In the mid-to-late 1990s, the PC gaming industry was booming, thanks to a number of factors. One of them was the rise of the first-person shooter genre. Games in that genre were, with a few notable exceptions like Goldeneye 007 for the Nintendo 64 console, developed with the PC platform in mind during that decade.
FPS games, then and now, on the PC use the keyboard-mouse combo for their controllers. The launch of Halo for the first Xbox in 2001 proved that those games could be controlled accurately with a console controller.
Before then, however, there were attempts by companies to make joysticks and controllers specifically for first-person shooter games for the PC. Yesterday, we talked about one of them, Microsoft’s Sidewinder Dual Strike. It definitely had an unusual design with its two separate parts connected by a hinge, and it has a huge learning curve.
However, the Dual Strike looked and played far more like a normal game controller compared to the one we are talking about today: The Frag Master.
The controller was developed and released by Thrustmaster in 1998. That company previously made high end flight simulator joysticks and racing sim controllers for PCs. In terms of its business, it made sense that it would be interested in making a controller made specifically for the first-person shooter genre.
The result of that effort is a gaming accessory that, without a doubt, remains one of the oddest-looking and most awkward playing controllers ever made.
The Frag Master is designed to be placed on a table or desk. You simply could not hold it freely like you could with a console-like gamepad or controller. The base of the Frag Master was the home for the controller itself, which looked a lot like a horseshoe that was placed upright on the stand
Each of the “horseshoe’s” side had three buttons on the front, and on the back, each side had two triggers, for a total of 10 buttons. All of the buttons could be configured and mapped out with the included software, and it also came with preset configurations for games like Quake, Half-Life and more.
Gamers were supposed to hold onto each of the Frag Master’s two horseshoe sides and then move it around on the base. Unfortunately, the base only allowed the controller to move in a 4-axis design. There was a “Megahurts” mode that, when you turned it on, was supposed to make the PC think the controller was a mouse.
The controller’s box claimed it was “easier to use than a keyboard or mouse”. The truth, as you can likely guess already, was just the opposite. In a review around the time the Frag Master was released, Combatsim.com stated that while playing a game of Delta Force ” movement was very uncomfortable and did not feel the least bit natural.”
Aiming was also said to be difficult, with the reviewer stating:
As a result, I wasted a lot of ammo and time just bringing the reticule up and on target, something that’s not good for your virtual lifespan in multiplayer gaming.
The Frag Master may have some value as a conversation piece at your next party, but its value as a game controller in general, and specifically as a first-person shooter controller, is next to nothing. Thrustmaster never made a follow-up to the Frag Master, but it’s still in business making game controllers, headsets, and even accessories for playing PC farming simulators.
However, there’s no mention of that 25 year old Frag Master on its website. In a way, that’s too bad. It may not have worked as advertised, but it certainly was an interesting, if very flawed, attempt to try to replace the mouse-keyboard combo for PC FPS games.