Sunday, April 8, 2012

Intuitive Controls are Intuitive

Game Design and Production - INFR 2330

So I don't exactly remember which class it was, but we had a class relatively recently where we talked about intuitive controls. I didn't really give it too too much thought during the actual class itself because I was thinking to myself: "Well yea, obvious controls are obvious". However one day we showed our game to Dr. Nacke for feedback and we didn't really have anything that told the player what the controls were, yet he still managed to pick up the game and he told us that our controls were good because they were intuitive.

At that point I was still like, "Yea, because what else would they be? Movement should be WASD or the Arrow Keys and having attacks be 1 - 5 makes sense". The point never really hit me until last night when I was trying to improve on the controls for our game using a PS3 controller.

Best controller btw. (Wikipedia)

Setting up the control scheme for the controller actually bugged me because I couldn't get it exactly right. I had an idea in my head as to how the game should be controlled, but I couldn't replicate it perfectly with our game because our game just doesn't support the functionality the games that I'm used to playing on the PS3 does.

That's when it got me thinking about intuitive controls for games. What gave me the idea that a certain key is better for a certain action than the others? Like is X just more magic than the square button? Why should that be used as the main button? Or why does the right control stick move the camera? Why do people immediately use the joystick over the D pad? There were a ton of questions that I thought of at that moment.

Sooooooo many questions. (RacerX)

Thinking about these questions reminded me of last summer when I played Final Fantasy XII and Final Fantasy VII. Final Fantasy XII's controls threw me off completely because in the PS3 games I'm used to now, the right analog stick moves the camera one direction when you move the stick one direction. I actually don't even remember which direction it moves you because I'm so used to it I don't really pay attention anymore.

However in FFXII, the camera actually moved the other way when you moved the right analog stick. It completely threw me off because I was so used to playing games like Infamous where I would use the right analog stick all the time to move, and when I tried to do it in FFXII, I had to have some sort of readjusting period to get used to it. And when I finally got used to it, I beat the game and moved back to Infamous 2. It was almost painful getting used to the new camera controls again.

Also I wasn't able to just enter combat and AFK since Infamous didn't play itself. (Wikipedia)

Then I thought of my experience playing FFVII. I bought the game on PSN so I played it with my PS3 controller. Again, the playing experience was completely weird for me since I just finished playing Infamous 2 so I was back to being used to modern, open world controls. I remember loading up FFVII for the first time and getting stuck on the menu because I couldn't figure out how to move the cursor or select things.

After a few minutes of derping around, I noticed that I was using the analog stick and trying to move. I decided to give the good ol' D pad a try and bam, the cursor started to move and I could select things again. Now I just had to figure out how to select things and after smashing every button on the controller, I figured out that O was now the select button and X was the cancel button, which is completely opposite from the modern controls.

OhGodI'mTryingButICan't (Final Fantasy Wikia)

Eventually I figured out you could swap the X and O buttons using the controls menu, but that only applied in game so every time I loaded up the game I would spend a few moments fumbling around the menu until I remembered that I had to hit O instead of X. And of course it always threw me off since I couldn't move with the analog stick which I was so used to using.

It kinda hits me now that I was really playing games from three generations. The PS1, PS2 and PS3 eras. The controls for each era seemed to be slightly different. I mean, back when FFXII first came out, I don't remember me having issues with the camera. I didn't play FFVII on the Playstation back when it came out, but I'm pretty sure people didn't have issues playing that game either since apparently it's so good (Overrated IMO).

Except for the part where Cloud crossdresses, that was lulz. (Thelifestream)

I mean, the Playstation controller really didn't change that much over the years, yet gradually there seemed to be a shift in terms of what the norms were for controls. It seems that there really is no set control scheme, but rather what people are more used to playing with.

Another example of that would be StarCraft Brood War. BW was notoriously hard to play since most of the   main keybinds were on the left side of the keyboard, and that is the most intuitive side to put your hand on anyways when your right hand is on the mouse. Yet at the same time you had things like O for Overlord, M for Marine and P for Pylon.

1a2a3a4a5a6a7a8a9a0a (Team Liquid)

I played Brood War back when it came out, and yea, I was totally a clicker, but still, I don't remember me thinking "Oh man, these control schemes are so hard!". Then StarCraft II came out and Blizzard made the game easier to control, they made it so all the keybinds were on the left side where they should be, and things like O for Overlord and M for Marine didn't exist anymore, they were V for Overlord and A for Marine.

A lot of BW diehards complain that SC2 is too easy to play, and honestly, it's only "easy" because BW was hard to play. Going back to BW from SC2 is painful. Absolutely painful. Did BW have a good control scheme? I honestly don't think so. Did it work? Yea, it did. If it didn't eSports wouldn't exist.

Last night's finals were tainted btw. And you know it. (GomTV)

So what am I getting at? I don't think there really are any "correct" control schemes. I mean, if you can play a game, then the controls work; they're "correct". However there's a difference between correct and comfortable control schemes. And honestly, what people are comfortable with aren't always the most optimal controls either, it's really just what people are used to.

Who knows, maybe a few years from now Square would be confirm and Triangle would be cancel button. It would be weird to think about now, but hey, a few years from now it'll be the norm and it'll feel, well, intuitive.

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