Thursday, July 23, 2009

Controller vs Keyboard

In the thirty or so years that PC and console gaming have co-existed, apparently we have not yet reached the only possible solution to the controller vs keyboard conundrum.

The latest salvo was fired by none other than John Carmack himself. Rage, iD's latest venture, is being designed with a controller-first control scheme. Seeing as Rage will be coming out on consoles, I'm not entirely sure why this is a surprise. Games that are released on console and PC tend to have console centric control schemes. It is an old solution to an old problem and certainly qualifies as old news.

But it should not be that way at all.

Take, for instance, Oblivion. Bethesda's role playing master work was huge on both PC and XBox. The control scheme, however, was almost purely a menu-driven affair that was completely designed for the XBox. Playing Oblivion on the PC, while still an enjoyable experience, forced the gamer to spend unnecessary time navigating menus with the mouse and a few keys, while the vast majority of the keyboard went under used. Oblivion (PC) would have been a far better game had Bethesda taken the time to design a PC interface, and not simply assigned keyboard keys to the XBox controller buttons.

Meanwhile, we can also consider Assassin's Creed. This was definitely a console first title, and the control scheme on the PC suffered badly for it. Assassin's Creed also mapped controller buttons to keyboard keys, but while Oblivion actually did so in an intelligent manner, Assassin's Creed apparently pulled random keys out of a hat. The PC setup was painfully awkward, and it hurt the game.

It does not have to be that way. Certain game actions must have a user inputted command; that cannot change from platform to platform. Whether those commands are buried under menus, made available by individual hot keys, or triggered by some key/button combination really does not matter. In every game, the interface and control should be tailored for the best play experience on that particular platform. Sadly, all too often, this does not happen.

In the case of Rage, I'm not worried about this in the slightest. iD is too good of a company to make so basic a mistake as a butchered control scheme for any platform. Too many other developers, however, ignore this aspect the game play to all of our detriment. Neither PCs nor consoles are going away as gaming platforms. Shouldn't developers do all they can to optimize for both?

1 comment:

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