Design Sins: Non-Customizable Controls – Part Two

Updated: Aug 11



Welcome back, everyone. In the last article, we saw examples of recent games that allowed the player the freedom to configure their controls to their liking. We also saw examples of recent games that were extremely restrictive in this regard, offering little, if any, control customizability. Unfortunately, the examples of the later considerably outnumbered the examples of the former.


In my experience, most PC games from the 1990s and 2000s offered full customizability of in-game controls. There were a few exceptions of course, but these tended to be shoddy console ports such as the much-maligned F.E.A.R. 2.

Due to my considerable backlog of games - and the never-ending supply of quality mods for them - mentioned in the previous article I haven’t played many PC AA or AAA games that were released in the 2010s. Indeed, the previously mentioned Far Cry 3 (which also used mandatory toggle-crouch), Doom 2016 and Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak may well be the only examples.

The Tests





I was concerned that the Far Cry 3, Doom 2016 and Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak situations were not isolated incidents, and that they are indicative of a general reduction of control customizability in AA and AAA games. However, with such a restricted sample size it was impossible to test this. Unfortunately, informal enquires on various forums suggested I may have been onto something.

So, I decided to dig a little deeper. To test this further I installed the newest games in my Steam library that I hadn’t yet played. Once installed, I tested their control options. What I found didn’t fill me with confidence.


The Games



· Alien: Isolation: ‘Toggle-Crouch’ with no option to change this to ‘Hold-to-Crouch’. Optional joypad control is welcome. However, it is limited to a choice of pre-sets. If you can re-bind the in-game keys to anything you want, why not do likewise for the joypad controls?

· Bioshock Remastered: ‘Toggle-Crouch’ and ‘Toggle walk/run’. No options to change these to ‘Hold-to-XXX’.

· Bioshock Infinite: ‘Toggle-Crouch’ with no way to change to ‘Hold-to-Crouch’. The ‘Return’ key is locked out and thus cannot be bound to anything. This is irritating for players that habitually use the return key for specific in-game actions.

· Deus Ex Human Revolution: Directors Cut: ‘Toggle-Crouch’ with no option to swap to ‘Hold-to-Crouch’. You can use an Xbox 360 joypad natively with the game; however, players are restricted to using the default buttons as there are no alternative presets, nor can the buttons be individually assigned.

· Metro: Last Light Redux: Allows full customizability of keys. The aim, sprint and crouch actions can all be set to ‘Toggle’ or ‘Hold-To-XXX’. The game ingeniously allows the use of ‘Hold-to-Crouch’ and a user-defined ‘Crouch Toggle’ key. This is an example of well thought out design. Assuming this idea isn’t patented, why haven’t other games done likewise?

· Aliens Colonial Marines*. Crouch, Sprint, Aim Down Sights, etc. can all be set to either ‘Toggle’ or Hold-to-XXX’

*It was £2 in a Steam sale. And can we take a moment to appreciate that Aliens: Colonial Marines, one of the most (rightly) maligned games of the past decade beats most of these other (rightly) lauded games in the control options department.

The Results


I was surprised to find that some of these games did not natively support additional mouse buttons. Most gaming mice from the mid 2000s onwards - even entry level ones - feature at least two additional buttons. Most games from the mid 2000s onwards support them natively as a result, so to see games from the 2010s fail to do so was an unpleasant surprise. This would have rendered the extra buttons possessed by gaming mice redundant without middleware such as X Mouse Button Control.

Toggle-Crouch appears to be increasingly common. I suspect this may be due to many titles now being cross-platform. I recall from my console gamer days that crouching was often activated by ‘clicking down’ the movement thumbstick. I also recall that trying to hold the thumbstick down whilst also moving around with it was difficult and frustrating. Toggle-Crouch made sense for console games as it was easier.

Could it be a case that devs are making their games with a ‘console-first’ mindset and are thus making their games use ‘Toggle-Crouch’ by default? If so, why do they not make this optional for PC players? Is it due to laziness, being too time-pressured due to publisher-imposed deadlines, mental and physical exhaustion due to ‘crunch’, or are modern-day devs so used to developing for the restrictive and prescriptive ecosystems of consoles that it simply does not occur to them that PC players expect more freedom and options?

These findings are troubling and suggest that further investigation is warranted. However, I have maxed out my resources, and eight titles are too small a sample size to be representative. Therefore, I am asking you, our dear readers, for your help.

A Call to Action

In short, I need data. I would like to know what your experiences with in-game controls in 2010s (and now 2020s) AA and AAA games have been like. Have you noticed an increase, a drop, or a levelling out in the customizability of control options since 2010? If you can provide specific examples that would be even better. Responses can go in the comments section below, or PM my Twitter or Facebook accounts if you wish to remain anonymous.

I would also be interested to know how many gamers use a game’s default controls, and how many redefine them to something else. Please place your answers to the questions below in the comments section, or PM me if you wish to do so anonymously.


Question One: Default controls. Do you;

· Always use default controls

· Mostly use default controls, but consistently map certain actions to certain buttons/keys

· Sometimes change the controls - it depends on the game and what the defaults are

· Mostly change the controls, but consistently leave some buttons/keys as they are

· Always change all the controls


Question Two: How important is it to you to have the freedom to customize the in-game controls?

· Very important - If I can’t customise the controls, I probably will not play the game.

· Somewhat important - I would prefer to customize them but I will play a game where you cannot.

· Not at all important - I am always happy to use whatever default controls the game uses.

Conclusion


So, there were my two cents on the current state of in-game controls. What are your thoughts, are you concerned by this apparent drop in freedom and player choice?

If this is an issue that irks you, then I encourage you to make your voice heard. If enough gamers make their dissatisfaction known, then perhaps developers and publishers alike will take our issues seriously and gaming in the future will return to the heights it used to occupy.

I look forward to hearing your views.



Iain is a 40+ author and gamer from England, who started his gaming journey on the Atari 2600 36 years ago. His specialities include obscure cult classics, retro games, mods and fan remakes. He hates all sports games and is allergic to on-line multi-player. Since he is British, his body is about 60% tea. He can be reached via Twitter at https://twitter.com/IainBaker17, and contacted via email at the_nomad78@outlook.com


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