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XIM3: The headshot for PC gamers leery of console controls

It's almost laughable the amount of hacking that's going on in PC versions of Call of Duty games.


Until about a few months ago I would have sworn by PC gaming and defended it to the end. Today, I'm wondering if I need a desktop anymore.

The reason is thanks to an innovative gadget called XIM3, which essentially allows me to hook up a mouse and keyboard to an Xbox 360 and play my favourite game type – first person shooters – and my favourite game, Call of Duty. Sure, I miss some things. Console graphics don't compare to PC graphics and games are faster and require more precision on a PC. But truth is, the negative aspects of PC gaming, especially when it comes to the Call of Duty series, had me looking for a way out. Hackers, the need for almost yearly PC upgrades and a dwindling player base all contributed to the motivation.

All I needed was a way.

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Let's backtrack for a minute, or 20 years. I started playing computer games in the mid 80s on an Apple IIc and shooters a few years later. First was Castle Wolfenstein in about 1992. I played Doom, Quake and UnReal, then Half-Life, Jedi Knight: Dark Forces and Medal of Honor and Call of Duty. All of which, of course, I played with a mouse and keyboard. Hitting the 'W' key is the only way I know how to go forward.

After a couple decades of gaming with the same input devices, making a switch to something like an Xbox or PS3 controller is not easy. I've tried. If you can imagine the cowboy Woody from the Toy Story movies bouncing uncontrollably on a galloping horse, limbs and head flailing around, then you'll get an idea of what my guy looks like running around the map. Hard to stick with 0 kills and 25 deaths when the PC is sitting right there, the PC where when I sit down I turn into a SEAL Team 6-like killing machine.

But the negative side of playing PC shooters finally got to me.

It's almost laughable the amount of hacking that's going on in PC versions of Call of Duty games. Believe me, I've suffered through years of playing against cheaters who can rack up 100 kills in a game (all headshots). All you need to do is drop a couple of bucks on site devoted to cheating on a wall hack or aimbot and suddenly you're raging through players. Game makers use software to try and detect cheats that give players an unfair advantage, but they don't really work. Even if they do detect players who're hacking and ban them, hackers simply reconfigure the cheat.

Last year's COD Black Ops was a little better because players could police their hosted games and kick and ban cheaters, but this year's Modern Warfare 3, like its Modern Warfare 2 predecessor, relies primarily on auto-matched games where players have no control over who's in the room. (MW3 does offer dedicated servers on PC, but they are not "ranked" games, which means any experience points acquired do not go toward ranking a player up. Of course, there are hacks out there to turn unranked dedicated servers into ranked servers.)

And yes, there are glitches for console games, but they're mostly patched and fixed pretty quickly. Some glitches are even the result of poorly conceived marketing campaigns, such as Call of Duty publisher Activision's recent Mountain Dew/Doritos Double XP campaign. Purchasers of drink or chips could redeem a code found on the packaging to receive a short period of game time in which they would score twice as many points as usual. However, enterprising hackers build a code generator, which players used to create an endless number of codes. Even now I'll come across players who have advanced through to the higher ranks but have played barely 50 hours of the game – a statistically improbable feat, if not impossible. Personally, I rather enjoy the journey.

Another reason I'd longed to switch to console is because the number of gamers in the PC game is dwindling. On a Thursday night in February, I found 106 people playing Capture the Flag, 65 in Sabotage and 440 in Ground War. The greatest number of people were playing Domination and Team Deathmatch, with 1126 and 3105, respectively. At the same time on Xbox Live, 2,818 people played CTF, 1,362 Sabotage and 17,980 played Ground War. As for Domination and TDM – 30,355 and 99,310 respectively.

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But thanks to the XIM3, those issues are now moot. And truth be told, my former impediment in the console world is now a slight advantage. My mouse and keyboard combination gives me a level of precision that often has me ending games with more kills than deaths and sometimes with the highest number of points in the game. After 55 hours of play I'm midway through the second Prestige level with a 1.35 Kills/Deaths ratio, which is still climbing. My best game was a 47-2 Kill Confirmed in which I scored my longest killstreak of 19 (no, no MOAB yet). The numbers aren't as good as really hard-core players, but they're not bad.

The XIM3 is about the size of a deck of cards and has a large, full-colour LCD screen. It has three USB ports for connecting wired hardware – a keyboard or gamepad, a mouse and an Xbox controller – and its own USB connector to plug into an Xbox. California-based XIM Technologies has an amazing support site where new owners can download firmware and wade through a ton of how-to videos.

Setting up the XIM3 was, thanks to the resources, a simple process. XIM offers what they call Smart Translators, which are preconfigured files that automatically map buttons and mouse movement and sensitivity for most of the popular shooters. Users initially configure and load profiles by connecting the XIM3 to PC and loading the Smart Translators through a downloadable application. But once that's done, any subsequent tweaking can be done in-game on the fly. Pressing the Start and Select buttons on the Xbox controller turns the XIM3 into configuration mode, and from there users simply make their changes on the LCD screen. The device can hold six configuration profiles, so if you're flipping between titles, you don't have to connect to a PC and download a new configuration each time. And the device works with a range of wired hardware, including several Logitech and Razer mice and their high-end gaming keyboards.

Aiming with a mouse is generally more precise than a thumb stick, though no doubt there are players out there who've mastered the controller and could wipe the floor with just about anyone. It took me a while to calibrate the XIM3 so that it mimicked a PC experience. I switched mice and found my Microsoft SideWinder X5 on about 1000 DPI did wonderfully well. It still can't pan as quickly when zooming down the iron sights as in the PC game, but it's close.

The only minor irritant I found is the added cord clutter on my desk. But when your kill/death ratio keeps inching higher and higher and you're finally playing your favourite game in a relatively balanced environment, it's totally worth it.

If you're like me and shun consoles because of the Woody Effect, seriously investigate the XIM3. You can use the XIM3 with a PlayStation3, but you need another adapter. PS3 users may want to look into something like Penguin United's Eagle Eye, which is another mouse/keyboard converter, or even Splitfish's FragFX. While paying as much as $150 may seem steep for a peripheral, it'll change your habits, save you from the hackers and even might contribute to a little pwnage of your own.

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About the Author

Michael Snider started working at the Globe and Mail in December, 2005. From fall 2006 until September 2011, he edited, the Globe and Mail's online tech section. Previously, Michael Snider worked at Maclean's, The Toronto Star and the Korea Times. More

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