Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 29, 2014
Before mice were common, I loved the keyboard.
I remember playing Ultima III and IV, where there was a command for almost every key. It seems a silly idea today, but back then, it at least made the game feel like it was incredibly interactive. Look at all the verbs! Okay, so it was kind of kind of redundant at times, and some commands were used so infrequently they didn’t really deserve their own key. But it felt like a rich command set!
I’ve been a PC Gamer ever since. Sure, professionally, I made games for consoles for a living. I was young and needed the money! Okay, seriously, there were times when I was convinced it was the most awesome job of all time. And I learned to love the consoles, especially the original Playstation. But there was a richness in PC gaming that I felt lacking in many console titles. The console gamers might jeer and call them boring, but those of us playing the original X-Com, Daggerfall, Falcon 3.0 (and later 4.0), and Civilization games knew better. Console ports of games like Diablo paled in comparison. Ditto for the console versions of most PC RPGs.
Once upon a time, back when there really was a larger distance between console and computer games, I remember a journalist explaining that the difference was often depth vs. breadth. Console games – like fighting games – tended to go for greater depth of play within a limited breadth of interactions. PC games tended to go for more breadth of interactions. Over time, that has converged a bit, though I do still love having that breadth of interactions.
Nowadays, from a technology standpoint – there’s not such a difference between consoles and computers. As far as what’s going on under the hood, it doesn’t really matter. As Microsoft’s Surface and will-conceived Windows 8 attest, mobile devices are closing the gap as well. We have HD TVs now that display text almost as well as computer monitors. And the controllers? Well, console controllers from the last couple of generations of systems have been pretty dang interesting. I’ll bet you could eliminate some redundancies, put a few rare controls on a menu, and map the old Ultima controls onto an XBox controller pretty well. While mobile games have diverged a bit in the style of gameplay (mostly owing to small screens and touch interfaces), PC games and console games have converged much more. It’s not always a good thing – I do feel like there’s been a bit of “dumbing down” as a result – but there are good things to be borrowed from both sides.
There’s still something about the keyboard and mouse for me. Especially the mouse. It’s convenient. It’s precise, unlike thumbsticks and touch screens. Even though the world is changing and people are using a dedicated desktop (or laptop) less and less, I’m still a fan. I’m still a PC gamer. I think in those terms. Sometimes to my own detriment.
But reality intrudes. I have to show my next game, Frayed Knights 2: The Khan of Wrath, at Salt Lake Comic Con in about a month, and … well, people really respond better to controllers, especially when faced with a new game. The left stick and right buttons are the first to be experimented with. And – as the adventure games of the 90s illustrated, context-sensitive verbs are a pretty good thing. I really want to hand them a controller, not point them to a keyboard and mouse.
So now I’m frantically re-thinking my UI in terms of game control input. And it really changes everything. It’s actually a good thing, to a point – because it really forces me to think in terms of simplifying controls for the player. Players of Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon and its rather ungainly UI will no doubt appreciate the effort. This doesn’t mean that players of my beloved keyboard and mouse are going to be stuck with something like an emulated console controller… no way, no how. Keyboard and mouse are still going to be, in my mind, the primary way to play the game. But it does force me to think about economy of movement, careful nesting of what menus are necessary, and – well, simplifying the control of things, even if the stuff going on underneath the hood is still pretty hardcore.
I know it’s the right thing to do. I know it’s the necessary thing to do. I know the game will be better as a result of me streamlining things. I know that I will still be able to play with keyboard and mouse in the way that the gods of PC gaming intended. But there’s still a little part of me that feels guilty about it.
Filed Under: Design, Frayed Knights - Comments: 17 Comments to Read