Friday, December 17, 2010

Control of Controls

One of the main reasons I hear when I ask someone why they purchased a game for a specific platform is preference of input device. E.g. I know gamers who will only play fighting and racing games on console or FPS and RTS games on PC. Technology is becoming more and more interconnected and users being given more and more choices about every aspect of any device they purchase whether it be from the colour to the OS, therefore the schism between console and PC standard input devices is starting to feel like an archaic argument with a forgotten beginning.

Plug and Play

PC seems at least a little more progressive in this respect. Many PC games now support gamepads even if the main reason is because a lot of games with gamepad support are also console ports, making it a no brainer. But regardless this has still been the case for years, combat flight/space sims on PC have traditionally been played with a joystick but also provided mouse/keyboard support, in addition many of them also had support for gamepads or any other type of controller you could somehow manage to connect to your PC. Now, I know that PCs are often considered home of the modder and therefore it’s expected that a wide variety of controller options will be available for the PC gamer, but I’m talking about games that specifically have setup options for gamepad use and some even with default button configurations for gamepads. 

I have a friend that plays racing games on his PC with a steering wheel, allowing him more direct control and an element of realism, steering wheels can now be bought for X360 for example as an official Microsoft product. Also, Microsoft PC gamepads now look exactly like an X360 controller... probably because they are an X360 controller. You can buy gamepads for “Windows” use but there’s literally no difference between that and buying an X360 controller except that the Windows Wireless gamepads come with a USB wireless connector. You can literally take these controllers and go play on an X360 with them.

So just to keep this train moving let’s keep on the subject of X360 for now. Here we have Microsoft who makes their own series of PC steering wheels, mice and keyboards. In addition, they also have their X360 branded series of steering wheels, gamepads (which are also supported by Windows). The X360 has two USB ports yet no support for a keyboard/mouse setup. Some people say this is a result of game developers not giving their console versions keyboard/mouse support, others say it is Microsoft not supplying their consoles with the required level of support even for using their own mouse/keyboards on the X360.

Quick conspiracy theory: Does Microsoft specifically not release X360 branded mice and keyboards for the console because then they are able to double dip their profits on two platforms? Knowing Microsoft’s money grubbing ways, it wouldn’t really surprise me. If they began support of mice and keyboards on X360 and a bunch of PC gamers moved over to console gaming, leaving their PCs behind then there goes a bunch of PC peripheral, GFWL (Games For Windows Live), Windows etc sales due to consolidation of all these things on the X360.

There are currently third party devices you can find online that will allow you to connect a mouse/keyboard to an X360 in order to play any game you want. These are sketchy at best, for the most part they are a USB hub combined with controller emulation. Meaning that the device attempts to take your mouse/keyboard input and translate it to the X360 as if it were a gamepad. You think the response times and free movement of a mouse would translate well into a thumbstick? Not happening.

Sony Pushes the Envelope

I’m a big fanboy for Final Fantasy VII, yes I will admit it. So when FFVII: Dirge of Cerberus was released for the PS2 (this was a 3rd person shooter for the PS2), I immediately purchased it. I always have a quick flip through the manual of any game I purchase, while doing this I stumbled across something interesting in the controls section of the manual. Complete mouse and keyboard support with default control schemes. That’s right; a PLAYSTATION 2 game had support for mouse and keyboard. Now I’m sure, other games had done it before but this was the first one I had come across. I immediately plugged in a simple USB keyboard and (ironically) a 4 button USB Microsoft mouse. Now all the extra buttons on the mouse weren’t supported, but that didn’t bother me. The point was; I had complete and seamless mouse control in a shooter on console. My only problem now came with how to comfortably use my favourite control setup while sitting on a couch in front of the TV.

A more recent example is the release of Unreal Tournament 3. Unreal Tournament 3 was released on X360 and PS3 in 2008, the X360 version had no mouse/keyboard support yet the PS3 did. Gamers who owned both a PC and PS3 were now talking about buying the game on PS3 simply for the fact that they could now play one of their favourite FPS series on console with mouse/keyboard (although I’m sure the bigger screen sizes helped sway their decision).  X360 owners who wanted mouse/keyboard support were raging at the unfairness of it all and jumping off buildings all over the place (ok the last part was a lie, shutup). The game even had options to keep it fair, you could opt out of matches with mouse/keyboard owners if you used a gamepad and play in gamepad only matches.

Point being, even if they didn’t mean to, one developer blatantly pointed out the ridiculousness of the whole situation. Mouse/keyboard support is able to be done for Playstation... yet mysteriously not for Xbox. Gamers will switch from PC to console to follow their desired control setup to a more desired platform. A preference in controllers should not define a required platform.

Now the developers of UT3 (Epic Games) have traditionally been a PC developer creating games like Jazz Jackrabbit back in the early days, starting the Unreal series and creating one of the most accomplished game engines in the world, the Unreal Engine. Being a developer who has a history of PC development and mouse/keyboard setup it seemed like a simple enough shift to apply this to console games. Epic Games are also the developer of the Gears of War series. An excellent shooter series primarily for the X360 and also (shoddily, will get into it another time) ported to the PC. This says one thing to me; if a developer can create excellent shooters for PC and console all with mouse/keyboard support and then also create excellent shooters for X360 purely using the gamepad then Microsoft is opposing mouse/keyboard use on the X360.

Dost Thou Speak of Revolution?

It makes me wonder. If more developers applied mouse/keyboard support to games on PS3 to the point where there was a wide variety of games available with it, would it pressure Microsoft into following suit? If Sony, purely by not opposing it, had a lot of games on PS3 with mouse/keyboard support which were also available on X360 without the same support then wouldn’t many PC gamers shift to console for all the advantages that consoles bring? Wouldn’t this in turn make Microsoft lose not only their ability to double dip their profits but to completely lose some of their PC gamer generated profits? Sony could even release a Sony branded mouse with extra supported buttons to help this along, screwing Microsoft out of sales in the process. At the very least, it could be done for PC games that are also being released on console.

I’m sure there’s things here I’m missing and I definitely do not have all the answers or all the facts, feel free to enlighten me if there’s something else you think is affecting the situation. But to reiterate my point: A preference in controllers should not define a required platform. Where appropriate, players should not be confined to using a corporate mandated controller but should be free to use the controllers that allow them to enjoy the game as they see fit. In a perfect world.

1 comment:

  1. They won't make x360 keyboards and mice ever. Because everyone I know who owns a 360 always uses this excuse as to why they screw something up... give them a keyboard/mouse and they will just have to accept they suck, not matter if it is a controller or other peripheral.
    Plus with having a larger screen for a pc... just buy a hdmi cable and hook it up, thats what I do.
    Good article though :)