Rrrrriiiiidge Rrrrraaaaacerrrr!!! The year was 1995 and many of us remember when the world of video games was dramatically changing with the advent of faster frame rates, 3D perspectives, and realistic texture mapping. The home game console technology opened up a whole new experience for those who liked to get behind the wheel and power-slide to victory.
Before the Playstation console was released Namco was working behind closed doors with Sony to provide gamers with a tool that went beyond a standard digital video game controller with which racing games could be played. This compact analog steering controller- the NeGcon- would be unconventional, yet become the primary compact racing wheel utilized by tens of thousands of road warriors who became adapted to its unique twist (“Nejiru” in Japanese) action for extremely accurate steering and plunger-like analog gas and brake buttons (named “I” and “II”).
The Playstation soon became known for its great racing titles (all designed with the capability to be played with either the standard Sony gamepad or the NeGcon controller) which were released early on in the 5th generation of gaming consoles- long before the Dual Shock made its debut. Games like Ridge Racer, Ridge Racer Revolution, Wipeout, Formula 1, Destruction Derby, Motor Toon Gran Prix, and Need for Speed gave gamers a new opportunity to drive with analog steering, accelerating, and braking all while experiencing scenic and awe-inspiring locales.
Not long afterward, a number of companies released steering wheels with pedals which utilized the NeGcon protocols for the Playstation, and these became wildly popular. Sega even released a steering wheel for the Saturn to play Daytona USA, Virtua Racing, and Sega Rally Championship with. Though a wheel with pedals setup happens to be the most realistic means to drive your video game cars, it has to be mentioned here that these can be costly, cumbersome, and require a good amount of storage space. Many racing game fans just want to reach for a compact gamepad that offers just as much steering accuracy as a full-fledged wheel because it’s less of a hassle. That is what the NeGcon offers.
Another unique Playstation controller that was released by Performance was the compact steering controller called the UltraRacer (also available for the N64). This programmable controller had a mini-wheel fixed on top along with the plunger-like gas and brake buttons that the NeGcon had. It also sported a trigger underneath. Another controller with a similar idea was the Rac-Con controller which was made for the Playstation and Saturn sytems, but it wasn’t released in large numbers. Many people liked the idea of a compact analog controller with a visible wheel mounted on it, and bought the UltraRacer instead of the NeGcon (which lacked the appearance of being a wheel controller even though it was one). The UltraRacer was best for playing games which only demanded steering, accelerating, and braking. Unbeknownst to the people who went out and bought this controller, it wasn’t ideal at all for games that favored using shoulder buttons for air-braking or gear shifting and an additional button for weapons firing, speed boost nitros, or applying an e-brake. Sure, it looked more like a racing controller on the surface, but it lacked the NeGcon’s more intuitive button placement that could make a game like Wipeout or Wipeout XL less of a chore to play. All in all, though, the UltraRacer was a controller that got the job done acceptably well for the basic automatic transmission cars in a lot of racing games, and it helped that you could remap the digital buttons on it (including L1, R1, L2, and R2 buttons that are absent on the NeGcon) to your liking with its intuitive programability.
Another NeGcon-compatible Playstation controller that was very similar to the UltraRacer (with its trigger underneath) was the RC-like handheld “Racing Wheel” released by Madcatz. This curvy controller sported vibration motors and button remapping, as well as easy access to weapons-firing, speed boost nitros, or e-braking buttons with three very well-placed buttons. Once again, it was a wheel-on-the-controller design which made gear-shifting and air-braking a little trickier to accomplish compared to the NeGcon. In fact, not long after these controllers came out, Namco released the Jog-Con (another design with a turning knob mounted on top) which was a compact force-feedback racing controller that ended up having about five games compatible with it. The controller protocol was different from that of the NeGcon and that meant it wasn’t at all backwards compatible with the racing games which you could use steering wheels with. It also didn’t help that it wasn’t as comfortable to hold, so the interest in using it was short-lived. One company made a force-feedback controller (RC knob design with trigger) with separate steering modes for NeGcon, Dual Shock, and Jogcon controllers. The Logic 3 Top Drive Reactor is definitely versatile due to its extra compatibility for all racing games, and might be worth adapting to if you’re into PS1 racers which require merely steering, accelerating, and braking. It’s a good PS1 controller, but it’s buttons are placed in less-than-ideal positions for certain games…
Through the passage of time there has been a bump or two in the road for the NeGcon fans. A couple years into the Playstation’s run, Sony released a new type of analog controller, the Dual Shock, which was designed to compete with the Nintendo 64 analog controller. Once the Dual Shock arrived, driving games for the Playstation gave you the choice of using a steering wheel, the NeGcon, or the Dual Shock. But then, Electronic Arts released “Moto Racer 2″ and made it only playable with a Dual Shock controller, unlike its predecessor which had been NeGcon and steering wheel-compatible. This was the first sign that game developers could possibly withdraw support from the old analog controllers to favor the new type only. Reflections followed suit by disallowing the NeGcon/UltraRacer to be used to play “Driver” and the same happened with Destruction Derby Raw thanks to Studio 33 and Psygnosis. This was a surprise to many racing game fans, and anyone will tell you that it’s bad form to take away a gamer’s choices… This was the beginning of what would ultimately end in disappointing frustration for NeGcon and UltraRacer fans everywhere. (I should point out here, though, that the PC versions of games in the Driver and Moto Racer series can be played with a NeGcon and UltraRacer using a Playstation-to-PC controller adapter.)
Once the Playstation 2 was released, only a few racing titles on the console offered NeGcon support, and the final nail in the coffin occurred with the advent of Logitech’s Driving Force steering wheel released alongside Sony’s exclusive flagship title Gran Turismo 3 in 2001- with no NeGcon support. Thus came to an end an era that many truly look back to as a time when you could really get extreme racing precision out of a handheld gamepad. Le Mans 24 Hours (released within a month of GT3), World Rally Championship (March, 2002), and Wipeout Fusion (June, 2002) were the last three racing games to be playable with a NeGcon on a U.S. Sony console- that is, until now.
A while back, I picked up a 99 cent video game controller adapter at a local video game store (thanks VGMX of Columbus, Ohio!): Innovation’s “X-Connection” Playstation-to-Xbox controller adapter. I own another similar adapter that’s made by Game Elements, but I figured that it may someday stop working and I’d need something else to take its place. Then, just in the past couple months I bought another adapter (readily available online) that does the opposite of what the X-Connection and Game Elements controller adapters do. It’s named the “XP Joy Box” and with it you can use an Xbox controller on the PS1 and PS2.
To make a long story short, I first tried to see if my NeGcon could be made to work on my Xbox racing games with a Game Elements adapter and found it to not work. I then pulled out my 99 cent X-Connection (which happens to be a very hard to find adapter these days) and plugged the NeGcon into it. To my amazement, I found that the NeGcon was working. I was getting fully analog steering (emulating the joystick movements) and fully analog gas/brake functions (having the I and II buttons set to be the Xbox’s L and R triggers). With the X-Connection adapter connected to the XP Joy Box adapter you can even open up the world of all Dual-Shock compatible Playstation 1, 2, and 3 racing games to the NeGcon and PS1 steering wheels in general. See the controllers and the games in action here:
Be aware, certain games have controller functions that have to be remapped within the game’s controller options menu to get the NeGcon to effectively allow you to steer/accelerate/brake/e-brake/change gears/activate nitros/fire weapons. The adapter is hard-wired to map the controller inputs one particular way to the directional pad and buttons of the NeGcon as shown in the diagram below (labels for Xbox shown in green and labels for Playstation shown in blue).
One thing that seemed less than ideal was the fact that there’s no way for the NeGcon (when plugged into this special adapter) to send an up or down directional pad command to the game. The left or right directional pad movements are handled by twisting the controller clockwise or counterclockwise. It seemed to me that the only way to solve the problem of navigating vertical movements in the games’ menus was to get up and walk over to the console to unplug the controller along with the adapter and plug in a first party manufacturer controller. Then once the selections were made and the racing is about to start, the controller would then be unplugged and the adapter with NeGcon replugged in for a fun time. This works, but I’m sure you can imagine how much of a hassle this is. (You won’t have to worry about swapping controllers with the UltraRacer, though, because it has additional buttons atop the wheel that allow for up and down movement in the menus.)
In order to make swapping controllers for menu navigation less of an ordeal of having to walk over to the console, you just need to invest in a Playstation 2 controller extension cable (connecting directly to the NeGcon). This will allow you to sit at least 6 feet away on your couch and not have to get up to trade out controllers. Another option is to connect a Playstation 2 accessory called the Multi-Port Controller Selection Box (by Innovation) to the controllers, but it actually doesn’t eliminate the plug/unplug step even though you would think it should. It’s an interesting product, but really not any more effective for what we’ve set out to do than just using a basic controller extension cable (which is the option that offers a lengthier cord).
Another thing that needs to be mentioned is that the Madcatz handheld Racing Wheel can cause short-outs when used with certain controller adapters, so don’t say I didn’t warn you… You should probably just stick to the conventional steering wheels, NeGcon, and UltraRacer controllers when it comes to racing-controller adapting. I hot-swapped these controllers into and out of the adapters and game consoles many times (always giving a few seconds to allow the console to recognize the connection) and have had zero issues. I’d strongly advise that you not connect any adapter to a Logic 3 Top Drive Reactor or Jogcon.
In order to get the X-Connection adapter providing NeGcon support on your PS1 and PS2 games that normally are incompatible, you need to add in the XP Joy Box adapter right before the X-Connection adapter. And, yes, you can still have the PS2 controller extension cable attached for added convenience when switching controllers. I’ve encountered one XP Joy Box adapter that didn’t work when connected to a slim PS2 and one that did, so be aware that not all XP Joy Box adapters are made the same. For the PS3 you’ll actually need to daisy chain a total of three adapters together (a PSX/Dual Shock 2 to PS3 adapter connected to the XP Joy Box connected to the X-Connection adapter connected to your racing controller). You may on occasion have a problem with it not responding, and the way to solve this is to turn off and restart the PS3.
Switching controllers for menu navigation on the PS3 is different than what you do on the other systems. You’ll navigate in-game menus that require vertical movement using a wireless Dual Shock 3 controller. Do this by holding down the Home button on the Dual Shock’s center for a couple seconds, select “Controller Settings,” and then reassign the Dual Shock 3 to be controller 1 if it’s not already assigned to be in that position. In that menu you can also check to make sure that controller 1 is set to analog, and not digital (especially check this when playing PS1 games on your PS3 with the adapters connected). Exit the Controller Settings and get back to the game. Once you’ve finished navigating in-game menus with your wireless Dual Shock 3 you have to turn off that controller by going once again to “Controller Settings.” Then you have to unplug/replug in the connected series of adapters with NeGcon controller to usb port 1 (which- without the PS2 extension cord- does require a trip from the couch to the console, unfortunately. Do yourself a favor and get that PS2 controller extension cable so you can save yourself that walk by unplugging and replugging in from the extension cord point…).
Well, by now you might be wondering about how effective the NeGcon or UltraRacer control is for the games you want to play. Many gamers will be very pleased with getting to effectively play the PS1 games which had never before been compatible with it. Games like Driver, Moto Racer 2, Moto Racer World Tour, Rush Down, and Crash Team Racing are all fantastic or at least somewhat close to fantastic when used with the NeGcon (with the exception of Driver’s tutorial in the parking garage which needs a Dual Shock controller). On CTR and other PS1 cart racers you can add on a PS1 era accessory by Innovation called the “Racing/Fighting Foot Pedals” (available on Ebay from time to time) and it gives you an even better playing capability. Another accessory which works exclusively with the PS1 games (and the controller adapters hooked up to it) is the Madcatz Wrist Rumbler. Try it for a little added vibration road and collision feedback, but be aware that in certain games the rumbling effect can be a bit excessive. . .
Playstation games that are not able to satisfactorily work include games in the Jet Moto series as well as Driver 2 which require not just horizontal, but vertical movements during gameplay. Michelin Rally Masters is a game that I thought would be great, but turned out to be too sensitive to allow for effective rally car control with the NeGcon. I also found that the adapter and NeGcon controller worked on Dukes of Hazzard: Racing for Home, but the car steering was feeling a little off. That’s probably more the game’s fault than it is the adapter’s. Looks like Cooter should’ve spent a little more time in the garage on that one!
Racing games on the PS2 that just HAVE TO be tried out with the NeGCon include Gran Turismo 3 A-Spec, GT4, Auto Modellista, Pro Race Driver, Colin McRae Rally 3, Crash ‘N Burn, Crazy Taxi, Enthusia, Flatout 2, Gran Prix Challenge, Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition, MotoGP3, Motorstorm: Arctic Edge, Nascar: Dirt to Daytona, Need for Speed: Most Wanted, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2, Need for Speed: Underground 2, Outrun 2006: Coast to Coast, Rally Fusion, Speed Kings, Suzuki TT Superbikes, Test Drive, Test Drive: Eve of Destruction, Tokyo Xtreme Racer Zero, Totaled, VRally 3, Burnout 2, Burnout 3: Takedown, Burnout Revenge, and Burnout Dominator. Be aware that a number of these games won’t map the gas and brake to the I and II analog NeGcon buttons. You have to go to the menu within the game to see what setup might be something you can adapt to (and sometimes you are limited to using digital buttons or d-pad directionals on the NeGcon controller to accelerate and brake, as opposed to the analog buttons which isn’t ideal. This is due to the programmers of these particular games not allowing R2/L2 buttons to function as gas and brake within their game setup menus).
Many of the above racing games have Xbox versions which can also be tried out with the X-Connection adapter and NeGcon controller, and the I and II analog buttons (associated with the R and L triggers) work nicely for accelerating and braking in these games unlike some of their PS2 counterparts. Among the best of the original Xbox exclusive racing games that deserve your attention are the following: PGR, PGR 2, Rallisport Challenge 2, Apex, Forza, Midtown Madness 3, Sega GT 2002, and the Colin McRae series of rally games. If you have a PS2 to Xbox 360 controller adapter, you may be able to play some 360 racing games (Forza 4 anyone?) with the adapters linked together, but that’s an experiment that’s not been attempted yet.
Here are some racers on the Playstation 3 which are must-play titles: GT5 (incredible game with the NeGcon!), Baja: Edge of Control, Burnout Paradise, DiRT, DiRT 2, DiRT 3, Grid, Midnight Club: LA, all the Motorstorm games, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, Need for Speed: Most Wanted, Ridge Racer 7, Ridge Racer: Unbounded, Sega Rally Revo, and Split Second.
Many gamers feel that the NeGcon is the only way to play everyone’s favorite futuristic hovercraft racer, Wipeout. The only Wipeout game that was released on a Sony home console without NeGcon support was Wipeout HD for the PS3. The adapters allow for full analog control, but there’s no way to angle your racing craft’s nose up or down. You also will have to adapt to braking by assigning the left and right brakes to left and right on the directional pad or to the I and II buttons (since the L button is non-functional on the NeGcon using the X-Connection adapter). With some practice you can adapt and progress as you play the single-player game, but there may be a track or two on which you can’t shave off a second to beat some of the best times due to the lack of pitch adjustment (and you can’t get the Zico trophy without pitch adjustment). This is a slight disappointment because the NeGcon is otherwise a wonderful controller for this game. It’s too bad that the in-game controller configuration menu doesn’t allow pitch adjustment controls to be remapped to somewhere other than the Dual Shock’s analog stick (positioned up or down), but alas- we can’t have it all. Regardless, if you have the game and the adapters, you probably will want to give it a try. I’ve really enjoyed playing the game with it!
Another thing you might wish to try out is playing Dreamcast racing games using a NeGcon attached to a Total Control Plus Playstation to Dreamcast controller adapter. This adapter allows for more intuitive button assignments, and can even be used with a Madcatz Playstation Wrist Rumbler plugged in for experiencing some vibration feedback in your racing games. (In case you’re wondering, the Rumbler is not compatible at all with PS2 and PS3 games.) It’s nice that it at least can be made to work on the Dreamcast, and adds to the NeGcon racing experience in games like MSR, Super Runabout, Tokyo Extreme Racer 2, Vanishing Point, and Ferrari F355 quite a bit. Test Drive: Le Mans, though, doesn’t allow for tight enough steering with the NeGcon due to a lack of a steering calibration option in the game.
So there you have it- new ideas/ways to get your old-school racing controllers back into action. Maybe some of you already own that rare X-Connection adapter and are going to give it a try today. For those of you who don’t own it, keep your eyes peeled when shopping at your local video game store and you might be surprised. And then there’s always a possibility that someone reading this article knows of a source which can make them available at a reasonable price on Ebay or some other online store. There are numerous brands of adapters that claim to get all Playstation controllers to work on the Xbox, but be aware that the Innovation X-Connection is probably the only one that works with Playstation 1 steering controllers like the NeGcon or UltraRacer. Don’t get Innovation’s “The Connection” (released to replace the X-Connection- from what I hear- due to some legality issues back in 2002 or 2003), because it’s not a NeGcon compatible adapter.
There are many ways to play a racing video game. Analog joysticks, digital gamepads, steering wheels with pedals, RC type controllers with knobs to turn, gamepads with knobs to turn, tilt-in-the-air racing controllers, internal spring loaded steering controllers in the shape of a wheel, back-and-forth pendulum action steering controllers, and twisting spring action controllers. Opinions vary on each design, but there’s no doubt that a compact wheel can make for a controller that provides extra throw to be more accurate and efficient than a standard gamepad with thumbsticks. The NeGcon may have been taken away from the hands of gamers by companies which wanted to sell us force-feedback wheels, but they didn’t kill it all the way dead. Where there’s a will there’s a way, and now it’s actually possible to plug your trusty ol’ NeGcon into a Sony console that’s about 18 years down the road from the timeless idea which Namco implemented. If you ask me, that’s pretty cool.