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.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Potential Mekton 2 Campaign?

Some friends are trying to get some sort of active game running someplace.  I have been wanting to run a campaign SO DAMNED BAD ITS NOT EVEN FUNNY for like 2 years now.

They may actually indulge me and I can finally run a Mekton 2 game.  This is the mad idea I have for a proposal, inspired by the videogame series "Super Robot Wars" which is a strategy RPG series bringing various unconnected giant robot shows into one massive continuity and story.


In the year 2012 paranoia about the end of the Mayan calendar caused an already unstable world political system to explode, with wars breaking out all over the world.

Then what came to be known as The Second Impact happened.  A massive alien spacecraft crashed into an Oregon mountain.

Initial findings of this craft, (eventually named the SDF 1 Ark) lead to the realization mankind was not alone in the cosmos.  The technologies recovered and retrofitted brought humanity together for a time as more and more people rallied around this knowledge and questioned why this event was called the second.

Many organizations said it was time to leave Mother Earth.  Over the next 16 years massive miles long near Earth space colonies were launched, and our first deep space colony expedition was sent to what would be known as the Arus Colony.  

Our technologies advanced by leaps and bounds with advanced weapon systems creating 20 foot tall or even larger battle robots called Adamythril Knights becoming more and more common.

But why would such machines be created?

Many hardliners said it was to prepare to fight whatever had created the Ark in the first place.   Others said it was due to whatever secret impact happened before this one.  Others said it was the harbinger of God's judgement and we needed to be ready.

But in 2028 tensions began to rise as an emergency message from the Arus Colony was received.  While garbled, one phrase was clear: "We are under attack from the Drule Empire".  The NGG (Nerv Geoid Guard) sent out the Rugger Guard Expedition, onboard containing the prototype Voltron Project machine to investigate and possibly defend Arus.

This caused great political upheavals as the main military force unaffiliated with any one country or space colony was now away from home, leaving Earth barely defended.  When the Rugger Guard Expedition failed to report in as scheduled 6 months later one final smaller team was sent in the Ramrod Frontier Defender.  It also has not reported in on its 6 month schedule.

This was the final straw, causing 8 of the 12 space colonies to officially defect from Earth, calling themselves the Archduchy of Zeon, under the rule of the powerful Zabi family.  They had secretly been developing Adamythryl Knights of their own, deploying them against one of the neutral colonies, killing all of the people on board, and sending the massive colony on a suicide run, crashing it into the NGG headquarters in Switzerland, breaking what little organization and cooperation that still remained amongst the nations of Earth.

If a splinter nation in space of less than 10 million people could both build a massive army and mount such a devastating attack, what good was all the new technology and unity?

The Zabis claimed to be Divine Crusaders, and only an Earth under their control could stop the inevitable alien attack soon to occur.  They claim that only under their banner will the Earth survive.

The resultant chaos and disaster caused a number of other organizations to rise up as if this was the sign they were waiting for.  In Europe a new force was founded by Anatole Priestly, who claimed to be the first Defender of Man, forming a political bloc to both fight off the Zeon and any outside influence.  He revealed the existence of psychic powers in mankind that had been steadily rising since the First Impact and that he had been preparing for this inevitable war for centuries.  People call his ever growing army The New European Empire as most in the region fall under his sway.

He said these psychics were Newtypes, and his biogenetic warriors known as Space Marines would defend these heralds until they were ready to lead the Earth.  Some European nations opposed joining his empire, though currently only a small nation lead by the Peacecraft family is showing any capacity for holding out against his armies, the prototype Gundam Mobile Knights being their last line of defense.

In Japan the mad scientist Doctor Hell with his monstrous Angels are constantly attacking the NGG's secondary base, the arcology known as Tokyo 3 in his attempt to capture the powerful weapons being developed there.  Even the help of the Photon Power Laboratory and its prototype combat knight Mazinger Z is doing little more than holding the mad Doctor and his monstrous creations at bay.

Should he get a hold of the Evangelion and Brave Robot AI machines Earth won't have to worry about the Zeon.  He will be a bigger threat than them all.

And now in Oregon our heroes are preparing a new generation of Adamythryl Knights to defend the Earth against the Zeon, Doctor Hell, and this mysterious empire in deep space.

Will the SRX Team come together with their new experimental machines and join forces with what remains of the NGG and stop the chaos on Earth before its too late?

And what of the Ark itself?  Rumors abound that its creators did not come from the same region of space as the Drules.  Is there yet another race hostile to man out there?  And can the NGG even stay together?  Many say there are Zeon sleeper agents within helping to keep the NGG from organizing the Earth.  It is said that they have even infiltrated a secret Earth colony near Alpha Centauri, overtaking what in some shadowy corridors is known as Project Unicron.


Well, there is my proposal for a campaign.  Most of the people I know who might play aren't mecha fans like I am, but I think I have taken enough bits from enough shows to make my own unique spin on the Super Robot Wars formula, putting the players in a place where they can both shine yet still interact with some characters from various other robot cartoons.  (Super Robot Wars fans know what the SRX is, though mine will be a unique creation based on number of players and what Mekton 2's creation system allows me to come up with.  The actual SRW SRX team and mecha won't be featured.)

This isn't going into massive details but is enough of a springboard to give me a wide array of adventures for the players to inevitably screw up any plans I make as players are gloriously wont to do.  Hell I EXPECT IT out of folks.


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