Thursday, May 10, 2007

Games and controls

Microsoft has a Games for Windows initiative which plans to make playing games on a PC more similar to playing a game on a console. The initiative has some laudable parts aiming to standardize games and make them easier to install and handle. But another part of the initiative is Games for Windows - Live, an online service working like the XBox Live service, for players to meet online and play games against each other. And for some titles that have been released for both the PC and the XBox, you are supposed to be able to play against each other, regardless of platform. Sounds nice? But early testing revealed a problem: The average gamer playing a first person shooter on a PC with keyboard and mouse wtfpwns the average gamer playing the same game on a XBox 360 with a gamepad.

Aiming a virtual gun with a mouse is so much faster and more precise than aiming with a thumbstick that somebody playing on a XBox 360 simply doesn't stand a chance against a PC player. First person shooters are a genre in which people invest in higher resolution optical mouses and special mouse pads to get an advantage. Bringing a gamepad to such a battle is like bringing a knife to a gunfight.

I remember playing Final Fantasy XI on the PC with a gamepad, because the game had been designed for a console, with gamepad controls, and simply ran better if you used the controls it had been made for. Later I tried to use the same gamepad on other MMORPGs, but that didn't work well at all, because the other games had been designed for other control methods. This is often cited as obstacle on bringing a game like WoW to consoles, the controls will just be difficult. Playing a racing game or flight simulator with a steering wheel is a totally different experience than trying to play it on a keyboard. For space shooters a joystick is often the best control method. Every genre has its favorite mode of controls, and they usually aren't working well in other genres.

So either we'll end up having both our consoles and PCs hooked up with keyboards, gamepads, joysticks, and steering wheels, or there will be genres that just go better on a console or on a PC, with multi-platform games being difficult. Right now I prefer to play each game on the platform where it runs and controls best. How about you? Would you want to play WoW on a console? Or console games on your PC?

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