Hit Box Arcade was born from two brothers, Dustin and Shawn Hoffer, trying to earn respect and glory within their local Marvel vs Capcom 2 community back in 2010. Whilst going to locals, doing the grind and trying to “git gud” and ready for the upcoming release of Marvel vs Capcom 3, the brothers ran into the age-old problem of missing their inputs, particularly Dragon Punches, and that was when they decided to take matters into their own hands and developed their first prototype for an all button arcade stick, which would eventually become known as the Hit Box. It became a great success for the brothers over the years, spawning a few imitators, like the Gafrobox and the Mixbox, and being adopted by professional players within the fighting game community, like Japan’s Daigo Umehara.
Fast forward to 2021, and Hit Box Arcade not only offers their perfect Hit Box controller but a Smash Bros.-friendly version called the Smash Box, and now they’ve gone one step further with their newest product, the Cross|Up, which adds a joystick and button remapping to the traditional Hit Box design. I spoke to the Hit Box Community Manager, Cameron Garcia, to find out more about this unusual but fascinating product.
Gaming Respawn: First of all, can you tell us a bit about yourself? How did you end up joining the Hit Box team?
Cameron Garcia: I was a tournament organizer for about 6 years in Las Vegas for Smash Bros. It was during this time that I met Dustin, one of the co-owners of Hit Box, when he showed up to one of the tournaments trying to play some Melee. We talked quite a bit and became friends.
After a couple of years, I stopped playing Melee as much because playing on a GameCube controller hurt my wrist that I had previously broken. I approached Dustin about trying out the Smash Box (which was still a secret at the time, I think) to help with my wrist. I was given one, I offered my input on button layout and stuff, and started playing a lot more.
Then, for EVO 2018 (the biggest fighting game tournament in the World), Dustin asked me to help them out with their first booth ever, and I accepted. I spent about 16 hours at that booth having the time of my life helping people learn the Smash Box. Two weeks later, Shawn and Dustin called me to have lunch with them, and they told me they wanted to hire me to help Smash Bros. community stuff.
From there I grew into dealing with more than just Smash and Smash Box and growing into the community manager for Hit Box as well as social media, marketing, etc. etc.
GR: What was the main inspiration behind the Cross|Up?
CG: The main inspiration was to get the stick an overall improvement, something it hadn’t really seen in years. We know how great the Hit Box is and wanted to try to give that experience to stick players, and we saw the capabilities of pad and wanted to give that to stick players.
Dustin and Shawn Hoffer, the owners of Hit Box, started off wanting to improve the stick, and the Cross|Up is their chance to do that directly.
GR: One of the improvements the Cross|Up is said to give is near-perfect execution for difficult moves; some competitors have said this gives an unfair advantage in competition to those not using a Cross|Up, so what would your response be to those players?
CG: Perfect execution still takes practice and skill on the Cross|Up – it’s just simplified. The Cross|Up still requires great strategy and game plans to go far in the bracket. The Cross|Up doesn’t play the game for you.
GR: Hit Box as a company, in my opinion, has been at the forefront of controller innovation, with the Smash Box, the Hit Box itself and now the Cross|Up. Why do you guys think this is important?
CG: Innovation is important for peripherals because games change, evolve, and innovate. Part of it is to keep up with that innovation. It’s also important because competitive gaming is becoming more and more popular, and having devices that are built to play competitively while also keeping players’ health in mind is a must – and that will require innovation. To top it off, pushing games to their limits and helping game design innovate is important as well.
GR: What sort of health issues have gamers discussed with you that the Hit Box and Smash Box have helped with?
CG: For myself, personally, I broke my wrist in sports, and eventually playing Melee long enough on a regular controller was painful after 20 minutes. Without Smash Box, I wouldn’t be able to play Melee in any serious capacity.
Overall, we get people telling us every week how Hit Box has allowed them to continue to play either due to prior injuries making pads or sticks difficult or because playing on pads or sticks gave them physical issues.
All of these people have had wrist or forearm issues. This is not to say our controllers heal or solve any of these issues people have, but we have seen plenty of people tell us that they are able to play for the first time or continue to play because of our controllers.
GR: Now we’ve seen Hit Box innovate with Smash controllers, all button controllers and now the Cross|Up, it’s far off, but are there any plans for new projects? Can we expect a Hit Pad in the future? Some sort of Hit Box take on the traditional controller?
CG: In the end, we like to take ideas one at a time. We have a really creative group of people here, and every day we come up with some cool ideas. Tough to tell where any of those lead, but I’m confident that what we do in the future will continue to innovate and shake up competitive gaming.
GR: In terms of the aesthetics, the Cross|Up features similar design as your previous products. Was that a conscious choice, and who came up with that design?
CG: Aesthetically speaking, we wanted Cross|Up to fit in with the other Hit Box products but also be its own thing. It was definitely conscious, and it was the work of both Shawn and Dustin (Hoffer), with input from the rest of the team. Especially going from the Alpha Kickstarter version to the launch version, we took feedback from the community and tested additional button layouts and designs. We really got something right with the aesthetic right from the beginning though, so all that was really adjusted was the button layout.
GR: How has the Cross|Up been received compared to your previous products? Has the campaign been going well in general?
CG: The Cross|Up is being received really well. I think because we have made such an impact on the community and are perennial to the fighting game community, more people are open to the innovation of our controllers, so the Cross|Up has had a pretty easy community conversion than I would say Smash Box or even the Hit Box have had.
GR: What do you think has been the biggest issue, if any, whilst working on the Cross|Up?
CG: Beyond the supply chain issues due to the pandemic limiting our ability to produce as often and as much as we want, I would say the most difficult thing has been learning what making a proper stick entails.
We have made all button controllers in the past, and have learned what it takes to produce those over time, so with a stick not only do none of us really play on them any more, but we don’t have experience producing them. So, making adjustments after the Alpha versions to help with stick modding and replacements was pivotal to improving the controller. It’s been a learning experience.
GR: When you showed off the Cross|Up at EVO 2019, you demonstrated how easy it was to do Kazuya Perfect Electrics (the frame-perfect version of Electric Wind God Fist) in Tekken 7 as a demo. How was that initial reaction at the time?
CG: Usually it was amazement and chuckles of “cheat box!”
GR: EVO announced the Cross|Up and other Hit Box products would be legal at their tournaments, and to my knowledge, it’s not been banned anywhere else, but have there been any official announcements you’re aware of where it’s been banned?
CG: After EVO’s controller rule set, no events have banned the Cross|Up (or any of our controllers).
GR: Why do you think people call the Hit Box and now the Cross|Up a ‘Cheat Box’ then? Lack of understanding, or do you feel they are stuck in the past?
CG: I just think it’s typical human psychology. In any major sport, when there is a rule changed from something that has been there for decades, there are plenty of people that are resistant. It’s similar to that, but also most of these people haven’t tried our controllers, so I think it may be a little bit of ignorance too.
I also don’t think our own fans spreading that term in jest has helped either, though I do think it’s fun!
GR: And do you have any final words for the fighting game community out there who may be reading?
CG: I suppose I would just like to tell people to be kind and help your communities out. Fighting games start at the local level, they start in your community discords, they start in the random matches you play online. Be kind and keep learning.
Gaming Respawn is not affiliated or partnered with Hit Box Arcade, but if you are interested in the Cross|Up or their other products, you can visit their website here.