Control Schemes

I’ve been playing video games since Pong and at each iteration, there seems to be a more and more complex control scheme to get things done.  We’ve gone from turning a single know to having 100+ keys to press, sometimes 4-5 at a time.

Back in the day, sometimes the control scheme itself was the game.  Good luck getting Arkanoid/Breakout to work with a crappy mouse.  X-Wing/TIE Fighter with a joystick?  No chance.  Ever try to play street fighter on a controller without 6 attack buttons?  Once you have the controls down, then the game had a completely different light.  Sure, they were challenging as games, but just understanding how to play them was enough of a battle.

I remember the original adventure games, mostly from Sierra.  They were all text entry based, no need for a mouse at all.  Then a few standouts, LucasArts most notably, prompted the adventure game to go into the mouse business.  The game was still an adventure but try to argue that finding the right sequence of words to get things done wasn’t half the battle in the first place.  “Set sights on gun” got me killed in Police Quest for a few weeks.

The Wii / Kinect / Move phase…what a fun 5 years that was.

When we start looking at the MMORPG genre, the original games where pretty limiting.  Mouse was for movement and text was for doing things.  UO was a ton of fun typing in (or more specifically macroing) spells.  Everquest’s skill based system changed the paradigm a bit.  Now you had skill buttons to click with the mouse but the actual timing was pretty simple.  Well, maybe not bards.  WoW was next, at least as a big dog in the playground.

Now comes the age of the keyboard turner.  WASD was the default movement on games for nearly 15 years by this point.  WoW supported it, and built nearly all their mechanics around it.  By then providing challenging content that required ever increasing reflexes, keyboard movement became the next hurdle.  If you didn’t understand circle strafing (which most no one outside of FPS did), then you needed to learn a new skill.  Naxx and the Heigan Safety Dance is a perfect example of an encounter designed around control scheme and nothing else.

WoW’s skill bloat certainly didn’t help anything.  A poor default UI (the UI today is built nearly entirely on community mods) led to complex classes needing automated systems.  HealBot is a super example of a single UI element that combines multiple entries.  With a simple click you can do 4-5 things at once.  Great!  Shitty design that you actually need this mod to play the game though!

SWTOR followed in the skill bloat problem and then tried to make money off the problem with hotbars.  That was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back as nearly every other game that’s come out since then has a limited skill bar.  Sure, you still have 20-30 abilities to choose from but you can only ever use a small subset (~10) in any given fight.  This makes it a lot easier on the player to figure out what to do and easier to balance as well.  It makes for a smaller, more intuitive UI.

The next big change was active combat.  This stemmed from a WoW addon that put markers on your screen to avoid certain spots to not take damage.  As the game grew, more and more of these “red circles” showed up to the point where today’s games run near exclusive on that model.  NeverWinter’s combat is all about this.  There’s more active dodging than anything else.  Small amount of skills, plenty of movement, makes for a highly skilled game.

Now we start looking at the next two games coming down the road.  TESO uses a telegraph model, similar to WoW.  It also has a very limited active skill set.  Combat is relatively slow, which allows for some strategy.  Admittedly, this is extrapolated from PR footage but combat so far seems to be more around the “sort of do this” style that thoughtful, targeted motions.  Soft targeting is a large part of this.  Think of shooting a fireball in Skyrim.  The farther away you are, the less likely you are to hit a moving target.  A fireball in WoW hits 100% of the time if you have a target.  Players will have a challenge adapting to this more analog system of “sort of hit” compared to the digital one where “it hit or it didn’t”.

Wildstar uses a hardlock system, telegraph combat and a limited (though seemingly less limited than TESO) combat model.  If you’ve seen any videos it looks like WoW on crack.  There is constant movement, constant attacks and differing types of attacks within the same skill.  Press and hold for more damage, AE attacks (with 5 corresponding colors), multizone attacks (hit 1,2 or 3 times).  Think about that a second.  You need to be constantly moving, which means Mouse + WASD.  You need to be pressing buttons, aiming AE attacks and holding buttons down.  This is mouse + holding keys.

I want you to take a minute the next time you’re at a computer and hold your mouse in one hand, W+S pressed down in the other, then press and hold the 6 key while making circles with the mouse pointer.  We’re really at this point?  What kind of physical skill level is now required to play games?

I’m running out of hands.

5 thoughts on “Control Schemes

  1. “X-Wing/TIE Fighter with a joystick? No chance.”

    But – that’s how I played those games! Personally, I dislike the mouse based control scheme on space/flight games.


      • I was wondering if you meant “without.” 🙂 Yeah, Sidewinders were awesome; I used mine quite a bit. The X-Wing series, Mechwarrior, flight simulators, POD Racer, etc. Good times!


  2. Can you delete that last one… Childcare blog =p

    I think some of these newer titles, like Wildstar alnost expect that you have a gaming mouse. One hand for wasd and the other for a mouse


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