“I don’t like FPS games” is what I tell most people. That’s not really true, though; the real truth is that I don’t care to give people the long-winded explanation as to why I don’t play them. “I’m bad at them,” I’ll say instead, “and because my PC can’t run any FPS games made in the last few years that are worth playing.”
The second part is true, and, on reflection, maybe the first part is true, too. However, I don’t have to be bad at them. The reason I’m bad at them – and the reason I don’t play them – is because FPS games shun me. The way they do it is quite simple: there is little-to-no support for people like me – people who started playing FPS on console way back when.
The first FPS I ever played was Doom. I didn’t play it on PC though; in fact, it would be years after its release before I finally played it on a PC. No, I played Doom on the Super Nintendo. Back then, there was no way to emulate the conjoined use of a mouse and keyboard. So, instead of having the keyboard control your ability to move forward and backward (hereafter “move”) and strafe, the SNES allowed you to move and turn with the D-Pad, and strafing was done with the L and R triggers.
My next FPSes – and pretty much the summation of my FPS experience until the Xbox, were Goldeneye 64 and Duke Nukem 3D. One of them was obviously a console game, and while Duke Nukem had a PC release, I went for the Playstation version, still not having a PC that could run it. Suffice to say, both of these games operated in a similar way: The D-Pad/Analog Stick that you operated with your left hand controlled move and turn. Any strafing or looking up or down (hereafter “look”) was deal with in some other way that I can’t remember anymore.
Then came Halo, many years later. I’d owned a PS2, and even a Gamecube, but damned if I could afford all three of the current generation’s consoles. One day though, after hearing all my friends rant and rave about how fun the game is, I finally got the chance to try it out with them!
… And I died. A lot. All the time.
I would strafe off of cliffs regularly. I would turn or step out of the way for no reason in the middle of gunfights. Sometimes, I would get caught on a wall, fighting with the controls, and people would come up and shoot me. It was the most horridly frustrating experience I’d ever had with a first-person shooter.
This was, because of the stick layout. With development teams that have experience making PC FPS came the advent of PC-like control schemes. The mouse button’s shooting function was replaced with the trigger button. The keyboard’s move/strafe function was handled by the left analog stick, and the mouse’s look/turn function was replaced by the right analog stick. It was as close to a PC’s control scheme and layout as possible, and any PC FPS fan’s dream of what a console FPS might control like.
However, for a sucker like me who grew up playing console FPS, I was out of luck, running around on the playing field like a chicken with my head cut off, usually getting my head SHOT off with no struggle. Finally, after the millionth time someone walked right up to me and stick a plasma grenade on me – as I watched them walk up and do it – I asked my friends, “Isn’t there a different stick layout? This is ridiculous!” They all said “There might be, I dunno”, or “Just get used to it!”
It was a long time until I played Halo again after that first experience, but thankfully, the next batch of friends I played with were not too impatient to check, and thankfully, there was a stick layout made just for people like me: Legacy. Legacy switches the left stick’s strafe function with the right stick’s turn function; it was almost exactly like console FPS! “This,” I thought, “I could get used to.” And, within a week, I was playing 7v1 games where I was the team of one, and winning (or barely losing). When I played my friends that introduced me to Halo again, I made sure to let them know that I remembered that first time.
So, kudos to Halo for thinking of the little guy. But here’s the thing: a lot of FPS games don’t.
I bought The Orange Box on XBox360, thinking that I would finally get to experience the much-revered Half-Life 2…and, there was no such option for the stick layouts. One could change it from right to left-handed, or invert the look function, but that was it. It really puts into perspective how unimportant my demographic is when Valve looks out for the flight-simulator fans before me. I still haven’t played Half-Life 2 to this day, and I forced myself to play through Portal, as difficult as it was.
Another random game which offers no support to my minority is Bioshock. I don’t even remember what could be changed in Bioshock; probably the same things as in The Orange Box! Needless to say, there went another big-name FPS that I wouldn’t be able to play. Ironically, my friend who played Bioshock on the PC said that, if you hook up a gamepad to the PC, you CAN change the stick layouts! Why give the option to a demographic that dismisses the idea of playing that was as ludicrous – the very demographic that likely makes developers turn a blind eye to people like me?
Even worse, when the Legacy stick layout IS implemented, it’s not always implemented effectively into the game. A great example of this is the original Gears of War. In GoW, it’s possible to change the stick layout to Legacy, but here’s why you can’t use it: do you remember how sometimes, there would be those long bridges you had to run across in a short amount of time before the door at the end closed? If you didn’t make Marcus run a straight line towards the door, you could always nudge the turn ‘button’ to correct his trajectory.
…Except, that is, if you’re using any stick layout that puts move and turn on the same stick, like Legacy! If you try to make this correction on a stick layout like Legacy, Marcus will come to a complete stop before turning. In other words, if you use Legacy, it is literally impossible to run and turn at the same time. A gameplay sequence that was probably put in more for the cinematic spectacle became an out-and-out annoyance. And so, I put down Gears of War early, and never bothered to try the sequel.
From here, I have two options, which people who hear my tragic tale constantly remind me of, as if I’d never thought of them:
1. Start playing on PC, or
2. Learn to play it the normal way.
For one, I don’t think that I should have to spend hundreds of dollars upgrading my PC just so I can play a few FPS here and there. Even if I did think that was a good idea, I’ve tried playing FPS games on PC since then, and I absolutely hate using the mouse. I find that if the mouse is sensitive enough to turn at a speed that I like, it’s much too jittery for a gunfight, and if I lower the sensitivity for a gunfight, it takes me almost two seconds to do a 180 degree turn. Suffice to say, PC FPS controls and me don’t get along.
I also don’t think I should have to learn how to play it a different way just because game developers don’t think I’m a reasonable enough demographic for them to pay any attention to. Can you imagine how ridiculous it would be if, starting tomorrow, no one ever made left-handed baseball gloves anymore (which, ironically, are worn on the right hand)? Would all of baseball’s lefties just have to shape up or slip out?
It’s not as if technology has made my preferred stick layout obsolete, like DVD did to VHS. It’s not as if I’m asking for something outrageous, like for the Left Trigger to make me strafe right, and the A button to make me strafe left. All I’m asking for is the ability to swap the strafe and turn ‘buttons’, integrated with decent functionality.
Video games and their developers have matured a lot since the old days. We no longer are bombarded with “All Your Base”-quality translations. We no longer censor any word or symbol that has religious connotations, nor any words that directly reference death, under the ridiculous notion that it would be too offensive for us to handle. Hell, with our current technology, we’ve even realized that players want console ports of their coin-op games to be as pure of an experience as possible. Why is it, then, that we can’t even imagine somebody playing with a slightly different control scheme than the default one laid out for us?