combatstick, with two hats, five buttons and the trigger. Trim pots reside alongside both axes and are easily set for center.

Software is compressed onto one diskette and install is painless. Once installed you go directly to the test screen which has four "lights" that should light up as soon as the stick reports its life to your COM port. Remember that you must be gripping the stick in order for the motors to activate.

Red Baron II 3d
RBII 3d. Click for larger image.


The setup for the Force F/X in Fighter Duel has four tabs: General, Environment, Weapon, and Damage. The program has a default setting, so all the settings have already been made for the player, who is free to alter any settings. There is also a DEFAULT button in case you don't like the changes you make.

Under the general tab one chooses the com port and IRQ. One can then adjust settings in each of the other areas, including frequency and intensity of vibration and/or resistance for the other areas.

For example, under the Environment tab one can toggle Engine vibration on/off. One may then select the magnitude of the effect for Full engine power and for Idle using two sliders. The magnitude for each varies from 0 to 50 Hz. The other menu under this tab is for Aerodynamic Effects. Buffet is toggled on/off. Airflow induced control resistance is also toggled on off, and if one may be set with a slider from 0 to 100.

Under the Weapon tab, Machine gun effects may be toggled on/off, and then the max force to the stick set by a slider from 0 to 100%. The repeat rate and duration may also be set individually, from 0 to 2500 ms. Canon effects may be toggled on/off, and again force to the stick, repeat rate and duration may be set individually.

The fourth tab is for Damage. Enable buffet from explosion may be toggled on/off, and then magnitude set from 0 to 100. Buffet from impact is similarly set, and then buffet when taking hits.

Click to continue . . .


FD 2.0. Click for 640x480.

Wow! If this hasn't got you drooling, check to see if your heart is still beating. Not only will we hear the "thup-thup" of the Vickers gun, we will feel it. And when the engine is suddenly coughing and burping, we will feel that too! As I have been testing the stick in Fighter Duel, I have begun to rely on my hand to tell me what my engine is doing.

Yes, I can still hear the engine drone, but feeling the engine vibration increase in frequency is another matter. Buffet and stall effects transmitted through the wrist are infinitely better than the mild shake of the aircraft or the pause of an accelerated stall. And you will no longer wonder if you are taking hits... your stick will tell you! The sense of "being there" is even better than with a VR headset.

JOLT, etc.

Even games that do not directly support the stick can be used with effects. A program called JOLT.EXE allows you to program pulses of varying magnitudes, directions, and repeat rates to buttons 1 thru 4. In addition to programming buttons to jolt or "recoil", you can add resistance of a specified magnitude to the X and Y axis of the stick (and you thought Thrustmaster's FCS PRO was tough!).

Note, however, that this stick is only programmable when used with the a stick like the CH Pro Throttle or SUNCOM SFS. So if your present setup is TM gear, you will have to spring for a new throttle also to take advantage of programmability. As I completed my initial testing WITHOUT the Pro Throttle, I found myself greatly missing the ability to customize the hats and switches. Of course, you won't need a lot of commands with a sim like Flying Corps or Red Baron II, but for other coming sims the situation will be more complex.

Are there other drawbacks? Well, the stick has a slight buzz due to plastic parts vibrating with the engine frequency feedback. A metal stick was in the works earlier, but CH decided that the weight was prohibitive. Even as is the stick weighs about as much as the TM F22 Pro.

What sims will take advantage of the full range of force effects? Red Baron II, Fighter Duel 1.1 and 2, Flying Nightmares II, Sabre Ace, Comanche 3 and Armored Fist II, Spearhead, Fighter Squadron and more. The list gets much longer when you add space combat sims. This will be the year for feedback!


Interested in learning how to program Force feedback? You can download the SDK which includes a DOS simulator program for PCs that allows you to develop and test force feedback programs even if you do not have an I-FORCE force feedback joystick.

The simulator program is called IMMSIM.EXE and runs on any PC with a serial port. The simulator PC acts like the joystick and graphically displays all incoming joystick commands, all active force effects, and joystick status bytes. Once you develop your force feedback program with the simulator, you can simply unplug your serial cable from the simulator PC and plug it into a force feedback joystick. If your game worked with the simulator, it will work the joystick!

Hard to do? Interplay wrote the interface for Descent in half a day! Need more info? Go to..



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Last Updated August 30th, 1997

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