There’s been a lot of talk lately about the legitimacy of certain controllers for fighting games. And quite honestly, I don’t really know why. The state of fighting game controllers has remained absolutely unchanged for years, but there’s been quite a lot of bandwagoning and misinformation-regurgitating going on. I’m going to go out on a very short limb and make a claim: if your opinion is anything other than “it doesn’t matter”, then you’re objectively wrong.
One controller that has sparked discussion time and time again, without fail, is Hit Box Arcade’s Hit Box (hitbox) controller. It’s an all-button controller, which requires the user to press buttons rather than move a joystick to generate movement inputs. It doesn’t seem all that innovational at first, but the nature of the layout lets you make certain inputs more easily. For example, you can simply tap 624 in sequence to generate 63214 (this is determined by the game, not the controller—more on that later). More controversially though, is a feature known as SOCD Cleaning.
SOCD stands for Simultaneous Opposite Cardinal Direction, i.e. pressing up and down or left and right at the same time. It’s physically impossible to send SOCDs on most conventional controllers, so most game developers (especially Japanese ones) don’t create games with this in mind. As such, sending SOCDs can lead to random, unexpected or unintended behaviour. To avoid this, these inputs are handled at the controller level by the internal electronics, which allows the game to receive the individual inputs it was programmed to handle. This is called SOCD cleaning.
The typical way SOCD cleaners will handle simultenous left and right inputs is to send a neutral input (no input), and simultaneous up and down inputs will send an up input only. If you think about this for a second, you’d realise that it would open up avenues for unconventional ways of generating certain inputs. For example, you would be able to do 236236 by holding 6 and tapping 4 and 2 twice (which would register as 62626).
Needless to say, this has been met with some “scrutiny”, to put it nicely. To put it objectively, there have been crybabies whining that it’s unfair. But, you know what? Even if this weren’t a commercial controller that anyone could easily buy and use (or even build), the hitbox is 100% an undeniably fair controller. I say this with confidence, because it doesn’t allow you to do anything you can’t do on any other controller.
We’ll take a look at an example from Tekken, as I’m a bit more familiar with it. In Tekken, you can’t sidestep into the foreground while crouching because the down input will be registered as a crouch. You would have to stand up first (crouch cancel), before you can sidestep into the foreground. The SOCD cleaning on U+D makes this very easy to do with a hitbox, but it’s not something that cannot be done with a regular arcade stick.
So I tried sidestepping into the foreground with my stick...— Gold (@Gold_416) July 26, 2019
It can be done, but it might hurt your hand.
15 minutes of recording, only got it 3 times. This was the last successful attempt.#TEKKEN @Fergus_TK @SpaghettiRip @SuperAkouma @ricksteeezy pic.twitter.com/cl7yWvTxVX
This works on the exact same principle that hitbox uses, irrespective of SOCD cleaning: the real world does not run at 60FPS. It may sound obvious at first, but consider what might happen if you input 236 within a 2-frame window. You’ll likely see 26 in your command history, but the game will still process the 236 input. The same concept applies here. You have a tight window to input 82, and it is easier to do on hitbox, but it is not exclusive to hitbox.
So now we’ve determined that the hitbox does not allow you to do anything you otherwise couldn’t, and it’s just a more comfortable controller. Is it fair? Hint: the answer is “yes”. If you think a controller is unfair because it’s more comfortable, then you shouldn’t be allowed to customize your arcade stick. That would make it more comfortable. In fact, you shouldn’t be allowed to use arcade sticks at all. Everyone should just use a stock Dualshock 4. Sticks are cheating. Too comfortable.
Since we’ve made it this far, I want to touch on the other elephant in the room before I wrap up. Quite recently, Hit Box Arcade’s new controller, the “Hit Box Cross|Up” (yes this is actually how it’s stylised) has been seeing a lot of attention. This is not what I want to talk about. It follows the principles I’ve listed above to a tee. There is nothing to discuss. There’s something else, something that gathered a bit of attention not too long ago.
This is the controller that Umehara Daigo was using a few months back. It’s allegedly called the Gafrobox. Just going to throw it out there now, this is the biggest meme of the lot. It’s a shoebox held together with sticky tape and chewing gum. A stick modder/builder/enthusiast that I hold in extremely high esteem, Jony Fraze, has eloquently described why this is a non-issue in a few-minute long video. It’s only being talked about because it’s Umehara, but I’m a gracious soul. I’ll humour the masses.
The main complaint I saw was that the controller allows you to do a sonic boom while walking backwards, without letting go of back. This is due to the fact that it does not have SOCD cleaning, and SFV handles SOCDs by taking the most recently pressed input. I’d like to stress here that this is due to the way the game is programmed (likely without much thought put into it, because why would you even consider this scenario as a programmer), and there are no macros or anything involved, before anyone starts grumbling.
Now, this is something you can’t do on a stick. I’ll concede that one. You can only do it on a controller that lets you make SOCDs, like a hitbox or that hitbox crossup above. Wait, isn’t there another controller with multiple directional input vectors? Oh yeah, a Dualshock 4. That’s right, you can do the exact same thing on a DS4 because it doesn’t clean the SOCDs. It’s how NuckleDu does his inputs. So we’re back where we started, the Gafrobox doesn’t let you do anything you couldn’t already do. If you’re going to argue that it needs to be banned, then I hope you’re fighting to get DS4s banned as well. Those would be some mighty double standards if you weren’t.
Why didn’t it have SOCD cleaning in the first place, though? That’s because SOCD cleaning is a feature, a luxury. It requires electronics to handle, which is why you can buy standalone SOCD cleaners to add this functionality to existing controllers. Just look at the Gafrobox. Do you think someone that sells a plywood box with a $5 wrist rest stapled to it is going to add features? Surely not.
Anyway, that’s more or less what I wanted to say on the matter. Hopefully you’ve learned a thing or two, and reconsidered your opinion if you didn’t agree at first. Not saying you have to agree with me. This is literally fact. By definition of the word, it is objectively false to say that any of these controllers are unfair. If you still think that this is a problem, then you haven’t understood what I’ve been saying this whole time.