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BlizzCon 2010: Steelseries shows off Cataclysm MMO mouse, pro gamer products

Not only is BlizzCon a great place to get the latest news straight from Blizzard's mouth about Warcraft, StarCraft and Diablo, but all of the exhibitors and vendors are showing off their official merchandise and some of the new stuff coming out soon. Being the interface guy around here, the powers that be thought it would be nice if I checked out some of the vendors showcasing their interface products -- mice, keyboards and more. There is a lot of exciting stuff to show.

On Day 1 of BlizzCon 2010, I got to run over to the Steelseries booth and meet with Philippe and Kim, both awesome designers who gave me the grand tour and showed off their products -- and, to my great interest, their design philosophies for their hardware.

Steelseries SHIFT gaming keyboard and Cataclysm key set

This was my first chance to put my hands on Steelseries' Shift keyboard, a competent and capable gaming keyboard that hits all the right points for functionality. Basic keyboards are basic keyboards, right? I wanted to be surprised by the Shift, and thankfully, I was.

What's so special about the Shift? Popping the side clasp off the keyboard reveals a fully removable and replaceable key set. The flagship Cataclysm key set, featuring a fully realized and fully functional set of Warcraft-specific commands, will be released along the Shift in a bundle on Dec. 7, 2010.

The Shift keyboard comes equipped with two audio inputs for a headset or speakers, as well as two USB ports (one powered) for other input devices. Philippe, the designer of the Shift and the Cataclysm key set, discussed at length with me the philosophy behind the Shift and the new key sets, stating that the goal is having zero learning curve. Placing my hands on the keyboard, even with all the new settings, proved easy and comfortable thanks to a large wrist rest that was pretty comfortable.

I wanted to be surprised. I wanted something to pop out at me about the Shift. The keyboard comes with a standard key set for utilitarian keyboard use, where it functions competently. The Cataclysm key set, however, opened my eyes to a new level of functionality specifically for the new expansion. The number pad is removed for a Cataclysm-specific set of keys, ranging from basic ready check buttons and convenience commands to the surprising Set Focus, Invite, and Roll(1/100). For a moment, I thought these keys were redundant commands that were easily accessed within the game, but then I realized these buttons remove about three or four weirdly placed macros floating in my UI somewhere.

Other cool features include the keyboard's own ability to launch WoW when you replace the key set with the Cataclysm key set; backwards compatibility with the previous incarnations of the Zboard; saving for up to 10 profiles of customizable keys onboard so you can take your settings with you; and on-the-fly macro buttons that allow instant key binding.

Bottom line: Steelseries' Shift is a competent gaming keyboard that feels good on the hands and works like a charm. Nothing felt out of place on the set, and my own personal learning curve was incredibly low. If you're in the market for a specialized keyboard that provides extra functionality for Cataclysm come December, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Steelseries World of Warcraft MMO Cataclysm gaming mouse

At first glance, the Steelseries MMO Gaming mouse seems very similar to the original version of the same mouse. Well, you wouldn't be wrong -- a lot of the functionality of the original mouse has stayed on board. However, the mouse has had a few changes, including a fix to one of the biggest complaints about the original mouse.

I asked the designer, Philippe, why they removed one button from the mouse. For him and Steelseries, it was a no-brainer -- if people are complaining about buttons that were poorly placed in the beginning, Steelseries wasn't going to leave something that didn't work or people didn't like. So the side button configuration on the left side of the mouse was changed due to feedback. I respect hardware manufacturers that don't leave on the superfluous in the face of added "box" functionality.

There were varying reviews concerned with the build quality of the original MMO mouse. Version 2 feels much more solid. I knocked it around a bit, playing with the buttons and the sensor, making sure it was responding really well. It felt fine -- but more importantly, it felt sturdier and more solid than the original. Steelseries seems to be very, very interested in consumer feedback, which warms my heart.

There are two ways to configure and use the MMO mouse. Since the MMO mouse is a licensed Blizzard World of Warcraft product, the mouse has been built from the ground up to work with WoW's interface. Blizzard and Steelseries has worked closely to allow the game to detect the mouse, as well as having interface elements and keybindings inside the game's own keybindings menu. You can also use the comprehensive software suite to bind whatever you would like to the mouse.

You can change the mouse's glow to practically anything on the color spectrum. It works out of the box for Mac and PC, and you can even save your mouse configurations to the mouse's onboard memory to take your keybindings and profiles with you. The software looks at the armory for you, putting your character-specific images and information next to character-specific mouse profiles. It's slick, and it shows.

I was not able to wrap my hand around the mouse, and instead had to adopt a lighter, looser mouse grip on the product. Some buttons felt invisible until I pressed down to depress them, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. It took some getting used to. The Steelseries philosophy is zero learning curve, but it's a different beast, so you might take a few minutes to get a new grip down.

Bottom line: The new MMO gaming mouse feels better and more stable in my hand than the first version, as well as feeling more solid and sturdy than the last iteration. The buttons were reachable and easily configurable, and the onboard profiles and armory integration sealed the deal on the awesome interface. I liked it, even if it's not the type of mouse I choose to use every day. Gaining 14 accessible buttons in addition to your keyboard is not something to laugh at.

Filed under: BlizzCon

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