Modified Video Game Controllers: An Unfair Advantage or Do I Just Suck?

My prey was in sight as I skulked through a dark cavern holding two sawed-off shot guns. Obtaining my kill score was getting closer with each step ... until my opponent turned and riddled my body with virtual bullets before I could get a shot off. Naturally, I reacted as any multi-player gamer would and screamed "Hacks!" over my Bluetooth headset.

Anyone who's been in a multi-player match has faced a foe impossible to kill and has used a myriad of excuses for losing: The game's lagging, my controller's broken, my girlfriend distracted me from the fight, and more recently, my opponent's using a "modified controller."

The modified controller is a device capable of initiating rapid fire and relieving you from tirelessly pressing buttons. Every system since has had its own controller variations, often designed by third-party companies and the occasional inventor with an eBay account. But those devices are archaic compared to the works of design and ingenuity coming out of Tempe's Evil Controllers.

That's right, Tempe's got a full-blown factory for modified Play Station 3 and Xbox 360 controllers with programmable modes and features tailor-made to your specifications and preferred games. The controllers they make are not cheap, but for customers looking to boost their scores and develop a competitive edge online, they may be worth the investment.

I wasn't shopping. I showed up at Evil Controllers to answer one question: Do I lose to modified controllers or do I just suck?

The Company:

Adam Coe started Evil Controllers in his dorm room four years ago after figuring out how to do basic controller modifications through tireless research on the internet. These days he's stepped up his game.

Each modified controller starts with a brand new controller straight from Microsoft or Sony. They're covered with custom patterns including skulls, camouflage, and even wood grain. The old joysticks are clunky and unresponsive so Evil Controllers replaces them with some slick, new ones. LEDs light up buttons.

So how do the Coes feel about the bad rep they get for allegedly helping gamers cheat?

"A, [the controller] helps you focus on other aspects of the game and B, it allows casual gamers to enjoy the game," says Jonah Coe. "We get Dads who come in and say 'I try to play with my son, but it's embarrassing. I don't get one kill.' They don't have time to spend ten hours a day playing."

And there are other positive aspects. The Coe brothers have done some good in the world by designing controllers for disabled gamers. One in particular was created for a former professional gamer named Nomad who plays first person shooters like Halo with only his mouth.

"He uses his chin on the bottom thumb stick, his bottom lip on the upper. He uses his lip to hit all eight functions. He'll whoop any of us."

In their "factory," Xbox 360 controllers were strewn about desks next to soldering equipment and stacked in heaps.

The Game:

The time for battle was at hand. Evil Controllers brought out their best Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 player, Josh, and we all geared up. The conditions were two rounds on a smaller map called "Rust." First I would play against the mod controller. Then we would switch. I readied my light machine gun as the battle began.

The first kills were mine and they were long distance. I rattled off shots unconcerned about wasting ammo. I knew I was in for a tough fight. When Josh did hit me though, he hit hard. Pistols were turned into miniature machine guns thanks to the controller's magic and his reload time was reduced to slivers of seconds between rapid-fire volleys of virtual bullets.

We struggled, locked in combat, until time ran out. The result? A tie.

We switched and readied ourselves for battle once again. This time it was my magnum that fired six rounds with unnatural speed, and this time, it was I who lost.

The controller modifications were impressive. Guns that normally fire three round bursts (such as the FA-MAS) now rocketed through their clips as though they were fully automatic. But there is a downside to using the controller as well. Guns with a fair amount of ricochet don't have time to recover between shots so to effectively use a modified controller, you must be more accurate than usual.

Playing with and against a mod controller taught me two things. First, it's not the controller, it's the gamer -- all the rapid fire in the world can't stand up to a well-placed grenade. Second, advantage or not, rapid-firing a revolver is a hell of a lot of fun.

See for yourself in this side-by-side video demonstration of an evil controller at work in Modern Warfare 2:

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Jonathan McNamara