Snickers come easily when dealing with a product like the Stinky Footboard, to be announced later today. It has a corny name. The idea of a specialized foot-based input device for PC gaming seems spectacularly niche and nerdy.
Then you use it, and you recognize its benefits almost immediately.
The Stinky Footboard, from a new Canadian company called Stelulu Technology, makes the most sense for PC games with complicated input schemes. World of Warcraft, any modern military shooter, and competitive strategy games like League of Legends all require players to master in some cases dozens of keyboard commands. The Stinky board exists to give gamers an easier time managing those controls.
Your foot sits comfortably on the Stinky Footboard. It can take your weight, too, thanks to its steel-framed interior and sturdy plastic shell. Four Cherry MX key switches (like you'll find on many mechanical keyboards) sit under your toe, your heel, and on the sides of the board. Simply lean your foot back and forth or, less naturally, rock your ankle from side to side to trigger the switch.
You need Windows 7 or Windows 8 to use the Stinky Footboard, as well as a USB input. A simple software interface lets you program 4 different commands into the Stinky Footboard, although you can extend it to 16 commands if you toggle modifiers via the Alt, Ctrl, and Shift keys. Onboard memory also makes it possible to save profiles to the device itself, useful for those who move between PCs often.
How you assign the key commands is up to you, of course. Stelulu suggests that it's particularly well suited for situational commands, like throwing a grenade, using a melee attack, or using some less frequent spell or skill that might otherwise require you to take your finger away from your primary keyboard controls.
During a demo of the Stinky Footboard used while playing the Battlefield 3 single-player campaign, I tried the preassigned controls that Stelulu had set up, with the toe key assigned to the "sprint" command, and the heel set to lob a grenade. I wasted all of my grenades quickly while I got acclimated, but pushing down with my toe to sprint became automatic after just a few minutes.
You can customize the amount of resistance via an Allen wrench and a set of screws on the bottom of the board that adjust the tension for each of the four input points, but I found the front and back settings sufficiently responsive without having to make adjustments.
The side-to-side motion on the Stinky Footboard is less intuitive, but I can imagine getting used to it with practice.
What I especially liked about using the Stinky board is that it lent a smoother, more automatic flow to my gameplay. I didn't have to think about where the sprint key was. For more obscure commands on more obscure keys, you can also save yourself from taking your eyes off the action. Pressing down with my foot for the most part felt surprisingly natural. If virtual-reality headsets like the forthcoming Oculus Rift ever take off, gamers won't have the ability to look down at their keyboards. In that event, a no-look product like the Stinky Footboard might even become essential.
For now, the Stinky Footboard may seem like a goofy extravagance. It will cost $119 when it launches in June, with an accompanying Kickstarter campaign to help the company fund production. I can imagine people making lots of easy jokes about the Stinky Footboard, but I also expect it's one of those products that will benefit once serious PC gamers try it and start preaching its merits. If I were a competitive gamer, I would certainly give the Stinky Footboard a try.