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Is the Gamepad Really Designed for Gaming?

Manufacturer: PC Perspective

Thoughts about Interface Design in General

I have been in several situations where a variety of people claim the gamepad is superior for gaming because that is what it was designed for. No elaboration or further justification is given. The controller is designed for gaming and is therefore clearly better. End of – despite often being start to – discussion in their minds.

Really it is a compromise between the needs of popular games and the environment of a couch.

Interface design is complicated. When you design an interface you need to consider: the expected types of applications; the environment of the user; what you are permitted to use; what tolerances are allowed; what your audience is used to; and so on, so forth. There is a lot to consider when you design an application for a user and I could make an educated guess that it is at least as hard to design the input device itself.

The history of keyboard design is a great example of tradeoffs in input devices.

Sometimes it is better to be worse...

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The first wave of keyboards were interfaces to the mechanical typewriter. These keyboards were laid out in alphabetical order because as long as each key is accessible and the user could find the letter they wanted – who cares, right? We already have an order for the alphabet that people understands so the users should not have too much difficulty in finding the letter they need.

Another constraint quickly game to light: typists were too fast and the machines jammed.

The engineers now needed to design an input method which could keep up with the typist. Correcting the machine itself was somewhat futile so the solution was to make the typist as slow as possible. The most common letters in the English language were spread all over the place and – while possibly by fluke – the left hand is favored, as in made do more work, over the often dominant right hand.

The problem required making the most aggravating keyboard layout engineers could imagine. QWERTY was born.

What has been designed to threaten QWERTY? Read on to find out.

The 1930s brought about a new breed of typewriter which does not jam. Our requirement to develop an interface which slows the typist as much as possible is no longer relevant. We now want to create an interface design that allows typists to perform as well as possible; we also want to create an interface which is easy for current typists who are used to QWERTY.

Now that is a dilemma.

As it turns out there is no real solution other than fork into two different interfaces: QWERTY and a more efficient design. Dvorak – inventor, not the six upper-and-leftmost keys – recognized that the home-row is easiest and quickest and as such put the most common letters there. The five main vowels were put on the left side of the home row because a typist could access them easily with their four fingers and there is a lot more consonants for the dominant right hand to deal with.

So – returning to the gamepad analogy – which interface is “better”? Does it really make sense to compare which interface is better if they were both designed for completely different purposes? You could make the argument that QWERTY is more popular and thus better then you ignore that it was designed to be inefficient. If you make the argument that Dvorak is more efficient then you ignore the inconvenience to previously trained typists.

Well if Dvorak is so much more efficient you may ask why do we not just tell typists to try their broccoli because they eventually like it? At the same point – why not just make people play games with the more efficient device?

Next page we will compare the gamepad to the mouse/keyboard and learn more about design challenges.

October 8, 2012 | 11:20 AM - 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 | 11:58 AM - 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 | 12:08 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 | 01:05 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 | 03:05 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 8, 2012 | 10:32 PM - 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 | 04:23 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

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

October 9, 2012 | 12:30 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 | 01:36 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 | 04:35 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 | 02:23 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 | 03:10 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 | 11:58 AM - 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 10, 2012 | 11:19 PM - 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 | 01:55 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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