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Wico Trackball Question (Slow Movement)


Skippy B. Coyote
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After reading a number of reviews on trackball controllers for the Atari 2600 it seemed as if the Wico brand trackball was the best one available for the system, so I bit the bullet and dropped a fairly large chunk of cash to buy one brand new in box. I was aware that it would only function in joystick mode but since Atari never released any trackball mode games for their in house brand trackball on the 2600 I wasn't too concerned about that, I was just hoping to get more precise control and a more arcade-like experience when playing Centipede, Millipede, Missile Command, Crystal Castles, and Reactor.

 

I received my new Wico trackball in the mail today, and though it was indeed brand new I got quite a surprise when I went to play some games with it. What I found is that in every game I tested it with (all the ones listed above) the character or cursor movement would always be vastly slower than the movement speed with a regular old joystick; and much less precise. At first I thought it might have been a problem with the rollers and bearings, so I opened it up to check for rust or corrosion on the rollers and bearings. What I found was that everything inside the controller was spotlessly clean and the rollers spun freely and smoothly without any hiccups, so I have to wonder if there is nothing wrong with my trackball and if the incredibly slow movement (to the point that I have to spin the trackball so hard that it feels like my elbow is going to dislocate to get even 3/4 of the speed I get out of joystick) is just a flaw in the Wico trackball design.

 

Has anyone else experienced very slow movement with the Wico trackball? And if so, are the Atari CX-22/CX-80 or Accuball trackballs any better? I understand that you'll never get true trackball precision like you would in the arcade with a trackball in joystick mode on the 2600, but I was hoping to at least get a level of speed and precision somewhat comparable to what you get from using a joystick; and be able to play the aforementioned games with the type of controller that they were originally intended to be played with in the arcade. With this Wico trackball the games are almost unplayable! My usual scores in Centipede with a CX40 joystick tend to float around 120,000 or so, but this Wico trackball is just so slow and imprecise that I can't even top 17,000 with it! Is this normal?

Edited by Jin
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After reading a number of reviews on trackball controllers for the Atari 2600 it seemed as if the Wico brand trackball was the best one available for the system, so I bit the bullet and dropped a fairly large chunk of cash to buy one brand new in box. I was aware that it would only function in joystick mode but since Atari never released any trackball mode games for their in house brand trackball on the 2600 I wasn't too concerned about that, I was just hoping to get more precise control and a more arcade-like experience when playing Centipede, Millipede, Missile Command, Crystal Castles, and Reactor.

 

I received my new Wico trackball in the mail today, and though it was indeed brand new I got quite a surprise when I went to play some games with it. What I found is that in every game I tested it with (all the ones listed above) the character or cursor movement would always be vastly slower than the movement speed with a regular old joystick; and much less precise. At first I thought it might have been a problem with the rollers and bearings, so I opened it up to check for rust or corrosion on the rollers and bearings. What I found was that everything inside the controller was spotlessly clean and the rollers spun freely and smoothly without any hiccups, so I have to wonder if there is nothing wrong with my trackball and if the incredibly slow movement (to the point that I have to spin the trackball so hard that it feels like my elbow is going to dislocate to get even 3/4 of the speed I get out of joystick) is just a flaw in the Wico trackball design.

 

Has anyone else experienced very slow movement with the Wico trackball? And if so, are the Atari CX-22/CX-80 or Accuball trackballs any better? I understand that you'll never get true trackball precision like you would in the arcade with a trackball in joystick mode on the 2600, but I was hoping to at least get a level of speed and precision somewhat comparable to what you get from using a joystick; and be able to play the aforementioned games with the type of controller that they were originally intended to be played with in the arcade. With this Wico trackball the games are almost unplayable! My usual scores in Centipede with a CX40 joystick tend to float around 120,000 or so, but this Wico trackball is just so slow and imprecise that I can't even top 17,000 with it! Is this normal?

 

I gotta tell you, this post brings up a painful memory from back in the '80s. I bought a WICO trackball, way back then (mostly because I couldn't find any place that had the Atari CX-22 locally). When I got it, it had the same problem you describe. I remember opening it up and not seeing anything obviously wrong. I ended up having to return it to WICO for warranty service. They told me that it had a defective encoder. I seem to remember the WICO having a little IC inside it - that's apparently what had to be replaced. If that's what's going on with yours, you could probably buy a replacement chip still today.

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I gotta tell you, this post brings up a painful memory from back in the '80s. I bought a WICO trackball, way back then (mostly because I couldn't find any place that had the Atari CX-22 locally). When I got it, it had the same problem you describe. I remember opening it up and not seeing anything obviously wrong. I ended up having to return it to WICO for warranty service. They told me that it had a defective encoder. I seem to remember the WICO having a little IC inside it - that's apparently what had to be replaced. If that's what's going on with yours, you could probably buy a replacement chip still today.

 

 

Thanks for the thoughtful reply DrVenkman! After going about the day's business I was able to come back and spend a few more hours with the trackball to see if I could sort out what (if anything) was wrong. First I opened it up again and took a close look at the two optical sensor disks. They both looked like they were cut perfectly so I was pretty sure that wasn't the problem. Next I took a can of Dust Off and sprayed out the optical sensors themselves to make sure there were no dust particles on the sensors that could be screwing things up. While doing this I noticed that the horizontal movement sensor disk was slightly off center in the the little U shaped sensor bracket that it sits between, so I pulled out the horizontal movement sensor board from it's bracket, stuck a little strip of electrical tape on the left side of the board as a spacer, then slid it back into the bracket. At that point the board was firmly seated and the disk was perfectly centered.

 

From there I went back to testing games that were originally made to be played with a trackball in the arcade (Centipede, Millipede, Missile Command, Crystal Castles, and Reactor) and slowly but surely the control in most games started improving over the few hours I played with it. The ball spun faster and longer with less effort required, and the speed and precision of the control improved a lot as well. After a few hours of use I was getting just as fast movement out of the trackball as I was using my joystick (it actually seemed faster with the trackball in the case of Missile Command) so my conclusion is that the most likely culprit for my problems was that the grease in the bearings had been sitting in one place congealing for the last 33 or so years, and a few hours of use was all it took to properly redistribute the bearing grease and get the rollers spinning fast and smoothly again.

 

Still, the performance of the trackball does seem to vary greatly from game to game. I found it a lot more comfortable and precise than a joystick in Reactor, Crystal Castles, and Missile Command (I actually topped my all time high score using the trackball in that one) but trying to play Centipede with it was a bit of an exercise in futility. The vertical movement felt smooth and precise, but the horizontal movement was really jerky and hard to control. I probably shouldn't be too surprised about Centipede though, since I've heard a few other people—such as Lord Karnage over at Classic Game Room—complain that Centipede on the 2600 was very difficult to play with the Atari CX-22 trackball, and the Wico Command Control Trackball does emulate a joystick just like the Atari trackballs do. Millipede was somewhere in the middle. It didn't control quite as fluidly with the trackball as with a joystick, but movement was a heck of a lot smoother and I definitely felt like I had better control with the trackball in Millipede than I did in Centipede. I didn't score half as well as I usually do with a joystick, but it was still very playable and I'm guessing I'll improve with a little practice. Today has been the first time I've used a trackball in a good 20 or so odd years, so it might just take me a little time to get used to. I remember the first time I tried using analog sticks when Sony came out with the Dual Shock controller for their PS1 back in 1997 and oh man was that ever a disaster for the first few days I tried using it. :lolblue:

 

Ultimately I think my Wico trackball is probably just fine. The control speed picked up and evened out after a few hours of use, and most games designed for use with a trackball in the arcades play really well with it. I'm still a bit disappointed about Centipede being so jerky and difficult to control (since that was the #1 game I was hoping to play with it) but the improved control in Missile Command, Crystal Castles, and Reactor do make up for it a bit. When I took the time to compare the fully broken in Wico Command Control Trackball to a standard CX40 joystick in Missile Command, alternating games with one then the other, the trackball actually felt like it moved the cursor a fair bit faster and more precisely than the joystick. So, is it a perfect trackball for every 2600 game that was a originally designed to be played with a trackball in the arcade? Definitely not. But will it make Missile Command and a couple other games control better give you a more authentic arcade experience when playing them? I think it will. :)

Edited by Jin
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  • 3 months later...

Won't make a difference for the WICO. It only emulates joystick output using the ball. It does not do "true" Trak-Ball output like the Atari units do.

 

 

Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

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