A blog about tabletop hobby and or strategy games, with a side order of electronic turn based goodness here and there. Now with tons of retro gaming content both electronic and tabletop. Also with 20% more self loathing douchebaggery!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

[Electronic Games] Things (Nearly) Every Game Should Have Month 1: Control Remapping

I've been busy and lazy these last few months, and sadly that doesn't seem to be changing any time soon.  Though at least I have extra income.  Just.. no time to USE any of it.

So here will be a little project to bring my average back to my desired 4 posts a month setup.  These will generally be shortish posts, as most don't need that much said about them, but need more than some TOP TEN list.

A list of things I believe every electronic game should have in them.  Some of these things probably can relate to tabletop gaming, but in many cases they don't.

Expect some of these posts to get updated with photos and the like as I find the time to do so.

That being said, let's start off with one near and dear to my heart:


Back in the day, videogame controls were simple.  One button on your Atari 2600 stick or paddle, and either the analog positive/negative control of the paddle, or the 8 way control of the joystick.

But then games got more involved.  Arcade games started using trackballs or multiple buttons (Defender, Asteroids), or even multiple control types (Tron, Robotron 2084) to allow for ever more complicated yet still intuitive control schemes.

Home systems had issues keeping up,  Some Atari 2600 games even threw in bits so you could link 2 joysticks together (provided you used the normal Atari joystick), or came with custom secondary controllers (Star Raiders) to allow for advanced controls on systems nobody thought needed them originally.

Systems like the Intellivision and Colecovision added in extra buttons and the then considered good idea of a numeric keypad right on the controller, usually with a slot to slide a little plastic overlay into, allowing for deeper games.

It worked.. ok.  Some experiments like the Atari 5200's analog joystick with pause and start keys failed more due to cost cutting and a little less Q&A testing than it should have had, making them years ahead of their time, but failures at that point.  (Also see U Force, the Power Glove.)

Some games started being designed for one gimmick controller.  Good for that one game or type of game, but generally space wasting and frivolous in the long run.  We still have these today.  (Music Band game controllers, Namco's Guncon light guns for the Playstation systems, the Gamecube Bongo Drums, link cables to use portable game systems as both controller and personal screen, the Sega Samba De Amigo controllers, Fishing Controllers, Virtual On dual stick.)

Eventually controllers both console and keyboard started to morph into one decent mostly all in one type capable of playing most game types comfortably enough.  This really began taking shape with the Super Nintendo controller.  Shaped almost like a dogbone, it had the then default directional pad on one side, Start and Select buttons in the middle, 4 action buttons in a diamond formation on the right, and on the top of the controller a pair of Shoulder buttons a player's pointer fingers could access while their thumbs were working the buttons and D-Pad.

Computers also copied this scheme with the Gravis Gamepad, while having Keyboard and Mouse control for games that really needed it, and the Flight Stick (with or without Throttle controller & foot pedals) being there for the sim game crowd who demanded the proper feel.  (Or Steering Wheels for racing types.)

Outside of sometimes adding in extra analog sticks and a second pair of Shoulder buttons usually done in an analog format, the Super Nintendo controller has been pretty much the de facto standard design since.

Look at most USB gamepads for computers.  Look at the controllers for both the Playstation 3 and XBox 360.  Look at the Classic Game Controller for the Wii (a system designed and sold for a motion control gimmick).  They are all pretty much the SNES controller from 1989 with minor tweaks for comfort and analog stick additions.

We have reached a level where our game controllers are mostly similar to an automobile.  You can generally get in any car and it pretty much works like any other car in your region.  Some have clutches and shifters for manual transmission, but otherwise they are the same.  Same basic dashboard layouts, same basic information and control.

But try driving a normal car then switching to one that does things differently, either because it has some new fancy feature, or the designers just felt like it.  If you drive standard and are used to a clutch pedal and stick shift, you are NOT going to be comfortable driving one of the modern cars with wheel pedal shifters.  Its going to feel WRONG to you.  Now in time you will probably get used to it, and you may even PREFER the change.  But for quite some time you are going to be uncomfortable with all.  Its just going to feel wrong, and your quality of experience and your own ability in driving is going to be severely hampered.

The same can be said for videogames.

Try playing one of the early First Person Shooter titles on PC before WASD movement, mouse aiming/turning/firing was implemented.  You aren't going to do well.  In fact you are gonna suck and possibly hate the game.  You just aren't used to it and it feels wrong.  Because so many other games since have gone to a basic standard style of control.

Hell, just put a console FPS player on a PC Mouse Keyboard control and vice versa.  They are MISERABLE and terrible.  They aren't used to it, and their previous experiences are what they know and are comfortable with.  (I've seen this, especially in the N64 days with Goldeneye.  I couldn't stand the game's controls.  Yet I tried putting my friend on Aliens vs Predator and he could barely move straight, much less aim.  He was used to how the N64 did an FPS, I was used to PC WASD Mouse control.)

Same thing with standard video and computer games using the gamepad.  If you are used to an action game using one button as primary action, and another as the secondary, games that have this setup being different just won't really ever feel right.

Which is where REMAPPING CONTROLS comes in to play.  Don't like the setup of the game?  Change it to one you like.

Awesome, right?  Let everyone play in the style most comfortable to them.  Its not hard to do, games on the god awful 80s UK Sinclair Spectrum computer had key remapping (considering that junkbox didn't even have a built in joystick port, control schemes never really had a default on it).  And by the Genesis era, button remapping was all but a standard feature.


Many games, especially on consoles still don't allow you to do this.


Laziness?  Stupidity?  Developers just think everyone wants to play the way they do?

There is no need for this.  The 2 biggest offenders of this in the modern day are Konami on almost everything, and most developers for Nintendo portables.

I have trouble even playing Metal Gear Solid 3 on the PS2, or Contra 4 on the Nintendo DS because their controls aren't what I am comfortable with in my action games.

Most of my DS titles tend to be strategy and RPG titles, most made in Japan where their Accept and Cancel buttons are BACKWARDS from Western style.  It makes adaptation and comfort in a new game kind of sucky.  And sometimes messes me up from when I switch back from a 40 hour JRPG to a Western game.  I have to keep doing something that should become second nature in my head instead of on automatic.

Really any potential developer reading this.

Take the hour or so to let your players remap keys and buttons to their taste.  In the end it will provide a lot more player happiness and satisfaction.

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