Control Freak

When you begin a new PC game, what is the first thing that you do? If your name is Eddie Inzauto, you immediately hit the options screen and configure your keyboard and mouse. You change the default “WASD” over to “ESDF” to allow your pinky finger access to more commands; you make sure jumping and crouching oppose each other — one on keyboard, one on mouse; you basically set thing up so that they are comfortable for YOUR style of play.

A major flaw in the design of console games has persisted for ages, and for the most part has been completely overlooked, as if it was not a flaw at all. If a gamer picks up a copy of Timesplitters 2 and goes through the usual motions of controller configuration, he will realize that the issue is actually glaring, but us gamers mostly wear darkly tinted glasses to shield us from it.

You see, Timesplitters 2 offers something that few console games rarely do — fully customizable controls. Every available command in the game is mappable to whichever button the player sees fit to map it. It’s just like a normal PC game. Want to shoot with the Y button? Go right ahead.

Nowadays, the general rule is that developers make the games, and gamers play them how the developers want them to. Maybe a choice of inverted or non-inverted analog sticks is thrown in, but that is often the limit. In some games, like The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, for example, players aren’t even given THAT much. If someone simply can’t stand inverted aim, it’s tough titty for them.

The genre that stands out to me most is the console FPS. Personally, I have had slight issues ever since the N64 days — one issue, to be precise. The N64 controller placed a trigger in the left hand of gamers, and told them to shoot with it. Goldeneye 007 grew in poularity until it reached legendary status – all while forcing predominantly right-handed players to shoot with their left hand. This was all well and good, because who even HAD triggers before then? Who had console FPS games before then?! Somehow, though, I’m sure somebody somewhere was complaining the entire time.

After the N64, things changed. Most likely to appeal to the masses of right-handed players out there, FPS were programmed to use the R buttons to fire. Therein lies my personal example of a control scheme that is incongruous to gamer preference. To aim with a dual-analog setup, players need to make heavy use of the right thumbstick. Shooting with the right index finger at the same time detracts (even if only slightly) from the precision of one’s aim. Why not let gamers choose the trigger they prefer? I would choose the left — a luxury provided by only a few games (Gears of War included… luckily).

The issue of non-customizable controls is one that probably plagues more games than most gamers will ever know, simply because oftentimes the default controls fall right in line with gamers’ personal preferences – the devs do TRY to implement the most accepted layout, of course. This largely invisible problem only manifests itself in the case of the offended player, to which a game can become nigh unplayable as a result of a simple control tweak that may be absent. Telling them to simply “suck it up and deal” is easy, but that doesn’t solve any problems — nor does it make games better.

My proposal is a shift toward GREATER… uh… control… over a game’s control setup — not less. It can’t be too difficult, because PC games have done it forever, nearly universally. This change is a simple way to appeal to more gamers, making them happier to play, and making the gaming world that much of a better place.


P.S. To all you videogame companies, be advised that this option will presumably get your games higher composite scores on sites such as GameRankings and MetaCritic, too. There is bound to be a reviewer out there who hates your control scheme… and then bashes your game. Imagine if he got to play it how he wanted. Pad that score; add control customization.


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Author: Eddie Inzauto View all posts by
Eddie has been writing about games on the interwebz for over ten years. You can find him Editor-in-Chiefing around these parts, or talking nonsense on Twitter @eddieinzauto.

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