Control Freak

“Been playing HL2 as I fancy going through it again. I’m enjoying it, but still find it weird on the XBOX controller. Things which are piss easy on the mouse can be a real bugger on the controller” – Navan Daughn

Valve need to get their heads screwed on for console conversions

When does a controller become part of the game? Pretty much always! However the degree to which it affects the game experience really varies wildly from case to case. I think Navan now understands some of my complaints with regards to The Orange Box much better, having tried it on a twin stick pad. And having played through Half Life 1 myself on a mouse, I already wish I’d got The Orange Box on the PC rather than for the 360. I’m having the same problem with Left 4 Dead as well. Apart from the small concession of a quick-turn button the game is completely designed for mouse & keyboard control rather than for twin stick on a gamepad, and I felt the game really suffered. Now with the Left 4 Dead 2 demo out, I’ve been able to directly compare it on the 360 vs the PC; and there was no contest at all, the game handled far more easily on a mouse, and due to the design of the game this made it actually much more fun to play in many ways. It leaves me frustrated with both versions because many more of my friends are on 360, and I’d much rather play over XBox Live, in the comfort of my front room, with my preferred twin sticks; yet the game feels so much nicer to control on the PC with a mouse and keyboard. So basically I won’t be 100% satisfied with either version. I realised what I really want is a proper “Left 4 Dead 360” version that changes the game control mechanics enough so that control on a twin stick pad becomes viable & fun and doesn’t feel like you’re stuggling to replicate a mouse. Halo, Gears and many other titles all do this fine, so it can be done.

Some people may say it’s a simple case of “always play a game on it’s default intended controller”, which held more weight with arcade conversions, but it’s still not exactly clear cut. Should Street Fighter 2 HD Remix be played on an 360 or PS3 pad since those are the systems it was released for? Ok, it’s clearly a update of an original joystick game though – so fine, use a joystick. But what about the differences between different joysticks? Isn’t it a bit of an unfair advantage in the game to be using a high quality controller vs someone that isn’t? For Street Fighter IV, shouldn’t I always be using button bindings and turbo auto fire? These things are built into the game options and the official controller! On the PC it gets even more murky, with WoW Macro keyboards, gaming mice with extra button bindings and on and on. Where do you draw the line between cheating and ‘playing to win’ when it comes to your choice of controller? Should you even be allowed to reconfigure your button layout on Halo on the 360? That sounds ridiculous I know, but it shows how difficult it is to draw the line without some kind of organisation of the metagame rules around the video game itself. For Street Fighter, I play to the standard I’ll be held to at whatever offline tournament I want to enter, but if I wasn’t competing in organised offline events, what then?

Auto-fire is probably the biggest controller issue on competitive 360 games, and it affects everything from Street Fighter to FPS titles. There are some quite simple solutions to either designing the game so it won’t be an issue, or detecting it as cheating online. But sadly games developers don’t appear to care, putting in pistols that ‘fire as fast as you can press the button’ which is foolishly naive in an online competitive game, and making the aforementioned official controllers with auto-fire built in. It’s there so you can test combos out in training mode? Yeh right. And the line just gets blurrier all the time – it is already possible to use a keyboard and mouse on a 360 if you are willing to go to enough trouble with things like this XPFS 4.0 Speed.

Another game I love, Virtual On was recently re-released in an upgraded version on the 360 on XBLA, and I was initally overjoyed. But it requires such a specialised controller to play properly I’ve completely avoided it until one comes available. My friend Ollie Barder covered the history of Virtua Ron (as I affectionately refer to it sometimes) and it’s controller issues on the 360 here. However, luckily, fan pressure has meant that a twin-stick controller for the 360 was eventually announced. It’s still not out at the time of writing, but is imminent, and can be previewed at Hori’s site. Of course the problem is whether I’ll ever be able to get hold of one in the UK, and at what price, and then will the game’s netcode make it worthwhile to even play, let alone shell out for another controller?

I don’t really have any answers here, with the current state of play, other than to raise this point as yet another murky area of gaming that developers of competitive games, and conversions of games, really ought to pay much more attention to. However especially on platforms like the PC, it might be a case that there’s very little they can do to control the issue however. All this, and I haven’t even touched on WiiMotes or Natal yet! 😉

7 thoughts on “Control Freak

  1. Hey Remy! Worthy of its own blog post, and worthy of continued debate.

    “I realised what I really want is a proper “Left 4 Dead 360″ version that changes the game control mechanics enough so that control on a twin stick pad becomes viable & fun and doesn’t feel like you’re stuggling to replicate a mouse. Halo, Gears and many other titles all do this fine, so it can be done.”

    What you’re talking about here, though, isn’t just changing the game control mechanic; you couldn’t just take the stick and button mappings from Halo or Gears and bolt it onto L4D and expect that to fix the problem – you’re talking about changing the entire *gameplay* mechanic.

    Those games don’t work on a pad because their controls are more precise, they work because their gameplay does not demand precision. Gears is a great example. If I had to describe that game as briefly as possible, I’d say it’s a game about cover and flanking. L4D is a game about precision. Precision of shot, precision of movement, precision of thought – to survive on the higher levels requires a team of four people doing *exactly* the right things at *exactly* the right time, and absolutely ever aspect of the gameplay is balanced around that.

    So, how would you make it easier to handle on the 360 pad without fundamentally altering the experience? You can’t make it about cover and flanking. You can’t make it have a fraction of the enemies and have your health regenerate like Halo. I mean you could, but you’d be talking about rebalancing everything in the game, essentially instead of making a console conversion, making an whole new IP! Like Umbrella Chronicles vs Resident Evil.

    All the while, somewhere in the drive to make a console friendly version, you have denied the players who CAN cope with the precision of L4D on a gamepad the opportunity to play it. You can’t handle it, I can’t handle it, but they are out there. I’ve met them. They’re the reason I don’t play COD on 360 any more.


  2. Thanks for the great comment PlugMonkey, I appreciate you taking the time to read this and post here. And actually.. I completely agree with everything you say.

    I am essentially wishing there was some change to gameplay mechanics and making an entirely new console version. I don’t think it needs to be quite such a massive shift in approach as you suggest – but then I’m hardly a true FPS aficionado to notice the subtleties you’ve pointed out. I’d imagine something along the lines of a few changes in the approach vectors and movement of the zombies to tweak it. I’d also possibly use the “quick turn” button into a “turn to face last threat” style of button, or perhaps some other kind of quick turn mechanism like Lost Planet appears to have (I say appears, as I’ve only actually played the demos; I don’t know if they are actually useful in the game). The debate about what to tweak is certainly quite a complicated one for sure.

    Then again, as you say, maybe it’s just about learning the skills to get that precise control on a twin stick gamepad! 😉 Maybe I can do it! I’ve certainly improved a huge amount of the last couple of years.


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