PC and Console Interface Design:
Dumbing Down

By Shamus
on May 19, 2008
Filed under:
Game Reviews

Last week the thread on Oblivion deteriorated into the old PC vs. Console debate, based mostly on my comment that games were “dumbed down” for consoles. That debate is as stale as they come, and I doubt we’ll gain any new insight into the issue.

Indigo Prophesy, wack-ass controls.
But lest console gamers think I’m being “elitist”, let me point out that this can work both ways: In the game Indigo Prophesy – which enjoyed both console and PC releases – there are several types of gameplay events. On the console, action events require you to operate two thumbsticks at once. Button-mash events require you to flutter two adjacent buttons. And normal gameplay requires you to move around and look at stuff. On the PC, there is no control scheme that can do all of this, so you have too keep moving your hands around. One hand on each side of the keyboard for action events. Both hands on the left for button-mash. One hand on the mouse for normal navigation.

They could have changed the core parts of the action gameplay to suit both platforms, and console gamers would rightly be able to complain that the action parts of the game were “dumbed down”. Any button-mashing that works gracefully on the PC is going to be very easy and simplistic on a gamepad, and any fast-paced button pushing that works on a gamepad is going to be a mess on the PC. Re-working God of War or Soul Caliber so that the controls work for both PC and console gamers would ruin the highly polished experience that console gamers have grown to love. Designers can either cater to one platform at the expense of another, or they can write two different games. Guess which one is more likely?

But I have been thinking about the differences between the two control schemes. Let us dismiss from the start the idea that one system is superior to the other: They each have their purpose, and each has their place in gaming.

The Dual Shock controller (and it’s many cousins) is a very interesting device. Check out the diverse selection of buttons:

  • There is a pair of thumbsticks, one for each thumb, providing two analog directional inputs.
  • There’s a direction pad for the left thumb for when it’s not busy using the left stick. You can think of this as four buttons, because that’s what it is.
  • There are four buttons for the right thumb for when it’s not busy with the right stick. These buttons are referred to as “touch-sensitive”. To me, it feels like they have two levels – you can push them gently or hard. Perhaps they’re more sensitive than that and I’m not experienced enough to discern it.
  • There are four “shoulder” buttons, which are operated by the index and middle fingers. Each of these buttons has a dedicated finger, which means you can have the player hold the button down without depriving them of the ability to press other buttons. The shoulder buttons are often used as a modifier, to change the behavior of other buttons, like shift keys. Four shift keys – each with their very own dedicated finger. Try that on a PC!
  • Each of the sticks can also be pushed down, for two additional buttons.
  • There are two special-purpose buttons in the middle of the controller. Since the player has to “reach” to hit these – moving their fingers out of the default position – these buttons are usually reserved for special stuff like bringing up the menu and pausing the game.

That’s a total of sixteen different buttons, four of which are pressure sensitive, and fourteen of which are always within reach without the player needing to move their hands. It maximizes the use of both hands while providing several different types of input.

Contrast this with the PC. The average keyboard has at least 101 keys. Unlike the Dual Shock, these keys are not all being cradled by the player’s hand. They’re spread out all over the place. Depending on how the player sets things up, they aren’t really going to have more than a half-dozen keys easily within reach. Their d-pad (the WASD keys) are not governed by the thumb, but by most of the left hand. So the PC has far more total keys, but there are restrictions on how those can be used. Usually only one hand is running the show, and it’s bad interface design to insist that the hand move very far on a regular basis, or that the user needs to press more than a couple of buttons at a time.

But the PC also has one of the finest pointing instruments ever devised: The mouse. Console gamers often claim that the thumbstick is “just as good as the mouse” once you “get used to it”. They’re wrong.

No, don’t go down to the comments and start writing your flame. Just don’t. Look at how laptops have evolved. Look at what they use when a mouse isn’t available. A thumbstick is a fine instrument and can stand in for a mouse in a pinch, but it will never be a match for the mouse in terms of accuracy and speed. I can believe you can get “good” at the thumbstick, and I know many people enjoy it, but if you want to move a pointer around the screen (or, say, aim your crosshairs) then the mouse is unparalleled and the thumbstick is a poor substitute. Note how on the console you do not “mouse” around the screen selecting options – you page through them with shoulder buttons and directional keys. This isn’t because console developers can’t figure out how to make a windows – type interface, it’s because such an interface would be maddening to use with a thumbstick. I know there are console fanboys out there who just refuse to believe that their chosen platform isn’t the very best at doing everything all the time, everywhere. There really is no sense in arguing with those people, but on this subject it’s hard not to. The supremacy of the mouse over the stick for aiming something (a gun or a pointer) should be obvious to anyone who has tried to use both.

/rant

Anyway, these are two very different systems for accepting user input. On the console, the thumbs are in charge of most of the action. They operate the sticks and press the most crucial buttons. On the PC, the thumbs are barely involved. The right thumb is idle – it rests by the mouse. The left thumb is most likely set to thwack the spacebar every once in a while. The PC can only provide two axis of analog input via the mouse. The console can provide four via the thumbsticks. None of the buttons on the PC are pressure-sensitive.

You don’t steer a car with toggle switches. You don’t turn on the TV with a crank. You don’t use pullchains on your thermostat. You don’t open doors with a footpedal. This “which one is better” argument is futile. The problem isn’t which system is better, the problem is which system is better for the game you’re trying to play.

On the console you design menus to be very short, because nobody wants to hit the down button 50 times to get to the option they want. You want the text to be nice and large so you can read it from across the room on a television. The PC can fit lots of information onto the screen at once, because even the average PC has more pixels than the best HDTV, and the user is sitting just inches away. The mouse can zip to wherever it needs to be and stop in just the right spot without trouble, and so it’s better to offer all the options on one big page.

You can’t pack as much info onto the HUD of a console game, because by the time you make the text readable for non-HDTV users you’ve eaten up a lot of the screen. So the natural thing to do is to make games appropriate for the medium. Make menus larger with less options. Reduce the number of things you need to cram onto the HUD. That’s just good game design. But if the game ends up on the PC, then PC Gamers are going to notice the missing things. The game will, inevitably, feel dumbed-down.

Looping back to the discussion that started all this, I do expect Fallout 3 to get some dumbing down. If you played either of the two previous games, you know that their interfaces are purely mouse-driven beasts, dense with options. If you ported that directly to the PS3 or XBox 360, the gamers would savage you for it. The thing would be unplayable. The game needs some adaptation and simplification to be playable on a television with a gamepad, and old-time fans are naturally worried if their favorite mechanics will survive the transition. I know I am. Oblivion did not fare well when it was adapted for consoles, and I don’t see any reason to expect that Fallout 3 will do any better.

As someone who has spent the last four years cataloging the decline of his favorite platform, I’m more than aware of the shortcomings of the PC, and I have a rough idea of how the current consoles compare. Let us not stoop to the “your platform is teh suxors” stuff. Really, leave that debate to the kids.

On a more positive note, Indigo Prophesy is excellent so far, despite the cumbersome controls. I plugged in my USB Dual Shock clone and my enjoyment of the game was improved even more.

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  1. Zukhramm says:

    Actually, twelve, or eight (depending on if you count the D-pad as four buttons) are preassure sensitive, and not only with two levels. You can press them how hard of soft you want, and if the game is made for it, have different effects. (Noticable in MGS3 where one of them could be used for zooming, I think.)

  2. Andrew says:

    I refuse to play Indigo Prophecy (the American version of the game) because several sexually suggestive scenes that are in the international version (which is titled Fahrenheit) were censored to get a lower rating, so Wal-Mart and other “family-friendly” stores wouldn’t refuse to stock the game. Such censorship makes me irrationally angry, and I don’t want to shell out one cent to pay for a game that’s been doctored to please self-appointed “moral guardians.”

  3. Rob Conley says:

    Why can’t PC Games require the use of a Game console controller and what the status of hooking a USB Mice and Keyboard to a Console game controller?

  4. Josh says:

    Indigo Prophecy was a lot of fun. My brother-in-law and I played and beat in one marathon sitting. It literally blew my mind how the interface and timed gameplay kept you in the game while you were watching the scenes. Some of the fight scenes are wonderfully choreographed and I felt like “I” had accomplished that with my character. It created a wholly different experience from games where “A” is punch and “B” is kick. I would love to see some other games experiment with it.

    The game was a little wonky though. I’m not going to spoil anything, but with the choices we made, we got to the end of the game and were surprised by a group that we had never heard of to that point. The script assumed you had, but we apparently never chose the paths that would introduce them. We found out after we beat it that you can go back and just play the chapters that you didn’t pick (instead of the whole game). If we had known that up front, we probably wouldn’t have played it straight through. Straight through may have missed some of the nuances, but it was a lot of fun with my brother.

  5. Shamus says:

    Andrew: I agree with the sentiment that it Makes No Sense for Wal-Mart to refuse to carry an adult game, but still sell the Showgirls director’s cut DVD twelve feet away.

  6. Zukhramm says:

    Wait woah, what? Indigo Prophecy is Fahrenheit? You don’t call Fahrenheit Fahrenheit over there? XD o.O

  7. Nilus says:

    Nice article, I agree with almost everything you said. My comment in the other thread was not attacking the idea that game controls might be dumbed down when moved to another platform, they are all the time. I just felt that the post seemed to imply that PC games moved to a Console are dumbed down because consoles are naturally dumber.

    Anyways to comment on a dual shock controller. The 4 buttons on the right are usually not pressure sensitive. But on the 360 two of the buttons on the back are actually analog triggers. Which were great to simulate gas and brakes on a car.

  8. Froody says:

    Indigo Prophecy is a fantastic game, but I think playing it via mouse would drive me totally mad. Luckily, I’ve got a PC gamepad for such occasions which allowed me to enjoy the game immensely :)

    If only a gamepad was a standard equipment for the PC along with the mouse, I think we would see many more of the great console games on PC.

  9. Z!re says:

    Maybe the people porting console games to PC should just learn to take advantage of the mouse in those amazing, fantastic and highly evolved (Sarcasm) button mashing events that tax the mental capacity and ingenuity of the player to the absolute max (Sarcasm).

    Why does it have to be two buttons being mashed? Why not moving the mouse left/right?

    Moving on, 14 keys on the console?
    Let’s see, on a PC you have WASD, shift (or ctrl) for ducking, E for use, R for reload, F for flashlight, Q for grenade and Space for jumping.
    That’s all readily available, on the left hand.
    10 keys so far.
    On the mouse we have left and right button (Not counting middle button here, but if you want to then add 1 button)
    Scroll wheel which is two directions.
    And you can move the mouse in four directions (More, but let’s make it simple)

    Adding it up: 10 keys on the left hand plus 8 keys/directions on the right hand.
    That totals up to 18 keys/directions, without moving your hands an absurd distance.

    Moving on:
    WASD for movement, TAB for score, Shift to duck, Ctrl to walk/run, Space to jump, Q to lean left, E to lean right, R to reload, F for flashlight, G for grenade, C for use.

    Now, on the left hand we have 14 keys, readily available on the left hand…

    How many did the console have again?

    Don’t confuse poor game control mechanics (Button mashing versus mouse movement) with actual hardware restrictions.

    Even just going for a bare minimum:
    WASD, Space to jump and mouse to look/shoot you get:
    WASD, Space, mouse directions, two mouse buttons
    Which equals (Assuming we still count 4 directions for the mouse): 11 keys/directions…

  10. JFargo says:

    All we have to do is evolve a fully functional tail, and problem solved as far as the comic goes.

    The rest of the problems via the article? Well, don’t know how to go about solving that, but I DO agree with the rant.

  11. Eric J says:

    The Sega Genesis had pretty much the last controller I was comfortable with. Once Analog sticks came in I lost interest in gaming.

  12. Dev Null says:

    Part of the problem that gets everyone in defensive rant mode is probably the language. The problem isn’t _really_ PC games being dumbed down for console, or console games being dumbed down for PC. Its games for either set of powerful but – as you point out – fundamentally different sets of controls being dumbed down for use with both.

    I remember really enjoying some of the Mechwarrior games on PC… til I tried to go back and play them again without a joystick with a rotation axis and 5 buttons. Arg, the pain. Some games are just designed with a set of controls in mind, and you’re better off giving in and using them or not bothering. Some games _try_ to be designed for use with any set of controls, but that way lies madness (and the rare success story.)

  13. MintSkittle says:

    FWIW, I use a trackball instead of a mouse, so my right thumb doesn’t atrophy, as it’s used for the left button. My track ball has four buttons, a left and right, and two “shoulder” buttons right above them. The only thing missing is a scroll wheel.

  14. theckhd says:

    On keyboards as input devices: Along the lines of what Z!re said, keyboards let you have many more buttons than a console controller. I’m a WoW player and a button-masher (as compared to a clicker, if that means anything to you). I have nearly every key on the keyboard bound to some function or other. While I mostly use the right-hand keys for stuff that doesn’t happen often, I have most of the keys between the A column and the J column bound to things that happen in fast-paced combat scenarios. So that’s 7×4=28 keys right there, and that’s without counting shift-, alt-, or ctrl-, which extends that to well over 100 unique combinations, all able to be used quickly with one hand.

    On Indigo Prophecy: I eagerly await to see your reaction to the game’s plot. “Indigo Prophecy Syndrome” is a term I expect to factor heavily into future posts. :)

  15. Phlux says:

    Threat level for flamewar: Severe

    I sit on fence for this debate. I love PC gaming and console gaming equally. If I didn’t I wouldn’t get to play as many awesome games as I do.

    I would never claim that a gamepad is equal to a mouse in terms of accuracy and speed. I will however claim that FPS games are every bit as fun on the console as on the PC. At least they are for me. Some people are put off by the controls and won’t give them a fair shake.

    I had my choice between Call of Duty 4 on PC or Xbox. I have a pretty beefy PC, so the graphics argument was moot. I normally play FPS games on PC, but I went with the 360 this time, because I knew the multiplayer experience would be far superior.

    I got the PC version as a gift a while back and I was not wrong.

  16. mark says:

    from all accounts i’ve heard, (without using mods to help the pc version) Oblivion was far better on 360!

  17. pdwalker says:

    The most fun I’ve ever had playing a game was Battlezone for the PC using a sony dual shock controller with a special usb adapter to allow it to work on the PC.

    I couldn’t aim for crap with the thumbsticks, but man, could I drive that hovertank with them.

  18. Martin says:

    The only thing I use consoles for are racing games. If I bought a USB wheel, I’d probably not use a console again. Ever since my XBox almost burned my house down, however, I’m not interested in another console.

  19. Shamus says:

    theckhd and Z!re: I think I made it pretty clear that the keyboard has way more keys, but you have to reach a bit to get to them. Which is what both of you are saying?

    This thread has enough fodder for a fantastic flamewar – do we need to argue about the stuff we agree on?

  20. Mark says:

    The controls are obviously very different. I just don’t see how that makes them stupid.

  21. Shalkis says:

    The PS2 has two USB ports on the front and supports USB mice and keyboards. Xbox 360’s ports are basically USB ports. Wii and PS3 use Bluetooth. Old console controllers can be plugged into a PC with cheap dongles. No technical issue prevents cross-pollination of control schemes between the PC and consoles, it’s inertia. PC gamers are used to keyboard+mouse, console gamers are used to 4-pad+analogs+buttons. And because the gamers are used to those, console and game companies felt reluctant to take the risk of experimenting. Fortunately, Nintendo’s gamble seems to have paid off and hopefully the popularity of dancing and playing games will leave their mark as well. However, that leaves the PC games. Back in the Descent days there were some experiments with 3D mice, but unfortunately those seem to have died off. One viable alternative might be a Minority Report-style free-floating multitouch interface. Perhaps combined with some eye tracking..

  22. Stu says:

    I wanna throw in the wiimote for consideration as pointing device.

    example: Resident Evil 4 aiming method (on wii): Point ‘n’ shoot!

    Granted this serves a niche style of gameplay but it is faster than both mouse and thumbstick. As a side note, I will condone a single thumbstick in cooperation is d-pad. What tends to happen with 2 thumbsticks is some games will use a look/move split while other games will swap these roles (lefty/righty) and still other games (why oh why) will mix and combine lookY/strafe with lookX/move.

    edit: Shamus, I think you want one of these! :-)
    http://www.thinkgeek.com/images/products/front/wolfking.jpg

  23. Dave says:

    The other problem with just counting keys on a keyboard is that you can’t use more than a few at once without the keyboard locking up and your computer beeping at you. I remember playng Micro Machines 2 on the PC with 4 people – you could stop other people from turning by pressing some keys over the other side of the keyboard. Console controllers (I believe) can take everything you throw at them.

    For most of the games I play, I can’t beat the keyboard for a huge range of keys within a reasonable space of time. Some games need fewer keys but far lower latency, though, and for those I have a USB gamepad.

  24. James says:

    The PC vs Console argument will go on for decades, and so this is a brief comparison between the two.

    Console:
    Rumble Pad. (vibrational feedback)
    Small Amount of buttons.
    Shaped for the hand.
    2 analogue sticks.

    Best for: Driving games, fighting games, simple strategy, multiplayer, fast action games , delicate games (such as Super Monkey Ball – it wouldn’t work on PC)

    PC:
    Mouse. (High accuracy, quick movement)
    Large amount of buttons.
    Good moniter.
    Internet. (and so Indie and Mods come into the equation)

    Best for: Complicated games, turn-based games, shooting games (Mouse), Slower games.

    Of course, some shooters will work best on the console (being made for consoles, such as Halo on the Xbox, which doesn’t work on the PC at all), and some driving games (such as Trials 2) will work better on the PC (it basically consists of 2 buttons, and is wholly controlled by the mouse).

    This is not definitive, and I do not expect it to be, so just look at the bigger picture, and try not to rant against this post. (but sadly, some of you will)

  25. One of the awesome bits of the Wii is that it gives you what is, in essence, a mouse for the TV. It isn’t quite as perfect as a computer’s mouse, but it comes _awfully_ close.

    Also: am I the only person to hate the Dual Shock controller? It seems crowded and uncomfortable– 16 whole buttons! 4 buttons on the shoulders! No, just… no.

    Of course, as a lefty who uses a trackball (which does not have a scroll-wheel) I have to remap literally every PC game I play…

  26. @Shamus: Actually, I think theckhd is arguing with your claim that there are fewer buttons within convenient reach on a keyboard compared to a controller. You cite 16 buttons on the dual-shock controller, but that requires both hands.

    When I’m using a mouse-and-keyboard interface, I’ve got 3 buttons in my right-hand. Meanwhile, if I drop my left hand into a standard typing configuration my fingers are resting on 4 buttons, 11 more letter buttons are just one key away, and my thumb is on the spacebar. So that’s (3 + 4 + 11 + 1) 19 buttons right there.

    But many of the number keys (1-6) are within easy reach, too. And with the easy proximity of the Shift, Ctrl, and Alt keys all of those buttons quadruple their potential functions.

    So when my left hand rests on the keyboard, I’ve got (25 x 4) 100 unique inputs within easy reach.

    Very few games actually require anything even remotely like that kind of input power, of course. Which is why I usually end up re-binding my keys to the numeric keypad. My numeric keypad has 17 keys on it, which still outperforms the 16 keys on the dual-shock controller. Once I add in the 3 buttons on my mouse, I’ve got 20 inputs while barely moving my fingers at all. I’ll also typically bind less-used functions to the Page Up and Page Down keys, which are within reach but require a bit of a stretch.

  27. Oleyo says:

    I personally enjoy how configurable the PC control scheme can be. For instance, since Warcraft (WoW) doesn’t require rapid precise rotation/targeting, I can almost eliminate the mouse, using WASD and its neighbors for movement and targeting. This frees up a huge amount of buttons for my right hand via the keypad.

    I can use and easily hit every key on the keypad save numlock (for the obvious reason) and Delete (a bit awkward to reach) In fact, in that position my thumb can easily strike the inverted “T” arrow keys as well.

    Throw in the numbers keys above WASD for abilities that aren’t used while moving, and you have quite a few rapid access keys; 15 on the keypad, 4 more arrow keys, and as many numbers as you can reach comfortably.

    Additionally, I use the Pageup/pagedown block of keys as a sort of “secondary-mode” keypad. When I am in a mode (like healing) that requires a different set of non-overlapping skills, I just slide my right hand over from the numpad and leave it there.

    I actually really enjoy tweaking my control schemes (probably more than is healthy) and love the speed and control of having two hands on the keyboard. Yay PC!

  28. ccesarano says:

    I think people really do ignore the “preference” argument. I can see why the mouse is technically more precise than a thumbstick, but I just don’t feel comfortable with the mouse. Most notably, no matter what sensitivity I set the mouse to, I find myself having to readjust its position when turning around. This is an especially horrid experience for any game that has flight and I lack a joystick (UT2K4’s space assault level irritates me). With a thumbstick, I can just press down and the character keeps turning.

    I’ve also noticed some of my PC gamer friends tend to be used to how on/off the keyboard is, so when they play a shooter they tend to push the thumbstick all the way one direction or not push it at all. Maybe it is because I grew up a console gamer, but as soon as I first used thumbsticks I used its pressure sensitivity to my advantage. So sometimes it could simply be what one person is used to.

    I genuinely feel that the whole “argument” is moot and it is based on comfort. A keyboard and mouse is not comfortable for me, but a controller is. So, I don’t even consider buying a shooter on PC. I’ve done fine enough beating Halo, Gears of War and Call of Duty 2 and 4 on their highest difficulty settings (aim assist off or on lowest setting), and had little trouble aiming. I’m sure people that grew up with PC gaming did the exact same feats with a keyboard and mouse.

    On Oblivion, I honestly don’t understand how any HUD or control adjustments were considered since Morrowind played fine on the original Xbox. I think a lot of companies underestimate their audience. Of course, there is also the big difference between “dumbing down” a game for a platform, and dumbing down a game for an audience. I feel that, if a game is dumbed down, then it is so it can sell to the mainstream audience, who, in all forms of entertainment media, are primarily idiots. This is simply something you have to accept when companies want to make money. You may be important, but the mainstream is important to since that is where profits come from.

  29. guy says:

    “There are four “shoulder” buttons, which are operated by the index and middle fingers. Each of these buttons has a dedicated finger, which means you can have the player hold the button down without depriving them of the ability to press other buttons. The shoulder buttons are often used as a modifier, to change the behavior of other buttons, like shift keys. Four shift keys – each with their very own dedicated finger. Try that on a PC!”

    they’re called Shift, Control, Alt, and whatever else the designer of the game feels like mapping to be the modifier. that’s the PC’s other advantage, no key needs to be dedicated to any one function because of design. i have seen games where they use the spacebar for the same task as the shift key.

    on a completely unrelated note, can you reveiw GalCiv2: Twilight of the Anor sometime soonish?

  30. Amstrad says:

    It might be interesting to note, any PC titles releases with the ‘Games for Windows’ logo on them are required to have full support for the Xbox360 gamepad built in. That is, I can plug my standard corded 360 controller into my PC and simply switch to the built in controller scheme for all the gamepad benefits. Works to great effect for action/platformer styled titles that just don’t play well on the PC, Lego Indiana Jones for instance.

  31. Shalkis says:

    Punning Pundit: Using the Wiimote as a mouse for TV is just the start. The Wiimote + Nuchaku combo was probably built for Metroid Prime 3, and it did successfully resurrect one of the great PC control setups: Analog joystick + mouse. Analog joystick is great for precision of movement and the mouse is great for aiming. I loved playing the Mechwarrior games with that setup.

  32. Bob says:

    Here is a question… Why can’t these console makers make a mouse that works with their system??? Wouldn’t this put an end to all this crap? give the gamers a dang choice. I can plug a d-pad into a PC, why the hell can’t I plug a keyboard and a mouse into a console? I can’t beleive that it would be that hard.

  33. Shamus says:

    Hey guy: What I was talking about is that you can’t hold down Shft, CTRL, alt, AND Right shift, all at the same time, and still operate the WASD. Easy on a console, but finger-twisting on a keyboard.

    On Twilight of the Arnor: It’s on The List. :)

  34. Shamus says:

    And for getting a pointing device on the console. I’ve heard you can get a mouse / keyboard for the PS3, although I don’t know of anyone who has tried it or how well it works or what games support it.

    I think putting a trackball where the right analog stick is would solve the lack of a precise aiming tool on the console (Although it would break every game made in the last decade.) I like mice better than trackballs, but they’re technically capable of the same level of precision input and I could probably learn to use one in time. Or I could, if I wasn’t so old and set in my ways.

  35. Deoxy says:

    Let me just say that, while your mouse-worship is a good thing, the track ball is superior… you need no extra desk space (or particularly flat surface, even, as long as it is stable), and the “pick up mouse and readjust” problem involves moving your thumb instead of the whole control object.

    I’ve just recently retired my original Trackman Marble after 12 years of hard use, and the new one is just not the same (weep)! It’s close, and it does have a scroll-wheel (which is nice), but still… Sigh. Why can’t they just keep making the old one?!? There were later versions of it that were USB with scroll-wheel – why didn’t I buy one at the time? :-(

    OK, that was a bit of a tangent.

    Back on topic, I think the only real advantage of the default console controller (dual-shock style) over the default PC keyboard/mouse is the “pressure sensitive” buttons and one extra analog stick. Unless those are integral to gameplay, the PC has everything covered, in spades.

    That said, there are some very good gameplay mechanics that DO depend on those…

    Edit: heh – this looks like a reply to Shamus’ trackball comment, but his comment wasn’t there when I started typing, honest! :-)

  36. Delta Force Leader says:

    I agree with you on the mouse being better than a thumbstick for PC games.

    I use the Logitech Cordless Rumblepad 2 controller for my PC. If you use any Logitech controller you know that it comes with a very good profiler to allow you to set up button combos with. It can also be used to set up a thumbstick to control your mouse and use buttons to emulate a mouse click.

    I tried setting the controller up to use in StarCraft. It took me about an hour to realize that nothing I could do with it would make it work anywhere near as good as my mouse would. I could never get it to stop in the right place. Selecting units was a pain. Scrolling the screen was even worse. You just don’t have the control using a thumbstick that you have when you use a mouse.

  37. Joe says:

    It is an interesting subject to ponder… I have quite a few PC games that I love and cherish, but I also have an xbox and 360 (which were bought for the sole express purpose of playing Halo and Halo3, respectively…

    Let me go off on a tangent here. I was perfectly happy to pay $600 for a game my wife and I really liked. It’s much less than the approximately six to seven thousand dollars I paid so that we could play NWN {that includes 2 new computers that I either wouldn’t have bought, or would have been much less expensive if their primary purpose hadn’t been NWN}. Rockstar games made something like $500 million selling around 10 million copies of GTAIV at around $50 a pop. If a game publisher made a game that was perfect in all the ways that I want a game to be good, I’d be happy to buy it for $500, and the publisher would only have to sell 1 million copies to be Rockstars. I have to think about the math and the statistics some more, but my gut feeling is that it’s *got* to be harder to make a GTAIV that 10 million people think is good enough to plop down $50 for than to make a game that’s so absolutely perfect for a significantly smaller population that 1 million people think it’s worth plopping down $500 for it. It seems to work OK for UI enhancements, and by that I mean funky console controllers. Guitar Hero and Rock Band seem to be doing fairly well. Steel Batallion was a $200 xbox controller that also came with a game, and from what I understand it sold OK. If it works for hardware, why not for soft enhancements? But, enough of this…)

    I think my favorite FPS games are Quake II and Halo. I’ve never played Quake on a console, and never played Halo on a PC, but I do notice what bugs me between the two, when it comes to the analog controls. When I’m playing Halo, I do miss the sharp, quick, precision targeting I can get with a mouse. However, the other side of that is that when I’m playing Quake, I do sometimes get annoyed that I can’t spin in circles. If I want to turn more than around 30 degrees, I have to slide the mouse over, then pick it up and move it back to slide it over again. A trackball is somewhere in between. I haven’t used a tablet as an input dev for a game, but I’m guessing it would be similar to a mouse. I have faith that, somewhere out there, there is a nigh-perfect input device for FPS games (and a different, but also nigh-perfect input dev for other types of games. A multi-touch screen for an RTS might be *fantastic*, or maybe not) I just hope that someday it gets to market and I can get one.

  38. Shamus says:

    Deoxy makes a good point. Console games are played on the couch, where you don’t usually have a nice flat area suitable for a mouse. I think a trackball is the better solution – not that console gamers are looking for one.

  39. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I agree with ccesarano completelly here.I remember way back when I had amiga and a joystick,my brother and I would sometimes play mortal combat,and he would usually bring his sega gamepad with him.There really is no difference between using a joystick with one button for hitting and gamepads four buttons for movement and just one of the others for hitting,but he always performed way better with his controler as it suited him better.

    There really arent that many games that require a specific controler to be played well and without hassle if properly designed.

  40. qrter says:

    I stopped playing Fahrenheit on the PC because of what I thought were awful controls.

    I should get some form of D-pad and try again.

  41. WWWebb says:

    Just out of curiosity, why do people insist on using WASD instead of the numberpad? The nice, big, vertically aligned buttons with plenty of space around them (curse you Caps Lock!) seem to be the perfect setup for 15-16 buttons that can easily be used with one hand. Is is really that much harder to mouse with your left hand than your right?

  42. itches says:

    But the PC also has one of the finest pointing instruments ever devised: The mouse. Console gamers often claim that the thumbstick is “just as good as the mouse” once you “get used to it”. They’re wrong.

    Precision control doesn’t mean it is inherently superior (as strange as that sounds). Using a mouse allows you to do things that a gamepad can’t do, you have a lot more control then a gamepad does but it’s also more difficult to learn. I went a long time without playing video games and when I came back it didn’t take me long to make the transition on the gamepad from “thinking about the controls” to “playing the game”.

    Despite the fact – or even maybe because of it – that I had been using a PC constantly in my non-gaming period (really bad PC + no console = no games) I found it more difficult to get the mouse to do what I wanted it to do, gamewise.

    Maybe it is only me but the gamepad was just more accessible. I think of it as a comparison between performing surgery and swinging an axe. You can do things with surgery you can’t even dream of with an axe, but you become proficient with an axe faster and you end up with blood (representing fun) either way.

    One day I’ll test whether it was just me or not, but that was how I found it.

  43. Daemian Lucifer says:

    About “picking the mouse up”,the only time I ever do this is when I use a mouse other than my own.I dont remember the last time I picked the mouse up in order to rescroll it.Its primed so that I can cover my whole monitor without picking it up,and have a bit more space,so even when playing a FPS I can do a full 360 turn,though its usually not needed.

    @WWWebb

    Well the numpad is a bit too close to the mouse for my taste,and Im used to having my arms being on the sides of my body instead of in front of it.But again,thats just prefference.

    Oh,and on numpad you can accidentally hit the numlock,which would end up doing more damage than just hitting the dreaded caps lock.

  44. Mark says:

    No, I mean it. Why do people specifically use the phrase “to dumb down” in reference to PC-to-console ports? The only material difference is that precision input is cumbersome and there are no hotkeys, and in exchange you get analog input, force feedback, and physical comfort. Is this some strange new meaning of “dumb” that I’ve never heard before?

  45. Rick says:

    Reading this thread, I’m amazed at how nicely Knights of the Old Republic was translated to the computer. That game felt absolutely perfect on the keyboard/mouse and I can’t imagine using a gamepad to play it. (I wish I could say BioWare has done well at this, but Jade Empire was… I don’t like using the mouse to look around, so I just mapped everything onto my gamepad and never looked back.)

    By far the most annoying keyboard setup I’ve encountered was Madden 2005, where a bunch of stuff that had been mapped to the right analog stick of the gamepad was completely ignored for the keyboard. Not coincidentally, that’s the game that finally made me break down and buy a gamepad.

    As for the Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy name, it was changed in the US because Atari was afraid people would associate it with Fahrenheit 9/11. That’s got to be the dumbest reason for a name change I’ve heard since Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Sorcerer’s Stone.

  46. Rick says:

    For the reason behind why Fahrenheit was renamed Indigo Prophecy in the US, Here you go. Prepare for eye-rolling and/or bashing your head against the nearest wall and/or desk.

  47. Nazgul says:

    I think an interesting example of the conversion from keyboard/mouse to console controller was going from Marathon (Bungie’s Mac precursor to Halo) to Halo on Xbox. I was extremely fast and precise using just the keyboard (no mouse) in Marathon and I never felt as totally in control with Halo on Xbox. It wasn’t bad or a problem, but it took getting used to and I lost a little precision.

    I strongly suspect that a lot of console controller vs. keyboard vs. mouse not only depends on the game, but as to how each individual user is wired. (Just like in most shooters you can select your preference for normal or “inverse aim” settings.)

  48. Shamus says:

    WWWeb: I know. I prefer the numpad as well. I have to push my keyboard to the left to do it, but the rectangular region makes it easier for me to play without accidentally “losing” my spot by moving my hand 1 key to the right or left. It also avoids the problem of inadvertently hitting the #@%$ windows key.

    I use WASD in the example above because that seems to be what 99% of the gamers out there use.

  49. Shamus says:

    Mark: That’s not the only difference. As just one example: In UT3 they removed a LOT of options from the menus. That’s fine if all you played was the default game, but in previous versions players like me would set up games that ran on a particular custom list of maps, with custom bots randomly chosen from a customized roster, with very specific time limits and frag limits and mutator configurations, etc etc etc.

    A lot of those options are gone. Of the ones that remain, many are more shallow.

    The other thing that makes it dumb is the small number of things shown onscreen, in huge text – like a book for a child who is learning to read. Again, in UT3 you have to hit the “next” buton a half dozen times to start the game. There is no reason you couldn’t put ALL of those pages of options onto one screen if you’re working with the PC.

    So the game is “dumb” in that it has less options. But it’s also “dumb” in that it feels insultingly like something designed for kids who can barely read. It’s also “dumb” in the sense that it’s a hassle to use with the mouse, and so it feels like an interface designed by an idiot.

    Thus “dumb”.

  50. Mark says:

    So it’s a matter of “large, flat menus” versus “small, deeply nested menus” and “small text” versus “large text.”

    Yeah, I guess that makes us console gamers idiots.

  51. Sauron says:

    @Mark:
    It’s not just about making things more or less cumbersome. Consoles have to worry about screen real estate more due to fewer pixels so HUDs and menus are forced to have less information and options than a PC can have. Some things that may be easy to do on a PC can too cumbersome to do on the console, leading to a good feature being missing. The fact that the thumbstick is less precise can cause dumbing down of levels or adding of silly things like autoaim. Dumbing down, while not always the best wording, can still apply in many cases.

  52. Rick says:

    ::sigh::

    I didn’t mean to doublepost above. It didn’t go through the first time, so I resubmitted. Sorry for that.

  53. Hawkstrike says:

    Much of this is individual taste and experience, but I thikn the better control depends on the type of game. I finally picked up my first console since the NES (a 360) because I was unhappy with the shooter experience on my PC. Halo’s controls on the 360 are fantastic — an experience I couldn’t match with mouse & keyboard. In fact, to get reasonable competence with the shooters I liked on my PC, I was using my Thrustmaster joystick, with its moveable thumb hat and four fingertip buttons plus trigger. I think it may be superior to the dual thumbstick controller for pure control (and this from a guy who flies RC airplanes, so both my thumbs are pretty competent), but it lacks the numebr of acessory buttons.

    CRPGs and strategy games need the greater flexibility of the keyboard+ mouse, IMO (though Oblivion on my 360 has been pretty good overall). I’ll save the trackball for Centipedde, though …

    And then there are racing games … which are a waste without a wheel.

    Now here’s a question: when did push forward/look up become standard? Somewhere along the line my standard control setup (back = look up) became the “inverted” setup. Am I the only one here wired backwards? Or did I just spend too much time playing flight simulators when I was younger?

  54. Arthur says:

    Shamus, a warning: stop playing Indigo Prophecy now. I ain’t kidding: the sooner you stop playing, the higher your opinion and fonder your memories of the game will be. I won’t spoil you here, but suffice to say it turns to ass in a dozen different ways by game end.

    Oh, and on the main subject of the post: have you seen those little keyboards you can get for the IM function on the XBox 360? They are a little too fiddly and small to be the main interface for a game, but I could definitely see ways that games can incorporate them for added functionality (say, using the main controller for the main game and the keyboard for fiddling with options and in menu screens). I suspect that as PC gaming continues to decline there will be an increased demand for PC-like gaming experiences on consoles, and sheer economic necessity will ensure that suitable control mechanisms are devised.

  55. Stormcaller says:

    Im left handed, and i use either a full remap centred on the arrow keys or on numpad.
    The only problem is finding a mouse that is comfortable in the left hand… Too many nowadays are form fitted for right hand use… :(

  56. McNutcase says:

    Hawkstrike/53: Quake. Duke Nukem 3D had an “invert mouselook” option, which actually did invert mouselook, to what Quake made into the standard. I have met some games which default to using the “correct” push down/pull up setting, but do it by defaulting to the “invert” option being checked. The thing is, the standard desktop pointer behaviour is for push to mean up, and for some people it does make sense for push up to remain the standard in games, but it’s a matter of taste. The thing that should really bake your noodle is what Halo does… it, using a stick for look, defaults to push up/pull down. That breaks my brain. Anyway, the push up as standard is down to id software’s decision to have it that way on Quake. The other crazy thing is I’ve met games that allow you to invert the x-axis as well… so left is right and vice versa. And now, my original comment…

    Gamepads and mouse/keys do well at different things. I find mouse and keys far better for first-person and for the classic Worms gameplay (not the rather broken 3D version, the classic side-on stuff that made Worms 2’s engine the canonical Worms engine), while gamepads are good for flightsim, driving and in most cases giving me agonising hand cramps.

    I realise that my hands are somewhat larger than average, but the only gamepad I’ve found even remotely close to comfortable is the original xbox controller. Every playstation-type controller I ever tried was so small my hands cramped up within minutes. Oddly, the old 3DO controllers I have for the old 3DO I have (and still play Need for Speed on) don’t have that issue, possibly because they’re not trying so hard to be ergonomic as the PSfoo controllers.

    What I really ought to do is take to hacking overly small controllers with some kind of foam padding to enlarge them…

    And finally, on the precision control question: auto-aim is very common on console shooters. It’s very UNcommon on PC shooters. Coincidence? I think not.

  57. Allan says:

    The thing that really annoyed me about Oblivions interface wasn’t so much that it was obviously for the console version but that it was obviously for the console version and bethesda didn’t care. Oblivion’s interface isn’t an integral part of the game play, changing it doesn’t affect anything to do with the actual playing of it like it might in your example of the indigo prophecy/farenheit things, and once I got the game and saw that interface I remembered comments Bethesda had made during development, “We sold more xbox copies of Morrowind than PC copies, so we’re developping both versions concurrently this time” which at the time I’d considered neither here nor there. Now I know that that statement basicly translates as “Screw you, PC players, you’re now an afterthought”. Making the interface suitable for keyboard and mouse is nothing, a consumation of resources that must be incredable small, as within days of release better UI mods were already out.

    Also, perhaps it would be best to avoid using the ‘dumbed-down’ terminology, although I know you don’t mean it, it is literrally saying console users are dumb. And a percieved insult is never going to lead to a reasoned debate.

    P.S Has anyone noticed the D-pad on the 360 controller is 8-directional? You press inbetween the arrows and the pad moves in that direction aswell, although I haven’t noticed any game using the other 4 directions.

  58. Stu says:

    Hawkstrike: Interestingly, I find thumbstick’s to be a different beast to joysticks in that forward->look_up feels more natural.

    Although I may be weird because I use forward->up in FPS and back->up in third person games. I guess the brain wires itself up as it needs to. :-)

  59. ehlijen says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t they (or at least didn’t they) make game pads for the PC?

  60. McNutcase says:

    Regarding the Windows key: there are ways around it. Some games disable it (yay them), there are mini-apps that are there to disable it (again, yay), at least one game uses it as a modifier (no kidding; for one of the hidden features of Myth II, you need to use the Windows key (it’s part of the chord needed to target ambient life, or select ambient life, which is “impossible”; the only other way to read the flavour text is to go tag-diving, and the only other way to kill ambient life is with area-effect weaponry)) or there’s the old, low-tech solution I use of prying the keycap off on that side, since I never did use that side’s splat anyway, and there’s always another splat on the other side where it’s not going to get in the game’s way.

    One game that had real fun driving me nuts early on was Splinter Cell. On Windows XP, it kept causing the “accessibility” dialogue to come up. Turns out, even when you’ve turned off the “feature” of having shift be a sticky key, bashing it repeatedly (as was needed for walljumps and splitjumps) still causes to suggestion of turning it on to come up. Took me rather too long to find the frob to stop THAT…

  61. Shamus says:

    Mark: I never, NEVER said console USERS were dumb, much less idiots, much less implied…

    Oh forget it. I spent ten paragraphs trying to tiptoe around all the ways people could POSSIBLY misunderstand what I’d written and get bent out of shape over it, but it happened anyway. I guess if you really need to have your feelings hurt you’ll find a way.

    Fine. Consoles are great. At everything. All the time. They are better than all other computers for any purpose, anywhere, ever, and people who use consoles are happier and smarter and more talented than people who don’t. Group hug.

    Sheesh.

  62. Patrick says:

    Shamus, GET OUT OF FAHRENHEIT OR INDIGO PROPHCY NOW!!!(!!11oneone)

    Please, for the love of all that is divine, play no further. You will only regret it. Ideally, you stop playing this game after 1 hour, because it starst running downhill exactly then. They plot spirals off into crazy-land, and it’s clear the developers had no clue how to end it. Please stop now. Just stop. Do yourself a favor, and stop.

    However, if you don’t stop, you’ll probably get between 1 and 3 posts out of it, along with some funny comics.

  63. Zereth says:

    I don’t think people complain about games being “dumbed down” much except in things like the Elder Scrolls or Unreal Tournament series where previous games were built for the PC first.

    And now the next version is harder to deal with and has fewer options. (I miss being able to see my stats, my inventory, a minimap, my spell list, and every spell effect on me, all at the same time, like I could in Morrowind.) Some of us prefer later games in a series to get better.

  64. kh_hawkes says:

    Actually Rob Conely. Try a 360 controller on your PC sometime. They sell them now for the PC if you really need one. I know a few people who play games with them on their PC. Sorry this was late in coming.

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