On July 13th, rhythm game history was made. 15-year-old Twitch streamer Vaxei became the first osu! player to achieve 1,000 performance points in a single song. This kicked off a roller-coaster two weeks that saw the record snatched from him less than a day later by 18-year-old Caleb “idke” Yin with a score of 1,035, then reclaimed on the 25th with 1,066. And he did it on a 480.
What do those words mean and how do they relate to Wacom?
osu!—all lowercase, exclamation point mandatory—is a free rhythm game created by Aussie-by-way-of-Japan developer Dean Herbert. It adds an extra visual dimension to the rhythm game formula as you hit circles and trace patterns that appear on the screen.
It’s hard to convey in text alone just how insane it can get at the highest levels, so here’s a video of Vaxei’s first record game:
Warning: Language in the chat. As in any Twitch video.
Top players for games like Fortnite and Counter-Strike use it as a warmup, contributing to its popularity, but it’s a legitimate esport in itself: The 75th most popular online game, with 15 million registered users, hotly competitive rankings, and an official global tournament, the osu! World Cup. It was released in 2007, but achieved its success gradually, becoming a gen-z phenomenon with many champions in their teens.
It was originally intended to be played with a mouse, but as it became a cult hit, records were broken, and user-created levels got faster and more serpentine, players realized it was easier to keep up with a tablet. “Pen mode” allowed them to instantly pick up and drop their cursor to another part of the screen, and hover tracking made it possible—if you used the x and z keys as substitutes for the mouse buttons—to play without even touching the surface.
Enter the Wacom 480’s.
The Intuos CTL480 Pen and its finger-sensitive brother, the CTH480 Pen & Touch, were released in 2013, the small sizes of a new midrange line intended for semi-pro artists who needed more features than the Bamboo offered but not quite as many as the pricier Intuos 5. Wacoms were already the gold standard for osu!, and with faster, more sensitive tracking than the Bamboo, the Intuos Pen was the best new tablet available on a gamer’s budget.
They were soon popularized by Shigetora, a Korean—also by way of Japan—player called “the greatest of all time,” who reached the #1 worldwide rank at age 13 and has racked up tens of millions of Youtube and Twitch views in the nine years since.
Seen here crushing an Undertale.
Although his individual records have since been blown away, he’s still known as the best all-arounder, with unmatched longevity and popularity with the community: and watching him win World Cups time and again on a CTH480 cemented its reputation. Other popular streamers like Flyingtuna (the #3 player) and Abyssal made their names on it. Vaxei has used one since the beginning, and his records were set on it.
A unique confluence of features made the 480 perfect for osu!: As the small version of the Pen/Pen & Touch, users could navigate the screen faster than with a medium or large, but it had a bigger active area than its competitors and enough sensitivity to handle the sub-millimeter precision mapping to a gaming monitor required. The pens were light and battery-free, a novel feature in 2013, with a hover distance (the height above the tablet surface that it can still track the pen’s movements) that’s exceptional to this day. Build quality was strong enough to handle drops, spills, even enraged fists: Youtuber Squashy Boy smashed it with a hammer, ran water over it, set it on fire, and found it still usable. We do not endorse doing that to our product, but it’s good to know.
But most importantly, they were fast.
Where artists value pen stabilization and a papery texture, rhythm gamers need pure speed. Their goal is to minimize “input lag,” the amount of time between your drawing the stroke on the tablet and the computer registering it: It’s measured in milliseconds, and the ideal number is zero.
Fans have gone as far as to develop full alternative drivers that increase response time and sensitivity, and even remove motion smoothing. We can’t officially endorse using our hardware with third-party drivers either, but their hard work is commendable, and at least they’re not setting it on fire.
The Hawku-Devocub Driver. Image by Garonen_7.
The 480 series has been discontinued, but it’s still called the King of osu! Used ones can go for higher than their original retail price due entirely to this market, with fans making side businesses out of buying and selling just those two models.
Since then, the Intuos line has evolved in the direction of being easier to draw on, adding features unnecessary for gamers with a singular need. In the words of one Redditor, “They target artists, not shut in circle clickers.”
However, some players stuck with the line…
Timowoof’s Intuos Draw, signed by other streamers and Hebert himself (“peppy,” center right) at TwitchCon.
… And our other products have advanced in many of the same ways the 480’s pioneered: Players with newer hardware report just as good results from the Bamboo Pen Small and the One.
If you want to dive into the world of osu!, you can download it here.
Special thanks to players ColdSalsa, Shimshar, Irya, CheeseManFuu, Edythator, and the community at r/osugame for their contributions.
About the Author: CS Jones
CS Jones is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer, illustrator, and occasional photographer. He spends his spare time listening to Spotify and waiting for trains. Someday, he’ll finish that graphic novel. In the meantime, his work is best seen at thecsjones.com or @thecsjones on Instagram.