The following is part rant, part info-graphic, all for fun.
We as gamers know that there's many things that can very quickly make or break a game. For some it's graphics, others it's the quality of sound and sometimes it's the core mechanics of the game. All of these are very understandable, but there's one that I left out, which I sometimes think Quality Assurance does as well ever now and then, which is the control layout.
Fortunately, computer gamers will almost always have a reasonable means to adjust the controls to their liking either in game or through some kind of workaround. Consolers aren't always so lucky. This isn't a post about Consoles though, so I'm going to largely skip over that facet.
When the controls are wonky,it because just about immediately apparent. Within seconds a game can go from a pleasant experience to something worthy of fits of rage that send Cheetos and empty Mountain Dew cans scattering across the desk and floor. No Mom, I didn't die in Counter Strike again, I'm just sick of shitty controls! Suddenly your basement suite isn't so peaceful anymore.
How could they get bindings for such a common piece of hardware wrong? This is why I developed a guide, a visual sort of guide to this quirky thing: the QWERTY keyboard!
Here we are, face to face with that all to familiar interface. It does more than just help you enter your passwords, type emails to the grandparents and reward yourself for your thoughtfulness by helping you browse porn. It also controls your in game character and collects Doritos crumbs. Let's have a close look shall we? No, not at the crumbs or those weird sticky spots that you swear must be from "soda". The layout is what we're here for.
Where do we start? Well, if you take a typing class, the first thing they'll teach you is where to find the Home Keys
. These are the keys where your fingers will spend the majority of their time and where you can most easily reach the rest of the keys with minimal strain. For typists, these are ASDF and JKL; or some shit like that. Gamers have a very different set of home keys. We also generally only use one half of the keyboard, the other hand remaining on the mouse. For the purpose of this demonstration, we're going to focus on the most common scheme, which is referred to as WASD. Let's highlight those home keys
Hey wait a tick! Didn't I say the Home Keys
are W, A,
S, and D
? Why is SHIFT
and the SPACEBAR
highlighted and why not S? What happened here?
A couple things. First, place your middle finger on W
. Now place your ring finger on A
and your index finger on D
. Where does your thumb and pinky finger land naturally? If you're like me and a large majority of five fingered humanity you'll find that the thumb naturally lands on the SPACEBAR
and the pinky finger finds the SHIFT
key. The reason why S is excluded from the highlight is that at a normal resting position, the middle finger does not land there. You'll use it, probably often, but it's not the starting position. The S key is also excluded from the rest of this guide because it is something of an exception. While not part of the Home Keys, it's not part of the other key sets that I will discuss later either.
When setting up the control scheme for your game, this is where players are going to start, it's what they will expect and if you do differently, you may have already made a bad impression. It's highly recommended to start here. Something of note, as a general rule, proximity to these home keys plays a major role in the classifications. Closer is better but again, there are exceptions.
So you've got your basic movement keys down. You're moving in two dimensions, three with the help of the SPACE BAR
if it allows you to jump, and you're sprinting along happily with the SHIFT
key or something like that. Naturally, those keys don't necessarily have to work as a sprint and jump key, but you get the picture. It's really a matter of what the player will be doing more than anything else and if that's sprinting/jumping or dodging/farting it makes no difference; but I digress.
Now you're ready for some other controls. You are ready to start switching weapons, crouching, throwing grenades, picking flowers and singing songs - whatever it is that your going to do almost as frequently as running and jumping. These are what I call the Accessory Keys
You may have noticed that not all the keys one over from the home keys have been highlighted. This is because the human hand does not always move like that and in fact some keys are just plain old inconvenient. Let me show you:
: Place your fingers on the home keys
. Now, without lifting your middle or ring finger, reach for the keys E
Pretty easy huh? Now move your ring finger up to the Q
key. You'll also find that the pinky finger slides easily to the CTRL
key without moving your ring, middle and index fingers from your home keys.
: Now place your fingers back on the home keys
. Move your index finger down to the C key. Feel a little cramped? Return to the home keys
and try to hit X
without moving your thumb.
See? Proximity != ease of access.
Keys 1,2, and 3 also do not make the cut because to access them, you must remove your finger from W, which is normally used for moving forward. In order to access these keys easily without standing still, you must use your other movement keys. Not everyone has an issue with mashing the number keys in the middle of a firefight, but there are a lot of gamers who will fumble, particularly casual gamers.
There is a fine line between these keys and the next set. It can be largely subjective based on how mutated you are or how much practice you have but on average, these Accessory keys
are the most convenient to use after the home keys.
Now we have the keys that I will refer to as the Info and Options keys.
These keys are best suited for the third tier of usage. This includes things like switching between weapon slots, active powers, going prone, and setting up your bipod before you mow people down like they are overgrown weeds. These also include important functions like chatting, checking scoreboards, checking the overhead map, etc etc. These are sort of things you can do when you aren't in the middle of the action or in the case of the number keys, things you can do relatively quickly.
They still aren't as fast as the Accessory keys
for the most part, but they are still convenient and accessible within reason. Again you'll notice that keys Z
are still not included. While close to the C and ALT keys, they are not worthy of being with the Info and Options keys.
This is an important point. Developers take notice: Even at the third tier of control convenience, the Z
keys are not included.
So what should they be used for and why stress this point? Well, let's get on with it then.
These keys fall into what I call the Zone of Despair
I call it this because in almost all circumstances, it is not a viable option to lift your palm to wedge a thumb in to mash those keys. It's also a poor move to lift your finger from one of the home keys to try to press X
and frankly, I'm tired of playing pinky-finger-twister to hit that Z
key that is just out of reach.
have no place acting as a secondary or even - god forbid - primary usage key. These keys, though right below the home keys, are a task to access in high-action events in games. However, it is also important to note that this fact can be exploited in some instances for an almost favorable use.
: Your game has some thing to do with space marines and aliens or some shit. You want the player to experience what it's like to fumble a bit with your equipment in a panic. The player can whip out his trusty welder and seal heavy metal doors shut. To do this he must put his gun away and focus on the task at hand. Instead of being able to quickly switch to the welder, you could have the player take his hand off his all important home keys to hit the Z
keys. This makes the player think twice. Is losing that split second of maneuverability worth it?
: Players are able to setup proximity mines and disguise them for other players to stumble upon to their doom. One can't expect even a professional to just whip out a mine and set it up in half a second. Have players press and hold X
to set it up.
STOP THE PRESSES!
"Sir, I have a question!."
"Why is it that the ALT key has not also been included in the Zone of Dispair
when it is directly below the X
"Good question, Timmy. I'll show you why. Here, place your fingers on the home keys."
"That's right. Now without moving your pinky, ring, middle or even the index finger, swing your thumb inward and place it on the ALT key. Notice how there's plenty of space in the arch of your fingers for this to happen?"
"Wow! That sure is swell mister!"
"It sure is, boy! It sure is..."
No matter what manner you wish to use the X
keys in, if at all, let it not be a function that anyone will need frequently.
There is another reason to not use Z
as well. It places the fingers in a dangerous position, far too close to the Key of Death.
The Key of Death
is notorious. It's unforgiving, relentless and doesn't give a shit about your fun. It's purpose is to ruin a perfectly good gaming experience and it is otherwise known as the Windows
key. It has other names for other operating systems, but that's not important. What is important is that when possible, it's not a bad idea to disable it entirely. I don't even have to explain why it's so bad. This is a gaming website and I'm sure you all know very well why it's so bad.
So there you have it - wait what? Oh right! I almost forgot. In Figure 5 we have another key being highlighted right there in the top left corner. See it?
This is what you could call the Utility key. It rarely gets any credit for being as useful as it can be. In many instances, particularly with games based on the Quake and Source engine, it brings up the console. The console is a handy dandy tool you can use to change system variables, run commands, find information about the game and the current server etc etc. It's wildly useful for things like troubleshooting.
Sometimes we forget that though access to information can lead to hacks and pirating, it also is very appreciated when a user is able to find exactly what they need or fix something without messing with a bunch of menus. It's fast, sometimes efficient, and in many cases lets the host of a server or game control their environment for the (hopefully) better experience for everyone else.
It's not important in the usual gaming scene, but having the option available is better than any support ticket system
Now, let's bring it all back together and put it all into perspective.
As the colors go from cool blue
along the spectrum, they go from very accessible to rage
If you're a game developer and are looking for some tips on how to setup your control scheme to match what players are generally going to want, I suggest following these examples.
Happy gamers are happy consumers and happy consumers keep you employed (and happy). read