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Is the Gamepad Really Designed for Gaming?

Manufacturer: PC Perspective

Gamepad versus Mouse and Keyboard

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Let us claim that we are comparing gaming inputs based solely on precision. That sounds like a reasonable metric – so why not?

When you measure that for most popular games: mouse and keyboard absolutely wrecks the controller.

It is not even close. It is a slaughter. Analog sticks are a velocity-oriented control scheme where the mouse is a relative position-oriented control scheme. When you move a joystick around you do not move the pointer to a target rather you make it travel at some speed in the direction of the target. With a mouse you just need to move it the required distance and stop. It is easier to develop a sensitivity to how far you need to pull a mouse to travel to the target than a sensitivity to how long to hold a joystick in a given direction to reach a target. Joysticks are heavily reliant on our mental clocks and eye coordination.

It turns out that analog sticks are so imprecise that it creates a whole new interface problem.

Game interface designers recognize how terrible the precision of controller sticks are and pretty much universally decide that a few undeserved kills are better than frustration from constant input failure. Because the controller would otherwise be too frustrating even the most competitive console title includes aim assist. The game might curl your projectile to the target it believes you intend to hit; it might nudge or lock your crosshairs to the target; it may do both and/or some other method.

So why not just take away the gamepad since it is “worse” than the mouse and keyboard?

For precision it is worse – but not in general. There is no better interface – that is a nonsensical concept. Again, a “better” interface is a concept which makes absolutely no sense. When you design an interface you need to clearly understand what you are attempting to achieve and you must develop a solution to do that – and only that. A mouse and keyboard might not have been designed with the intent for gaming but it is more precise and has more accessible buttons for games than the device designed for gaming on a couch. It turns out that the designers needed to compromise precision for comfort on a couch. That is a legitimate concession. It is not better. It is not worse. It is different.

Have a little fun. Think like an engineer and ponder why things are designed like they are.

You will be able to see these little trade-offs all over the place.

October 8, 2012 | 02:20 PM - Posted by Chaitanya Shukla (not verified)

I tried to use a gamepad for gaming on my PC, but since I play RPG and FPS using gamepad frustrated me to the point to which I threw it away in just a week of buying it. Although my younger brother loves playing games with gamepad as he mainly plays sports simulators.

October 8, 2012 | 02:58 PM - Posted by Arb1 (not verified)

a game pad is great for things like driving games, but FPS or strategy games like Starcraft, keyboard and mouse is king.

October 8, 2012 | 03:08 PM - Posted by Ryan Jones (not verified)

I use keyboard and mouse (Corsair M60) for MMOs, FPSs, and flight sims, and I use an Xbox 360 controller for most everything else, including racing and fighting games. I think you just have to use logic and realize which tool is better for each genre.

October 8, 2012 | 04:05 PM - Posted by wujj123456

Analog sticks has its advantages in driving or casual dogfight games.

I usually treat input in three categories: binary, analog, precision device. Binary is what you get from a botton, analog is what you get from a stick, or any other analog control (like pedals). Precision is some device that maps physical distance directly to pixels (aka, mouse).

Different games require different combination of these. When the combination is right, it's a suitable device for such a game. There aren't any "best" input devices before we can figure out which game category is the best.

October 8, 2012 | 06:05 PM - Posted by David P (not verified)

While I don't disagree with the overall premise, this article is biased in that in mentions the sort of software processing done to overcome the limitations of thumbstick UI without mentioning the similar routines used for mouse input(ballistics processing of the cursor, hysteresis, filtering out small motions or to allow single axis motion, etc). Mouse UI generally suffers because its extreme precision can sometimes cause greater inadvertent actions due to human error, hence the benefit of more discrete controls in games like fighting games, or for systems like real time music performance/control.
One other problem with mouse/keyboard UI is that the controllers are not as standardized so developers cannot optimize or tune controls as much. However, generally users have more choices to optimize input settings or hardware parameters, although few actually do.

October 9, 2012 | 01:32 AM - Posted by Scott Michaud

Eh -- the article is more designed to introduce people to thinking about interfaces as solutions to specific sets of problems rather than just nebulus devices or designs which facilitate communication between you and machines.

I discussed aim correction because I was trying to pre-empt console-fan trolling with comments like "Oh you are just upset that the gamepad is better". It is not really about which one is better -- hell I like them both and use them more than most PC gamers... on the PC -- it is about how that is nonsensical. The mouse/keyboard is not better than the game pad, and the game pad is certainly not better than the mouse/keyboard because it clearly needs autoaim to be tolerable to use. They are different.

You design an interface to solve a problem and then you tweak that interface to solve sub-problems such as when you put mechanical switches or membrane switches on a keyboard to make them more precise or cheaper respectively.

But of course your post analyzes mice and keyboards in a problem-solution fashion so I can tell you already got it.

October 12, 2013 | 07:23 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Good read. I think Valve has solved this problem for precision and comfort.

October 9, 2012 | 03:30 PM - Posted by collie (not verified)

Here's a fun one:for some FPS games I play I find the best combo is gamepad/mouse combo using the d-pad for movement, the triggers for some secondary function but all targeting and atacks with the mouse. Best of both worlds

October 9, 2012 | 04:36 PM - Posted by Lord Binky (not verified)

Swap an Analog stick out for the D-pad on the Nostromo + mouse, then I say I would wield the perfect combo for 90% of games.

October 9, 2012 | 07:35 PM - Posted by Isaac C. (not verified)

I couldn't agree more. I LOVE my Nostromo, but the stick being digital limits it's usefulness. Nevertheless it's far better than a gamepad design in many ways. If it had a hand strap you could even use it from the couch. Mouse would still be an issue though.

October 9, 2012 | 05:23 PM - Posted by Lord Binky (not verified)

As to why I said that in my previous post, I have to say that my favorite thing about gamepads comes into play mostly for FPS, it is that I have the analog stick for movement. This makes up for a significant portion of the aiming issue with an analog stick. I find I use movement in addition to the aim to produce higher accuracy as to what I'm aiming at. This isn't possible with keyboard movement since it is a discrete on/off for movement.

October 9, 2012 | 06:10 PM - Posted by Scott Michaud

Actually I did the same when I played console shooters. On the PC -- of course if I use the gamepad I do the same thing -- but even sometimes with a mouse and keyboard I have been known to shift myself with the arrow keys to aim.

You are right though, it does not really help for small movements. It is more if you change between targets which are nearby each other but not you.

Also as I have said in my BlackWidow review: I try to have a fire button bound on my keyboard as well as my left mouse button. When you press a mouse button it tends to jiggle the mouse a bit which more often than people would expect causes you to miss your target. If you can aim with one hand and fire with the other in really tense sniping situations your accuracy tends to go up.

That was how I got marksman on America's Army 2.

October 10, 2012 | 02:58 PM - Posted by SiberX (not verified)

Firstly, I would like to point out that it's a common myth that QWERTY was developed to "slow down" typists. You graze the point here; the original motivation was definitely jamming typewriter arms due to fast typing, but the intention of the QWERTY layout is not to minimize these jams by slowing typists down (this is an irrational solution) but instead by minimizing the occurrence of adjacent key strikes.

Old typewriters jammed because two closely spaced keys were hit nearly simultaneously, causing the arms to "cross over" each other; qwerty makes sure commonly hit character sequences are spaced as far apart from each other as possible, minimizing the occurrence of jams. This actually has a secondary effect of *speeding up* typing fairly well compared to a naive layout as you will alternate hands more frequently with QWERTY than another layout (this says nothing for comfort or strain, however!) making QWERTY a fairly quick layout (although probably not as quick as DVORAK which minimizes finger movement overall instead, and definitely not as comfortable).

About controllers - you're taking a pretty sensible stance here; you need the right interfaces for the application. Digital (buttons), analog relative (joysticks and pedals), analog offset (mice) and analog absolute (wacom pen tablets) are all equally valid, but you need to match them to the type of movement you're trying to control. Mice are great at controlling character pointing direction because the orders match; trying to control character walking by sliding your mouse around (or trying to control character pointing direction with a pen tablet) is ridiculous because the program needs to integrate or derive the actual motion from an unsuitable control scheme (instead of a direct mapping).

The same is true of using a joystick to control pointing direction, although it's been used so long that people don't feel it's quite so ridiculous despite being the same category of mismatch.

This article is biased in that in mentions the sort of software processing done to overcome the limitations of thumbstick UI without mentioning the similar routines used for mouse input(ballistics processing of the cursor, hysteresis, filtering out small motions or to allow single axis motion, etc)

Ballistics (mouse acceleration) are the bane of mouse use and are a bandaid designed to minimize the requirement for large mouse movements when a high resolution display is paired with an inadequate resolution (low dpi) mouse. Just like using an incorrect order of control for an application, it breaks the one-to-one correlation between your input device and its action.
A well-designed mouse should exhibit no ballistics, no hysteresis (I'm not sure what application you actually see this in, but if you do something is wrong), and no filtering to "straighten" lines artificially (the program is never smart enough to second-guess where you're trying to put your mouse). About filtering out small motions, this comes entirely down to the specifics of the mouse, the application and your control of it (filtering inputs is nothing unusual and is done routinely for *every* kind of input - it's just proper engineering design to filter your inputs to give you the data you want).

A universal between *all* of these inputs, however, is that the interface should always seek to reduce input latency (the delay between your input and its action on screen) as much as possible. This will *always* improve the feel and responsiveness of the input, no matter what type/order it is.

October 11, 2012 | 02:19 AM - Posted by Scott Michaud

Thanks for the corrections and clarifications.

Yeah this is what I was trying to get at with the article -- interface design as a problemset/solution game. Kind-of like how the Wii remote was not designed around relaxed couch conditions.

November 28, 2012 | 04:55 PM - Posted by donbasura (not verified)

You would not believe it, but in TF2, a pretty popular FPS, I use BOTH a gamepad and a mouse.

Left hand holding a PS2 controller and using the Dpad for movement and the L2 and R2 triggers for jump/crouch.

Right hand using the mouse as any one would do.

Here is my story regarding PC FPS and my gamepad vs mouse experience.

I have played console games for quite a long time, being quite fond of the Nintendo gamepads and later on with the Playstation controls. I found them incredibly comfortable to play for hours and hours.

Decided to take a look at PC FPS. I have tried using the keyboard for a little while, but could not get used to use the other fingers for movement. There were times where using the WASD made me press both left and right at the same time. I did not find it quite well.

So, I decided to use a gamepad's D-PAD (not analog) for movement and the mouse for precise aiming.

It worked wonders. I now consider myself quite a competent (yet not really competitive, but maybe almost) player.

I am quite happy with this configuration, but I wished I had more buttons accessible by my left hand. I will explore the possibility of using a joystick in my left and the mouse in my right.

Hope this helps.

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