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Thoughts on Gravis Xtermiator?

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First post, by pinesal

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I remember back the late 90s, the analog stick was a marvel of technology. I loved the the Saturn 3D control pad, the Playstation Dual Shock and of course the N64 controller used and loved them all but there was one controller that caught my eye yet never had a chance to use. Admiring from afar, I would see this gamepad in PC game magazines and I always wanted one.

Now that I have a working Win98 PC, I am looking at this gamepad on ebay and wondering... is it as good as I imagined when I was a young teen? Or is it actually crap? haha.

Has anyone used this gamepad? How does it hold up today (for retro pc games)? How does it physically hold up after all this time? Is the analog stick going to feel like mashed potatoes now?

Here is the one I am looking at: https://www.ebay.com/itm/134024683298?hash=it … WoAAOSwQadhrqVR

Hang out in the 90s with me on Twitch: The 90s Retro Gaming https://twitch.tv/90snick_pinesal
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Reply 1 of 20, by pixel_workbench

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I used one back in the early 2000's. It was ok, but I later decided that I wanted dual analog sticks, and that's why I sold it. I only played racing games on it, so maybe the thrust slider and POV hat switch would work better for other games like flight sims.

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Reply 2 of 20, by Namrok

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I had that exact gamepad back in the day, and have very fond memories of it. In fact, I beat Wing Commander: Prophecy on it, and I recall playing a lot of emulators with it as well.

Unfortunately it's utility for DOS games is rather limited, and that's my primary area of focus lately. A dos game needs to be specifically programmed to take advantage of GRIP, it's proprietary digital gameport implementation. Now you can use the windows software to map button presses to key presses. But the analog controls are stubbornly out of reach for the majority of DOS games. At least, that's how it was when I tried it not long ago.

That said, for a game like Wing Commander: Prophecy, or Descent: Freespace, it's fantastic. I may even try it with Mechwarrior 3 now that I think about it. Having an analog joystick, POV hat, D-pad, throttle, and two analog triggers is simply amazing. It's actually remarkably close to a proto-XBox controller, but with more specific utility in the POV hat and throttle, versus having another generic joystick.

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Reply 3 of 20, by KT7AGuy

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The Gravis Xterminator should have been the best gamepad of all time. It was the only one ever designed with some acknowledgement of the (at the time quite large and healthy) flight/space sim community. The analog paddles/rudders, throttle, and stick should have worked great.

What ruins it is the mandatory crapware that Gravis included for it. I've never gotten it to work right on any of over a dozen systems running Win95/A/B/C to Win98SE. You can get the final version of it here.

Note that there are gameport and USB versions of the Xterminator. I've only ever played around with the gameport version without much success. At one time I considered buying a USB version and trying it with WinXP in the hopes that DirectInput would detect it and I might be able to program it with JoyToKey or XPadder. However, the D-Pad is garbage too so I decided not to waste any more money.

Get yourself a Logitech F310 instead and save yourself a bunch of headaches.

Reply 4 of 20, by Shreddoc

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The Gravis Xterminator (version which includes gameport->USB dongle) which I bought in the year 2000, is currently sitting on the desk just behind me now.

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Back in the original years, I was playing a variety from Need For Speed games, to following the latest CPS2 emulation releases of the time through CPS2shock and similar. In recent years, I have used it on a few occasions to revisit games on 98SE and XP. I even used Bret Johnson's USB drivers to specially make it work with a DOS game, and it worked (ultimately I considered such a convoluted chain not worth it, so did not persist).

Let me be clear : I spend very little time using it, these days. The reasons are twofold. Firstly: physical degradation of a well-used unit - this thing is now over 20 years old. And I hammered it, during the first few years. While still functional, there is now age-related play in a couple of the buttons and the stick, which render it not quite what it was (in feel). Secondly: as already mentioned, the Gravis bloatware - "Gravis Xperience" - is annoying. I confirm that you can use the USB-dongle-version's main functions in XP without drivers. Which is something. And even in 9x, the bloatware generallyoften works fineenough. But there are the usual potential pitfalls related to 9x bloatware, and that alone can be annoying. For example, sometimes it doesn't like NUSB drivers - so, do you want to use your USB mass storage? or your gamepad? Oh, but you need the NUSB in order to copy the drivers on there in the first place! Argh! [ for example 😀 ]

And yet overall, I kinda love(d) the thing. Especially physically. To my mind, it has several unique/useful features:

  • Great hand feel
  • A good analog stick with a unique feel : generous size; it has shorter throw than a generic/console dual-stick ABXY controller, better for fighting game moves for example;
  • 6 primary button layout - again if you like dabbling with fighting games, then this is huge, and none of the ubiquitous ABXY pads of the world have it
  • Good wide-range analog triggers on the shoulders - e.g. useful for accel/brake in driving games
  • Rear buttons which sit well on the middle fingers (gear changes?)
  • A generous amount of buttons and controls available, the majority decent and useful
  • A "Gravis quality and design" overall vibe - as in, you can tell it's not generic shitware clonepad #2903875982 - it's been purpose designed to be a quality product for gamers

For balance, a summary of the potential Cons:

  • Fairly useless digital d-pad, might as well pretend it doesn't exist (placement and feel aren't great)
  • The squeezing-in of analog stick + d-pad means that the analog stick's position could perhaps be slightly better
  • Lack of a second analog stick, obviously
  • No kind of rumble or feedback
  • The 9x bloatware definitely isn't awesome, and in some setups could induce (the usual range of 9x- related) headaches
  • The usual gamepad cons: no gamepad beats a stick setup for flight, no gamepad beats arcade controls/hitbox for fighting games, etc etc.
  • Be aware of the different versions: gameport-only version, and gameport-plus-USB-dongle version; the latter is probably preferable
  • Due to it's tiny niche in the market, you might struggle to find certain spare parts or readily-available donors, were those to ever be required

Other than that, I'd say the Xterminator was/is pretty cool. In some ways, a real standout or even class-leader. Within it's limited remit.

Reply 5 of 20, by pinesal

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Thanks for the replies. Yes, this will be primarily for DOS gaming. It turns out Windows 98 seems to natively work with a PS4 controller so I can use that for windows games. I just need a Gameport compatible for DOS and I want something with an analog thumb stick. But you guys make the Gravis software sound like a deal breaker. Is there a better alternative?

Hang out in the 90s with me on Twitch: The 90s Retro Gaming https://twitch.tv/90snick_pinesal
Retro Battlestation:
FIC VA-503+
AMD K6-2+ @ 600mhz
ATI Rage Fury 16MB
128mb PC100 RAM
137GB SSD
Windows 98

Reply 6 of 20, by KT7AGuy

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Many folks seem to like the original Gravis dogbone controller for DOS stuff. I've still got my original dogbone that I bought way back in 1995. It works OK, but I rarely use it. Pure DOS gaming isn't something I do much anymore.

I've seen other folks swear by the InterAct ProPad 4, but I've never tried one for myself. It looks nice.

Are you sure about a PS4 controller having native Win9x support? I think those will only work with XInput. Are you doing DOS gaming on real hardware or are you using DOSBox? If you're using DOSBox, just get yourself a Logitech F310 and enjoy.

Reply 7 of 20, by Shreddoc

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pinesal wrote on 2022-02-17, 16:45:

Thanks for the replies. Yes, this will be primarily for DOS gaming. It turns out Windows 98 seems to natively work with a PS4 controller so I can use that for windows games. I just need a Gameport compatible for DOS and I want something with an analog thumb stick. But you guys make the Gravis software sound like a deal breaker. Is there a better alternative?

The Xterminator would be useless for native DOS gaming. (with the exception of mucking around with the aftermarket USB drivers mentioned, which doesn't really count in my eyes) Like all Win9x game controllers of a certain era, they run on digital protocols which DOS games can handle only with very niche circumstances or workarounds.

DOS gamepads with analog sticks aren't very common, but this old thread discusses a few specimens. (disregard it's quote "Any gameport joystick/gamepad will be 100% DOS compatible and will work without any drivers. They all work on the same principle", as - looking at the Xterminator, as one example of many "gameport" devices which certainly DO NOT work with native DOS - the quote is simply not true).

Reply 8 of 20, by Joakim

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I have one, bought it for cheap and barely used, however, it is the version that does not support DOS natively. there are at least two versions. I guess it is useful for retro fighting games in Windows. I does really care for the analog stick, but I mean it was quite a new concept at the time I guess.

Reply 9 of 20, by Shreddoc

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AFAIK there is no DOS-compatible version of the Xterminator. There is only:

  • The first version: A version with gameport, based on a proprietary Gravis digital protocol (pre-GrIP), and which does not include, or even work with, the belowmentioned USB adapter, and;
  • The second version: A version with gameport, but which also includes a gameport-to-USB adapter, and is based upon Gravis's digital GrIP protocol.

As both versions are based upon digital protocols, and do not include DOS drivers, neither will work with native DOS without special workarounds, and for all practical considerations should be considered Win9x-or-later only.

Last edited by Shreddoc on 2022-02-17, 21:23. Edited 1 time in total.

Reply 10 of 20, by KT7AGuy

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Shreddoc wrote on 2022-02-17, 21:19:
AFAIK there is no DOS-compatible version of the Xterminator. There is only: […]
Show full quote

AFAIK there is no DOS-compatible version of the Xterminator. There is only:

  • The first version: A version with gameport, based on a proprietary Gravis digital protocol (pre-GrIP), and which does not include, or even work with, the belowmentioned USB adapter, and;
  • The second version: A version with gameport, but which also includes a gameport-to-USB adapter, and is based upon Gravis's digital GrIP protocol.

As both versions are based upon digital protocols, and do not include DOS drivers, neither will work with native DOS without special workarounds, and for all practical considerations should be considered Win9x-or-later only.

Well said. This is accurate from my experience as well.

Reply 11 of 20, by Pierre32

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Shreddoc wrote on 2022-02-17, 20:17:

DOS gamepads with analog sticks aren't very common, but this old thread discusses a few specimens.

Can confirm that the first pictured specimen in that thread, the Saitek X6-33M (aka Radioshack Megapad XVI) is a fantastic all-round DOS controller.

Reply 12 of 20, by pinesal

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KT7AGuy wrote on 2022-02-17, 17:37:

Many folks seem to like the original Gravis dogbone controller for DOS stuff. I've still got my original dogbone that I bought way back in 1995. It works OK, but I rarely use it. Pure DOS gaming isn't something I do much anymore.

I've seen other folks swear by the InterAct ProPad 4, but I've never tried one for myself. It looks nice.

Are you sure about a PS4 controller having native Win9x support? I think those will only work with XInput. Are you doing DOS gaming on real hardware or are you using DOSBox? If you're using DOSBox, just get yourself a Logitech F310 and enjoy.

The PS4 controller works under Windows 98 on real hardware, the specs in my sig. I did not have to install any drivers. I tested with Tie Fighter and it just worked.

Shreddoc wrote on 2022-02-17, 21:19:
AFAIK there is no DOS-compatible version of the Xterminator. There is only: […]
Show full quote

AFAIK there is no DOS-compatible version of the Xterminator. There is only:

  • The first version: A version with gameport, based on a proprietary Gravis digital protocol (pre-GrIP), and which does not include, or even work with, the belowmentioned USB adapter, and;
  • The second version: A version with gameport, but which also includes a gameport-to-USB adapter, and is based upon Gravis's digital GrIP protocol.

As both versions are based upon digital protocols, and do not include DOS drivers, neither will work with native DOS without special workarounds, and for all practical considerations should be considered Win9x-or-later only.

So the Xterminator was meant to be a Windows gamepad all along? I guess I will grab that InterAct Pro pad that KT7AGuy mentioned. It looks pretty good.

Thanks everyone!

Last edited by pinesal on 2022-02-17, 22:06. Edited 1 time in total.

Hang out in the 90s with me on Twitch: The 90s Retro Gaming https://twitch.tv/90snick_pinesal
Retro Battlestation:
FIC VA-503+
AMD K6-2+ @ 600mhz
ATI Rage Fury 16MB
128mb PC100 RAM
137GB SSD
Windows 98

Reply 13 of 20, by Pierre32

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pinesal wrote on 2022-02-17, 21:55:
KT7AGuy wrote on 2022-02-17, 17:37:

Are you sure about a PS4 controller having native Win9x support? I think those will only work with XInput.

The PS4 controller works under Windows 98 on real hardware, the specs in my sig. I did not have to install any drivers. I texted with Tie Fighter and it just worked.

Yep, this is the truth. It's my Win9x controller of choice too. It even installs the audio interface so you can plug headphones straight into the controller if you like! And just to clarify, they use DirectInput.

The funny irony is that you have to mess around with drivers to get Microsoft's own Xbox controllers working.

Last edited by Pierre32 on 2022-02-17, 22:06. Edited 1 time in total.

Reply 14 of 20, by KT7AGuy

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pinesal wrote on 2022-02-17, 21:55:

I guess I will grab that InterAct Pro pad that KT7AGuy mentioned. It looks pretty good.

Could you please write a new post with your impressions and review? I'm really curious to know your thoughts and experiences with that.

Reply 15 of 20, by pinesal

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KT7AGuy wrote on 2022-02-17, 22:05:
pinesal wrote on 2022-02-17, 21:55:

I guess I will grab that InterAct Pro pad that KT7AGuy mentioned. It looks pretty good.

Could you please write a new post with your impressions and review? I'm really curious to know your thoughts and experiences with that.

Yes, I will. I just ordered one for $8. My full impressions are to come 😀

Hang out in the 90s with me on Twitch: The 90s Retro Gaming https://twitch.tv/90snick_pinesal
Retro Battlestation:
FIC VA-503+
AMD K6-2+ @ 600mhz
ATI Rage Fury 16MB
128mb PC100 RAM
137GB SSD
Windows 98

Reply 16 of 20, by badmojo

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KT7AGuy wrote on 2022-02-17, 22:05:
pinesal wrote on 2022-02-17, 21:55:

I guess I will grab that InterAct Pro pad that KT7AGuy mentioned. It looks pretty good.

Could you please write a new post with your impressions and review? I'm really curious to know your thoughts and experiences with that.

I'm waiting on one of those InterAct Pro Pads too, looks interesting. A bit of an odd shape but we'll see. I recently picked up a Saitek X6-33M which as mentioned is a quality device, the analog stick works in DOS and is well implemented. My only complaint is that buttons A and B are triggers, not one of the many buttons available (the buttons are for C, D, throttle and rudder). It would be possible to remap the triggers to buttons with some hacking so that's an option. The Saitek is also harder to find than the InterAct so that's another factor.

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Reply 17 of 20, by pinesal

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An ebay seller sent me an offer on the Xterminator for $15, I am tempted to take him up on that offer now. Maybe just for Windows gaming. Hmmmm.......

Hang out in the 90s with me on Twitch: The 90s Retro Gaming https://twitch.tv/90snick_pinesal
Retro Battlestation:
FIC VA-503+
AMD K6-2+ @ 600mhz
ATI Rage Fury 16MB
128mb PC100 RAM
137GB SSD
Windows 98

Reply 18 of 20, by Shreddoc

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pinesal wrote on 2022-02-18, 15:29:

An ebay seller sent me an offer on the Xterminator for $15, I am tempted to take him up on that offer now. Maybe just for Windows gaming. Hmmmm.......

What Win9x game controller(s) are you currently using?

Reply 19 of 20, by pinesal

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Shreddoc wrote on 2022-02-18, 21:30:
pinesal wrote on 2022-02-18, 15:29:

An ebay seller sent me an offer on the Xterminator for $15, I am tempted to take him up on that offer now. Maybe just for Windows gaming. Hmmmm.......

What Win9x game controller(s) are you currently using?

A wired PS4 controller. I should probably save my money and stick with that.

Hang out in the 90s with me on Twitch: The 90s Retro Gaming https://twitch.tv/90snick_pinesal
Retro Battlestation:
FIC VA-503+
AMD K6-2+ @ 600mhz
ATI Rage Fury 16MB
128mb PC100 RAM
137GB SSD
Windows 98