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The Quixotic Engineer

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sorry I Shot You, I Was Trying to Sprint

Video game enthusiasts have had a deluge of great titles to choose from this fall. What started building momentum back in August with the release of Bioshock is coming to a head in November, with hotly anticipated titles such as Assassin's Creed, Super Mario Galaxy, Mass Effect and Rock Band arriving within scant weeks of each other.

While I'm by no means a sucker for all shooter games, it so happens that I've picked up a few excellent ones in the last few months: Halo 3, Call of Duty 4 and The Orange Box (which includes Half Life 2, Team Fortress 2 and the brilliant Portal.) These games earned scores of 94, 95 and 96 respectively on Metacritic, and are each thoroughly enjoyable in their own way.

However, playing all of these games in such a short period of time has made me realize how little consensus there is among FPS games with regard to controls. The A button is commonly used to jump, and the left and right sticks control movement and aiming respectively, but from there things become muddled. Consider the following:

Half Life 2 Team Fortress 2 Halo 3 Call of Duty 4
B Reload Reload Melee Crouch
X Pick Up Taunt Use Equipment Reload
Y Flashlight Show Scoreboard Swap Weapon Swap Weapon
L Bumper Sprint Previous Weapon Select Grenade Type Throw Secondary Grenade
R Bumper Toggle Weapon Next Weapon Reload Throw Frag Grenade
L Trigger Secondary Fire Secondary Fire Throw Grenade Aim Down Sights
Click L Crouch Crouch Crouch Sprint
Click R Zoom Call for Medic Zoom Melee

To summarize:

  • Reload: A, X or Right Bumper.
  • Change Weapons: Y or Left/Right Bumper.
  • Throw Grenade: Left Trigger or Left/Right Bumper.
  • Sprint: Left Bumper or Click Left.
  • Melee: B or Click R.

Should there be one standard control scheme for shooter games? I don't think so. There's a reason I don't manually edit the default controls for most games: programmers design games with the control scheme in mind. For instance, the three types of grenades in Halo 3 all do the same thing: blow up and cause damage. Therefore, it's not important to map them individually. In Call of Duty, however, being able to choose between a flashbang and a frag in an instant is critical, so each warrants a unique button.

That being said, there are some key functions that could benefit from a little consistency:

  • Reloading is important in every FPS title, so it deserves a standardized button. I think X would work well, but using Right Bumper seems to be the new trend.
  • If meleeing is a game option, it should be available without changing weapons (I'm looking at you Team Fortress 2.)
  • Map infrequently used functions, such as Taunt or View Scoreboard, to the D-pad (again, Team Fortress 2 got this wrong.)

As the interface between manual and digital, it is absolutely crucial to get game controls right for a game to feel fluid and natural. Here's hoping that future designers keep this in mind, or I might be cursed to accidentally frag my teammates for the next decade.

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