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Understanding Video Game Controls

Video Game Controls – Keyboard or Controller?

Since we’ve already suggested what constitutes gameplay, it’s time to tackle the next tough subject of “Do gamers prefer to play on their keyboards as opposed to controllers?” I recently found a report on PC Overwatch players winning against players who use a controller.

It’s making me wonder about the debate because apparently at higher levels, shooting enemy teams in Overwatch is more precise on a keyboard which is why console users are buying a Xim4 adaptor to even the battlefield. 

When it comes to PC gaming, connecting a controller port to your laptop might be an alien concept to some. In reverse, you can’t link your computer keyboard to a console system due to incompatible hard drives and no way to port them. 

How these controls translate into gameplay mechanics?

Let’s talk about keyboards first as I’m aware that most people who use Steam are likely quite accustomed to WASD and rotating their camera with the arrow keys. Your keys are all 26 letters of the alphabet and numbers 1-9. These are usually involved in equipping items from your inventory.

The mouse is easily the fastest motion pointer allowing us to press buttons, click on colorful graphics, icons, or select among windowed interfaces while providing us with hours of mindless entertainment, often taken for granted. Story-based games require you to click next after lines of dialogue.

The computer mouse spawned the classic point-&-click flash games we played long ago. It also enhances our aim in shooter games as a mouse pointer is more flexible than a motion control remote such as the Wii due to being able to move around faster. The cursor on a Wii is sensitive to the smallest movements which made playing games a challenge as winning demanded more precision.

That’s why I am inclined to play games with the analog sticks to navigate the characters with ease or point to armor I wanted to equip. In addition, the ability to target enemy mobs helps improve my aim since many first-person shooters require knowing how to dodge and shoot at the same time!

For instance, when I played Saint’s Row IV, I didn’t have a problem with the controls on PC since everything was in 3rd person and I could freely explore the surrounding area while doing missions with my party. There are clear objectives that pre-determine where you need to go. You can change focus with the mouse as shown by the central crosshair and click to fire your machine guns.

It’s pretty straightforward to play choose your own adventure games like the Telltale series on Steam. I remember all those quick-time events on The Wolf Among Us, that aren’t too difficult if you just follow the instructions on the screen to perform stunts with your button mashing. And half of it was solving mysteries by clicking on suspicious-looking objects.

Comparing the Two Systems of Gaming

Video game controllers (i.e. X-Box 360, PS4, Nintendo DS) have one advantage over computer keyboards. And that is the ability to turn the analog stick in a full 360 degrees circle. Some video games expect the player’s reflexes to be top-notch. The joysticks allow players to move their characters in any direction they want.

The WASD keys in most PC games represent the arrow keys, limiting the player to only 8 different directions if you count diagonals that combine left-down/up-right and so forth. On the upside, a keyboard has a far greater number of keys (mainly Shift, Tab, Ctrl) that indie developers can exploit for building original mechanics. 

The control schemes on consoles follow a similar trend of having two analog sticks, left and right bumpers, four buttons A, B, X, and Y vs. Triangle, Square, Circle, and X. One could argue that the Xbox and PlayStation are practically identical! There’s even a central “Home” button plastered with their logos as shown below.

The vast majority of consoles like the PS3 feature interfaces where you can choose from a variety of avatars from accessing the online store to configuring your settings. The media icons do stand out to viewers and are aesthetically pleasing. Games, music playlists, and your friend’s list are things you can scroll through via a controller. 

To wrap things up, I would consider the keyboard and controller as equally capable of captivating gamers through their sheer level of interactivity. Anyway, I will stick to PC since it has more buttons meaning more options. But, I do want to connect a controller to my laptop soon because there are games I can’t play without it.

Why Some Games are Better on PC Than Others

Video game companies have made quite the conundrum when they began adapting console games to PC. In order for console games to be playable on PC, their basic controls would have to be changed as using both the keyboard and controller can become disorienting. It is a problem that managed to stump me back when I played my first games on Steam.

Just as an example, I tried to Co-Op Borderlands II with Paul (I was Zer0 the assassin and he chose Kreig the psycho). When we started the tutorial, it would say “Use RT to fire” or figuring out that the scroll wheel is the same as the Y button on XBox to select equipment. The best solution was to simply press all the keys randomly until something happens.

Alphathon/CC-BY-SA 3.0 Modified by Wenxi

Adjusting to Keyboard Controls from Console is no easy task. It’s probably a good thing Nintendo stayed away from the PC since they’d be doing a complete overhaul of their system which consisted of the L and R triggers, the A, B, X, and Y buttons (on GameCube), and the classic D-Pad. 

And to prove my point that not all games can be played using just your average mouse and keyboard, I’ll be explaining why some games recommend having a controller at hand whereas others are manageable with your laptop alone. 

I mean the most obvious answer to a game unplayable without an Xbox 360 controller is Dark Souls (plus its sequels). But that’s only because it wasn’t properly ported onto PC. Now one I know for certain is a pain in the ass has to be Super Meat Boy.

I watched a lot of people outright rage quit this one when they die at nearly every checkpoint. It’s safe to say that playing Super Meat Boy with a gamepad is a huge advantage since I’ve heard you can adjust the jumping height by changing how fast you run.

Super Meat Boy by BagoGames/CC-BY 2.0

On the other hand, I have plenty of games that aren’t affected by whether you have a controller or not. Shadowrun: Hong Kong comes to mind because it is a strategic RPG with the same mechanics as Dungeons and Dragons.

As enemy encounters are turn-based, you have time to plan out a strategy; who attacks first, is the healer, will be using AP abilities and how to get out of the Matrix alive.

Last but not least, I would like to bring up Japanese visual novels such as Enigma which is comprised of reading a beautiful picture book for 25 hours with minimal gameplay besides making major decisions by selecting dialogue.

It’s all point-&-click so good reflexes are unnecessary. The story is about Chester and his adventure in a mythical forest to find the source of his illness while meeting a strange doll-like girl. It isn’t a dating sim as more focus is on making friends with the villagers. 

Video games can be played on different controls with minor adjustments here and there. Are you more of a PC or controller fan?

Spoilers in Gaming

Evaluating Gameplay

4 thoughts on “Understanding Video Game Controls”

  1. What I think is for many controller players, who have played console their whole life, it’s easier to go with what they know best than trying to learn completely a new input method.

    Again playing video games with a mouse for the first time will be difficult for the same reasons. It takes time to build a good enough muscle memory to actually point and click in the places your brain is telling your hand to.

  2. I find it very difficult to play PC games with a keyboard or even a mouse, my preferred way will definitely be the remote. Some games rally require one to have a remote I think as there are just too many buttons to press at the same times, I get too confused with a keyboard. Any specific remote controls you would prefer suitable for PC games?

    1. You really think so? I’ve always been a fast typist so the keyboard isn’t too bad if you don’t need to look down all the time.

      I’d say the Xbox 360 controller (wireless) and the one by Steam should work on PC Games. Though PlayStation DualShock 4 is apparently pretty good too.

    2. It really does depend on the person, some First Person games I play with my controller because I started playing them on a console before I went full PC. That being said, When I play Borderlands with Wenxi I play with Keyboard so we can both keep track of the same controls. For a lot of the games on Steam, I use mouse and Keyboard because my games don’t support controllers, or the controller doesn’t end up figuring in as an advantage.

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