Bioshock EP2: This Episode is Too Symmetrical

 By Shamus May 17, 2013 37 comments


Link (YouTube)

Reading the show notes in the original entry has reminded me that this game used the C key for crouch and Ctrl for sprint, which is just silly bananas. However, maybe they’re just trying to capture the true spirit of System Shock, which has always used goofy and unconventional controls.

In the original System Shock (drink!) there was no concept of mouselook. All looking, turning, and movement was done with the keyboard. The advantage of this system was that you could shoot at things that were anywhere in view just by clicking on them. The downside of this system was that it was completely horrible.

System Shock 2 had basically normal controls by modern standards, except the default key mappings were really goofy. The A and D keys were used for turning. If you wanted to step to the side, you used Z and C. Mouselook was a few years old by this point, so this was a break from convention. I do wonder how many people used the controls with these defaults? I hope not many, since the resulting muscle-memory would ruin you for all other first-person PC games until you could learn to walk all over again.


201737 comments. Hurry up and add yours before it becomes passé.


  1. wererogue says:

    I really loved the Grimlock way of handling it, where you could do either – hold RMB to mouselook. Of course, for a non-grid game it’d be better to do it the other way around.

    Sadly, I’m sure I’ve played a game like that and it was also awful.

    • Trithne says:

      How awful, if you recall actually playing such a game? Because the dichotomy between free-movement and UI control has been bugging me in my own projects, and somehow SS2-style shoot/use modes had escaped my brain, but having RMB as a modifier could work. I’ll certainly be trying it out now.

  2. Nonecallmetim says:

    I remember turning with A and D keys. I think I had enough of a break between using them, and starting playing FPSs for it not to be a problem.

    Even back then, I seem to remember that they were horrible to use, although for FPS / RPG games, mouselook can sometimes be useful, and on some puzzles, I have activated it because it it easier that way.

  3. Spammy says:

    Using A and D to turn are fine… in Mechwarrior where I’m piloting a giant robot and strafing has never been a mechanic used for ‘mechs in any example of the franchise.

    [sarcasm]Also, in looking at the original entry, your problem with Viddler was just that you were using the free trial this whole time! Don’t you know that those things expire?[/sarcasm]

    • Felblood says:

      It would be more correct to say that Mechwarrior handles strafing in a very different way than most FPS games.

      Turreting your body sideways is mapped to completely separate keys from movement, but you can do it, and it is a viable tactic in several of the series’ iterations.

      They default to”,” and “.” which is a terrible place for them, so you’ll have to rebind them as well. I used Q and E, and found new homes for… whatever they put there by default.

  4. GM says:

    why c for crouch and control for run weird?

    • Jeff says:

      First Person controls keep evolving to better accommodate new standards and options in games.

      Most games now have Shift for sprint, and Ctrl for crouch.

      “C” is fine for crouching when it was rarely used, but nowadays most realistic or semi-realistic shooters encourage crouching with better aim stability, cover, and reduced target profiles.

  5. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Man,this booker guy looks so spry for an 80 year old.

  6. Tobias says:

    In my memory, the first normal game that shipped with wasd+strafe as the default was half life.
    All older games you had to change the settings to strafe. Though patches like glquake (who remembers having to patch a game to have acceleration?) usually changed the default doom style layout to a modern one.
    System Shock 2 isn’t that much older than half life.

  7. anaphysik says:

    “Reading the show notes in the original entry”

    I still think you should include the linky to the original posts somewhere in all the rerun posts. It’s only one extra link per post, whereas if you don’t include them then the original notes and comments are basically lost to the void.

    EDIT: Moderation, my old, senseless enemy.

  8. broken says:

    God, my liver; Shamus, what’s with you and turning the drinking game into a deadly trap?

  9. Knut says:

    But I do like how SS2 allows you to mouselook during combat, and use tab to release the mouse to do things like pick up stuff and press buttons.

    Makes me feel a lot less silly than other games, where I feel I am looking straight down just to pick up something.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Maybe its time for all games to adopt surgery simulator 2013 interface,and have the mouse control only your hand,while the keyboard is used to control where you are looking.

      • Humanoid says:

        Only now do I realise that Surgeon Simulator is a prequel to Bioshock. Obviously those audio logs were the outtakes from the recording of that episode.

      • X2-Eliah says:

        I suggest a multiplayer mode, where one person controls the legs in a qwop like style, one person controld left arm, one person – right arm (the one with the gun, ofc), anbd one person controls head bob and eye direction & slant.

        All this takes place in a COD-style military shooter, of course.

        • anaphysik says:

          Star Wars: Racer for the N64 had a co-op/multiplayer mode (either 2 players playing together, or (IIRC, never tried it with 4 people) two teams of two players each) wherein each player controlled just one of the two engines.

          Ben Quadinaros’ podracer should have required all four players working together XD

        • bucaneer says:

          No, I think those controls would work better in a Mirror’s Edge-like high speed first person platformer.

          • Decius says:

            With the guns from COD.

            Each player takes the role of a nerve cluster or ganglion, getting information only from other players and their own specific details- the player controlling the ocular motor nerves doesn’t get information directly from the optic nerve, it has to go through the visual cortex committee first.

  10. Humanoid says:

    Not an FPS, but WoW having A-D to turn means it really doesn’t feel all that unusual to have that functionality, and I could probably use it in an FPS without much difficulty. That said, Z-C instead of Q-E for strafing is not something I’ve encountered.

    I’m not heavily into first-person perspective games though, so am probably an outlier. Last three probably being Dishonored, DXHR and FONV, none of which I played by shooting. Might have to rewind all the way back to NOLF2 for my last shooter in the literal sense, which I guess obsoletes any point I was trying to make.

    • Trix2000 says:

      Good WoW players don’t usually use A/D to turn at all, rather a combination of strafing and right-click camera moving. There’s a reason the term ‘keyboard-turner’ exists and was considered a bit of an insult.

      • Humanoid says:

        Mostly, yeah. But strafing one direction and turning the opposite direction with the keyboard is a pretty flexible construct for circle-strafing when you need the mouse for other actions. It’s a fairly common way to approach the timed, predictable movements required for various PvE encounters.

        Been a year-plus since I last played mind, and I think the last time I played PvP was, er, 2008. Definitely, using Diecast terminology, am a Shamus and not a Randy.

  11. Trithne says:

    System Shock with mouselook added is a joy to play though. Especially since you can turn back to default controls to shoot at things without needing to get them in the centre of your screen like some sort of man with a gun affixed to his chest cavity.

  12. arron says:

    I feel that the one thing that Bioshock got badly wrong was not having a sizeable penalty for using the vita-chambers. System Shock II has a hit the button to turn on and a nanite cost, and even in SSI you had to find them and turn them from “Make Cyborg” to “Resurrect Human” first to make them work. Bioshock ignores all that, and uses it as a form of god mode. I know that you can turn them off in the options, but that’s a cop-out. One of the enjoyable things about System Shock games is knowing that you’re vulnerable until you find the resurrection thing and turn it on. It adds to the fear, and as a result you’re creeping around the level until you find it..knowing that one shot could in theory end your game just like that.

    • MrGuy says:

      I suspect (admittedly without proof) that this was one of several areas where they had a good idea, and they implemented it, but then they got cold feet that if they made it too hard it would turn off the mass market, so they dumbed it down. Maybe their early playtesters had trouble and they panicked or something.

      Making the Vita-Chambers less punishing that SS2 was probably a good idea, but they went WAY too far in making them painless to use, to the point where dying is nothing more than an inconvenience. You don’t even need to go out of your way to look for them. And they’re everywhere. It was a good way to have “continue without needing quicksave,” but it’s just too forgiving. (I think they did a better job with this in Infnite, where there’s a penalty to being revived (loss of money and some ammo), but not fatally so.)

      Similarly, I suspect the original plan was to make the “good” option give you WAY less Adam than the “evil” option. But they worried that too many people would go the evil route just to get the upgrades, so they invented the teddy bears that effectively nerf the “advantage” of the evil option, so really it’s just “because I want to” evil, not pragmatism. (Which maybe explains why there isn’t some sort of “neutral” ending – there’s no real point to choosing a middle ground between “all evil all the time” and “nevery evil once”…)

      • If there had been a substantial penalty for being good, and no penalty (besides a “bad” ending) for being evil, then they might as well have not bothered with the voice acting and art assets for the “good” ending, because practically no one would have gone that way. I doubt I’d have felt like playing through another time, crippling myself, just to get the “good ending”.

        This way, it’s really a choice. “Am I an asshole, or a decent guy?” The other way, it’s just something you have to do, like fighting all the Big Daddies who in other circumstances would have been content to leave you alone.

    • Felblood says:

      I always played SS2 in multi-player, specifically becasue it turned all elevators into Vita Chamber style infinite-free-life dispensers.

    • Nordicus says:

      Honestly though, even System Shock 2 didn’t get that 100% correct.

      Resurrecting cost you measly 10 nanites while a med hypo, a standard healing item that heals only 10 hp, costs SIXTY. The only parts where the 10 nanite cost will properly encourage careful gameplay are parts where you have a surgical unit nearby that could heal you for 5 nanites, if you manage to get there alive.

      10 nanites is NOTHING

  13. Kdansky says:

    I’ve learned that most people will play any game with the default settings, no matter how horrible they are. The first thing I do with every game is to remap its controls.

    Example TF2
    Default: Weapon swap on mouse-wheel and redundant on numbers 1,2,3, building/destroying a sentry on 4/5 + another button from 1-5.

    Remap: First weapon on mouse wheel up, second weapon on mouse wheel down, third on mouse wheel click. Build sentry on 1, build dispenser on 2, …

    That saves you multiple clicks in the middle of combat.

    • Deadfast says:

      As do I. To ESDF, or more precisely .OEU since I am a Programmer Dvorak user. I can tell you that this really is the best way to benchmark how good (or horrible) your controls configuration is. Probably the worst offender so far was Mirror’s Edge and its insistence that non-alphanumeric keys do not, in fact, exist. I had to switch my layout to US QWERTY every time I wanted to play that game, since moving forward is kind of a large portion of the gameplay.

  14. Mersadeon says:

    I remember that Bioshock did something even sillier – I had an headset with separate volume control. It mapped the two buttons of the headset to MAP and HINTS. And they were unrebindable. Meaning that whenever I instinctively hit those to change the volume, BAM mapscreen out of the blue. How do you do that without trying? Why would you ever rebind those keys? Why would you ever rebind keys that already have a function mapped to them by the system, a function that should never be disabled? It’s such a small thing, but I wonder what happened behind the scenes.

  15. MrGuy says:

    So Josh actually finds the 451 code, and the door that it opens, and…forgets to use it. Ah, Josh, always trolling the audience.

  16. MrGuy says:

    Also, and I realize it’s years too late to point this out, but Suchong isn’t really a German name. The fact that you could mistake a Chinese accent for a German accent is, I suppose, an indictment of the voice acting…

  17. RariowunIrskand says:

    I wouldn’t say C to crouch is that weird. I’d swear a lot of games of that era used it, to the point where sometimes I’ll rebind it to that. I can’t have picked it up from BioShock, either, since I first played that a year ago. Control to sprint is though, using anything but shift for that weirds me outs. The strangest preset for that I can remember is Skyrim. Left alt for sprint? That’s just… meh. Nothing wrong with it, I guess, it’s just strange. Thank God for rebinds.

  18. Atarlost says:

    I don’t believe I have ever not rebound FPS keys en masse and my default is 4 and 6 to turn and 1 and 3 to strafe. This is probably because the first FPS I played didn’t have strafing. Or mouse control.

    So apart from using the WASD cluster, which I hate to use for navigation because it’s skewed, that sounds about like my preferred scheme. Needless to say I don’t play modern FPSs.

  19. suburbanbanshee says:

    Well, at least you folks all have this “mouselook” and “keyboard control” concept down. I tried to get into playing The Secret World, and they never really explained how to move or look because they assumed you knew. Well, I didn’t know. I couldn’t even move my mouse without the camera going in and out until I was ready to hurl.

    So yeah, I tried to mash buttons and remember what they did, but after a while it just got way too frustrating. I mean, three hours of struggling to walk down a street and fire a gun, or trying to do combat when I couldn’t actually tell where my person was most of the time, much less what the readouts meant… just annoying.

    So yeah, I tried playing some MMOs for kids, on the theory that they’d actually explain things. What I learned was that even games for kids make my computer run like molasses, and that even at that speed I can’t get the controls to let me do things like jump in the correct place.

    So yeah, when they have a casual game version where I can just solve puzzles and investigate without trying to remember fifteen different buttons, I guess I’ll play that. The fewer controls and options, the better.

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