Control Scheme Critique

How do you approach critiquing control schemes? Do you often change control settings? Do you think certain control schemes like motion or touch are inherently bad or is it just that most devs don’t design around them and instead try and retrofit them to established designs? (Or dumb down established designs to fit those control schemes.) What about playing fighting games with keyboards/hitboxes or playing shooters with analog controls?

I change control settings for a lot of first person shooters, like I recently changed the melee attack button in overwatch to F instead of V. I frequently switch crouch to control instead of C. I rebound the jump button in Dark Souls 2 to be the same as the dodge/run button.

I frequently use xpadder to bind screenshot keys to my controller in various games, or so I can play non-FPS games on PC that lack proper controller support, or don’t let me double bind buttons.

Critiquing control schemes is generally about figuring out the best way to map buttons so that none of the buttons interfere with the use of any of the other buttons or inputs on the controller, and maintains a suitable controller metaphor.

For example, Dark Souls maps its attack buttons to the shoulders, which is rather unconventional, because it wants you to move the camera as you move around and attack, and because it maintains the left hand/right hand metaphor set up in the equipment menu.

Conventional action games map their attack buttons to the face because it’s more readily accessible, and because their levels generally have wide open arenas for fighting instead of more careful level design that the camera can get caught on (except MGR, and the camera suffered there), so they don’t need to worry as much about the player having active control over the camera.

Nioh is inspired by dark souls and has very similar gameplay, but does not maintain this same control scheme, in part because it has no 2 hand metaphor for its weapons, and because it has a new stance system metaphor. Stances are changed using the R1 button as a modifier, then pressing a face button. R1 is a shoulder, making it perfect as a modifier button, because it does not conflict with the face buttons, where the reverse would not be true. It’s hard to use face buttons as modifiers for other face buttons, except pressing two buttons at a time. You could use a single button for this like DMC does, but the R1 here has a function for regaining Ki too, so you don’t always want to switch stances.

I don’t think Motion and Touch are inherently bad, I just think they’re good at different things than conventional interfaces, and most games made with those control schemes don’t leverage what they’re capable of. Wii Sports is the best selling Wii game because it literally could not exist in any form but motion controls. You can’t really do games like Bowling and Golf nearly the same way. 99% of the other games on the system didn’t deliver in anything close to the same way.

As for touch, it’s a similar deal. Touch doesn’t do a lot that can’t be done by other means. Most games on the DS didn’t really take advantage of touch, and that’s fine because the DS had capable regular controls and capable regular games.

So what does touch do better than conventional controls? What’s a game you couldn’t control as well if you reverted it to standard controls? The World Ends With You is my first answer. In that game, you need to move the character in battle by picking them up and dragging them. You control and differentiate different commands in battle through how they’re activated, and a lot of those are gestures that not only specify what action you’re using, but where you’re using it and how.

You can tap to fire off bullets to specific areas, you can slash to launch enemies or create pillars at points, scratch to produce an effect on the scratched area, drag to pull objects, circle enemies, and more.

And the combat system ended up being pretty cool/dynamic in the end.

In a traditional control system, you can’t control things so far away from the character that precisely, or move the character as quickly and slowly. With a mouse, it’s harder to draw gestures precisely, or trace/draw paths that aren’t straight.

Touch interfaces also have the benefit of multitouch, but I can’t think of a good example that uses that.

As for the difference in input methods for fighters versus shooters, I think there’s a very different and weird thing going on between these. In fighting games, almost any input method is basically as good as any other input method. There isn’t a lot of difference for arcade fighting games. People have seen success using anything with enough separate digital inputs for the directions and all the buttons basically. Evo has been won on pad, and recently at that with Luffy. In traditional fighting games, controllers are mostly seen as a preferential thing with very minor advantages across controller types.

In shooters, there’s a very clear best way to play, and it’s keyboard and mouse. Mostly the mouse. The reason this differs from fighting games is, shooters take analog input, not digital input, and there are very clearly different things possible across different types of analog input. Some games aren’t possible unless you have enough buttons, the difference here is that some games aren’t possible no matter how many buttons you add. It’s not something that can be linearly scaled up.

Nothing but mouse allows as fast speed or fine modulation of aiming on an infinite canvas.

Similarly, you can’t play Smash as well unless you have an analog stick, because it has actual analog inputs you can’t replicate otherwise (like DI, dashing vs walking, etc)

Digital input methods seem to scale well, analog tends to be more specialized.

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