Tucked away in a dark corner at PAX East 2013 in Boston is one of the strangest game controllers we've ever seen. Designed by Stelulu Technologies' Stephane Rivard and Luc Levasseur, the unfortunately named "Stinky Footboard," or "Stinky," is a PC controller you use with your foot. Is the Stinky a step in the right direction for PC gaming or a complete stinker?
When we got an email with the pitch: "No Joke: PC Game Foot Controller @ Pax East," we couldn't help but be intrigued. So you can imagine our slight disappointment when it became clear the Stinky was nothing more than a metal D-pad (albeit one that can withstand a 7,000 pound car running over it).
The Stinky is marketed as a foot controller that works great in first-person shooter games, when you need to keep your fingers on the AWSD keys. It offloads secondary functions such as strafing, weapon changing, and grenade throwing to your foot. In RTS games, Stinky supposedly increases your actions per minute (APM). eSport players can apparently shave off "precious seconds" while beginners will benefit from easier controls.
Practice Makes Perfect
In my brief foot-on, I walked away mildly impressed, to say the least. Like all any new unconventional controller, the Stinky will take some getting used to. Levasseur, co-founder and head of research and development operations at Stelulu, says the company's research shows that most people take about a day to fully adjust to the Stinky, which is really a fairly quick learning curve.
In Battlefield 3, the Stinky mapped a dash to the top button, a crouch to the bottom, a melee to left and a re-load to the right. It might seem odd at first to suddenly put your feet to use while you're sitting in front of a gaming station, but after about 10 minutes, I quickly became semi-acclimated. However, I kept trying to jump out of my seat each and every time, as if stomping harder on it would have somehow made dashes and crouches more effective. It doesn't.
Finding The Right Fit
There's no right way or wrong way to use the Stinky. You can use one foot or two feet at the same time, and the controller can be positioned in either portrait or landscape; an intentional design that caters to different foot sizes. The Stinky also comes with a handful of different springs that change the controller's button tension. Screws on the bottom hold the springs in. That kind of flexibility is good, since it ensures people can tweak it to their own foot (or feet).
While Levasseur says the feedback and reaction to the Stinky has been very positive, he's already dreaming of how to take the foot controllers to the next level of immersion. He says combining the Stinky with the Oculus Rift virtual reality goggles could be revolutionary, although his company has yet to chat those guys up.
It Could Be A Hit Or A Miss
As for why the board is called Stinky, Levasseur tells DVICE that it was deliberately chosen because, well, a foot smells, and because it's funny. Levasseur joked that the name got our attention. Touché.
At the end of the day, the Stinky is a controller for gamers who are willing to try new things. As a gamer, I know firsthand that we're a fickle bunch, and if something isn't genuinely up to snuff, we toss it in the gimmick pile. If you're not willing to flex your foot, the Stinky isn't for you. Maybe it's a gimmick, maybe it's not. We can't be sure until we test the Stinky thoroughly over a longer period with different kinds of games.
The Stinky will be compatible with Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, and Win 8. Mac gamers are out of luck, again. If you're willing to part with $119, you can grab a Stinky this June, or you pre-order one on Kickstarter for a discount when the company sets that up in the coming days. One more thing: the Stinky isn't wireless. It'll take one USB port, but what gaming PC doesn't already have plenty of those?
We've got a video, photos of the Stinky, as well as pics of Stelulu's first wooden prototype controller in the gallery below.
Posted on location at PAX East 2013 in Boston, MA. All photos and video taken by Raymond Wong for DVICE.