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Author name #1
Member since Sep 2008 · 5 posts
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Subject: SEGA and FounTech's Surf Wave wireless controller
[Image: http://pics1.frozenbear.com/i/picfu1/2008/09/17/03/b/4/5/b45cbdfb200f13663c8d6eab484471700_main.png]

[Image: http://pics1.frozenbear.com/i/picfu1/2008/09/17/03/0/f/8/0f8aaeea182f2ac59ffae208ad1c76e60_main.png]

During the Playstation 2 era, only a handful of third-party wireless gamepad manufacturers licensed the Playstation trademark.  Readers might be familiar with Logitech's (Action/Compact) Cordless Controller for it was immensly popular in the US and Japan, iterating through two controller styles, with the newer enjoying a limited edition run for the release of Final Fantasy XII.  (The wired version even spawned a bastard child--the Netplay Keyboard Controller--a monster hybrid between a keyboard and a Playstation 2 controller.)  Another major contender for popularity in Japan was the HORI Wireless ANASIN2TURBO, sporting old school hardware DIP switches for three different rates of turbo fire and a brand name that's recognized for oddities like the Super Robot War one-handed controller and the Dragon Quest Slime controller.  A little less known to the mainstream is the Japan-only SEGA Surf Wave, a wireless controller that boasted 1000 hours of battery life, 100 frames/sec response, and individual button programming for 10/30 times/sec turbo fire modes.

[Image: http://pics1.frozenbear.com/i/picfu1/2008/09/17/03/7/2/f/72f24f5dfbe1bdc0f7bf27cef0a1096d0_main.png]

The predecessor of the Surf Wave was released by the design company FounTech that licensed its technology to SEGA.  FounTech Private Limited was a Japanese design firm responsible for the R&D and patents behind the electronics (specifically the RF Chip) inside the controller.  They first released a brand of 900MHz controllers called AirStyle.  The 3rd generation (3G) of the controller, with wireless vibration (dubbed W SHOCK), won IGN.com's Best of E3 2003 award but unfortunately had a limited run in America.  The controller was unique since it was arguably one of the very few controllers at the time that had analog sticks and buttons very similar to the build quality and response of the original DualShock, sharing a very similar design scheme.

[Image: http://pics1.frozenbear.com/i/picfu1/2008/09/17/03/a/a/b/aab74e61b9edb3e3cb0b8b18667466470_main.jpg]

The AirStyle W-SHOCK2 3G was the last of FounTech's AirStyle line.  Two years later SEGA licensed a newer version of the technology and form-factor to publish the Surf Wave.  A simple glance at the specs show that it was a remarkable improvement.  The battery life was an unprecendented 1000 hours, which is 10 times the battery life for Logitech's Cordless and 20 times that of AirStyle 3G.  Furthermore, the turbo boasted 30 times/sec--higher than the maximum 20 times/sec of the ANASIN2--as well as individual turbo programming for all digital buttons sans SELECT.

[Image: http://pics1.frozenbear.com/i/picfu1/2008/09/17/03/e/b/e/ebe56ce382961d994eb6994af50cd8650_main.jpg]

What's unique about this controller is that turbo mode is no longer programmed by clumsy DIP switches but rather by holding the button of choice and tapping the power/turbo button to cycle between the two turbo speeds.  Moreover, the presence of turbo would be indicated by the flashing of the mode light-- a fast blink for 30 times/sec and slow blink for 10 times/sec.  These features although welcomed, are not without setbacks.  The lack of static memory meant that every time the controller was turned off the turbo was reset.  Switching turbo modes meant that the button had to be held producing challenges if the user wanted to trigger turbo in the middle of gameplay.

So is the claim about 1000 hours on two fresh alkaline AA batteries true?  If it isn't exactly 1000, well, I'll tell you it's close.  I've used the controller in analog mode with rumble logging 60 hours on Final Fantasy XII, going through God of War and Shadow of the Colossus, and never changed the batteries once.  Owning two of these, in fact, for more than 2 years I only recall changing the batteries for one of them once and that was because the batteries were used.  It goes into sleep mode after 5 seconds of inactivity, and shuts off after 10 minutes.

The biggest disappointment was in the build quality of the components.  Despite the controller body feeling lighter with a snazzy rubbery non-slip bottom, buttons feel clunky and hard; the analog sticks feel stiff.  Granted, we're not talking about MadCatz-level trash here, it's just that the superior features of the new electronics seems to be offset by cheap components.  However, I felt that the D-pad was improved due to this very reason, since the AirStyle D-pad was too soft.

[Image: http://pics1.frozenbear.com/i/picfu1/2008/09/17/03/f/a/0/fa071fdb3eb055904f08d513bb4ced910_main.jpg]

So what's going on with the design firm FounTech?  Rumors are either they were acquired by a Singapore company that early on bought a minority stake in the company in 2003 or that they were sold or acquired by an unknown company.  The last sighting of the FounTech was at Tokyo Game Show 2005 where they demonstrated a PC version of its controller with a USB adapter very similar in size to the ANASIN3 adapter.  Their manufacturer, however, opened a distribution site in Industrial City, CA and started selling cheap knock-offs with the same form factor and components but with inferior boards under the website ArcadeMX.com.

[Image: http://pics1.frozenbear.com/i/picfu1/2008/09/17/03/e/0/8/e089821281d247e4b398f38736e55b950_main.jpg]

[Image: http://pics1.frozenbear.com/i/picfu1/2008/09/17/03/7/2/f/72f24f5dfbe1bdc0f7bf27cef0a1096d0_main.png]

The Surf Wave wireless controller carried the promise of SEGA's experience married with FounTech's design.  However, the choice of cheaper buttons and sticks ultimately ruined what could have been the best Playstation controller for its time.
This post was edited on 2008-09-17, 21:06 by Chuck.
Author name (Administrator) #2
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Member since May 2011 · 2485 posts · Location: Brisbane
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Outstanding writeup, very interesting read...  Lotta people I know are suddenly looking for one of these.  =)
BLEARGH
Author name #3
User title: Mod Apprentice
Member since Jan 2010 · 6 posts · Location: Salem, Oregon USA
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I remember when the first one came out (the air style) and knowing about it day one but being overseas and also very poor. Now it's impossible to find either of them.
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