Tobold's Blog
Monday, June 24, 2013
Console controls for MMOs are not for me

Once upon a time I was in the beta of Final Fantasy XIV. I didn't like it, but then nobody did. So the game got cancelled, and then "reborn". And as Square Enix still had my e-mail on file as a beta tester, they sent me an invite to the reborn beta test. Including a code to beta test the game on the PS3. Actually I'm not quite sure if that even included the possibility to also test on the PC, because I didn't try. But as I have never played an MMO on a console, I thought I'd give it a try.

Downloading and installing didn't work any worse than on a PC. Something seems wrong with the resolution, as if part of the screen left and right got cut off, but there is enough left to make the game playable. So I created a character in a rather long process and started playing. The start is typical for Final Fantasy games: It takes bloody forever before you can actually do anything other than follow a strictly linear intro sequence. But at last I was free to roam the big city and the lands outside of it.

I remembered that city from my previous beta test, and to me it seemed as if nothing much had changed. But I didn't play very long then, and I didn't play much this time either, so this isn't a qualified review. Because once I left the city to go on my first kill ten foozles quest, I quickly realized that console controls in MMOs aren't for me. You select enemies by cycling through them with the left and right keys. Then you need to hold one of the keys on the back of the gamepad to activate your hotkeys, and only then you can use your main buttons to fire off spells and the like. For experienced console warriors that is probably easy, but I found it overly complicated for my basic attack.

I don't know if other console MMOs do any better, but to me it seems that you'd either need to simplify the game to Diablo-like hack'n'slash action, or you end up with controls in which every button has many different functions and you need to press combinations of buttons for even the simplest of tasks. Either option isn't all that attractive to me. I think I'll stick to the PC for this sort of game.

Sounds like the dated tab target combat system modified for pad use.

TERA was better with a pad, Arguably no more complex than using my 60GBP mouse with 12 buttons on the side alone which of course is doubled or tripled with shift and alt modifiers (your hated combination of buttons....) .

For all its faults as a game I felt that Kingdoms of Amalur showed us the future of mmorpg controls - at least as far as third person games go. That played well using both control systems.

In the short term though most new PC mmorpgs will be using the Tera/Neverwinter method, Tab Target will likely die with WoW which granted won't be for a while but no new tab target game will ever be anything more than a niche product for nostalgic types.
On the PC the new FFXIV plays exactly like any post-WoW MMORPG, from both a controls/UI and a gameplay perspective. Opinions will vary on whether or not that's a good thing. It works for me. I prefer it to the recent trend for "Action" controls and gameplay on PC MMOs. Others find it very slow and old-fashioned.
Although I have grown to love the Xbox 360 controller that is plugged into my PC I still despair at the lousy job developers do of handling the situation where they need more buttons than the controller has.

I really don't think it is such a challenging problem. A modern controller already has at least twenty different click-ables which is more than you will ever need in the heat of combat.

If you need more than this then there are several clever things they could do:

for instance: Use one of the triggers as a shift key to change the function of the main buttons.

or else: Use easy to navigate menus for non time critical tasks.

There are also several things they really shouldn't do but sadly often do:

I loathe context sensitive buttons. They are guaranteed to do the wrong thing at the wrong time. Whoever thought it was a good idea to combine the button for "crouch behind cover" and "sprint" in Spec Ops the line should retire from the gaming industry immediately.

I also hate timed combination key presses. Time dilates when you are in combat and a combo which is easy to pull off in cold blood is near impossible in the heat of battle.

Stupid multiple key combinations: Hold X, B and press on the right thumbstick?? The average age of gamers is over 30 these days or haven't you heard? We no longer have the manual dexterity of teenagers.

It seems that the PS3 version has still a lot of problems to deal with... for example I heard people saying that they lag way more then on PC, the Graphics aren't that beautiful and everything isnt really "smooth". I hope they'll make some fixes, because I'd love to play the PS3 version aswell^^
I don't have an issue with some commands needing multiple keypresses. I used to heal with my abilities all click-casting pressing right/left/side/middle click, then with additional abilities on each click when holding shift, alt, shift+alt, ctrl+alt. So I'm not completely biased against the system.

But ff14 screwed it up by making every time you wanted to cast any spell, you'd need to be holding L2 or something, which meant you were holding down the button the entire play session. The most commonly used actions should be the easiest to get to.

I used to feel that console mmo's were doomed by the controls not letting you have enough abilities open to you at a time to present you with meaningful decisions. But then I played gw2 and saw it done well.
I'm picturing my warrior toolbar from WoW. Four or five bars worth of stuff that I felt was worth looking at all the time. Plus bags full of crap, pots. Yikes.

My interest in learning how to cram that into a controller is 0. It's a system that was made for keyboard and mouse. They should just sell a wireless keyboard and mouse for consoles and be done with it. Of course I think the idea of MMOs and console gaming just don't go together very well, but I guess with consoles basically becoming gaming PCs that everyone agrees not to upgrade I might just be old fashioned.
It will be a sad day for me when traditional mmo targeting is gone. If i wanted to aim at stuff, I'd play an FPS...
If i wanted to aim at stuff, I'd play an FPS...

Yes, but if I wanted to aim in an FPS, I wouldn't use a gamepad either. Mouse-aiming works so much better.
Just like with fighting games, you will have button combinations to press instead of having a million different keys on your keyboard and mouse to press.

I can understand tobold's personal dislike for playing with a pad, but in reality it is not any less efficient when you get proficient at it. Likewise playing with a kb+mouse combination is a horrible experience for me, there are simply too many keys to juggle. Of course if I trained I could become better and learn to like playing that way.
If Tobold forced himself to play all his Third and First person games with a pad instead of KB+Mouse for six months I bet he would find it extremely difficult to revert back.

I started on the PC playing Counterstrike heavily and really struggled when I started playing FPS on Xbox 360's. But having adapted to the pad I had a mare when I got back into PC gaming.

Nowadays I can use both and find that there really isn't much difference in performance. Perhaps a fraction of a difference in a competitive FPS against top players but I am sure a players proficiency with each control method is more important than the method itself.

In single player games I much prefer the "sit back" style and the rumble effects.

Slightly confused as to why Ana seemed to imply that you shouldn't be in control of aiming in an MMORPG.

Surely just because something is "traditional", does that automatically mean that it is the best way of doing things? I always say that auto dodge and fixed targeting doesn't seem very involving to me.

It is interesting when you read comments from Blizzard about how they tune raid encounters and how they have to make them increasingly complex with high penalties for tiny errors (one tiny mistake = instant death = wipe) as players have so well mastered control of their characters, learned all the mechanics and of course have the assistance of boss mods.

I'd rather future games upped the difficulty by removing the automation that is currently controlled by RNG as opposed to going down the road of ever more severe penalties for the tiniest error.

I tend to believe that players have outgrown the old control methods. We have mastered it too well. Time to move on.
I don't know about that. It might be one of those things, but I just have a hard time thinking two analog sticks is better than keyboard and mouse. The hardcore FPS gamers appear to use a keyboard and mouse, so I'll bow to their monomaniacal min/maxing and say K+M is better.
That is similar to how all WoW players (including the guy doing less dps than the tank) believe that they absolutely must have talent X because Killerdkpwnsu in the world 1st guild has it.
Well, listening to experts who have invested the time to figure out how to be the best is probably smarter than assuming that you can outdo killerpwnxu at his own game.

Some consoles can still use a keyboard but then i don't see how that makes it different from the PC.

And that is not taking into account the imbalance there will be between players in such a case.
Using the very best cookie cutter spec is a smart thing to do if you are going to also adopt the play style that makes it work. Too often people would be better off just using what fits their play style than trying to change everything just because it's the optimal way of doing it.

The only MMO'ish game I've ever played on a Console was a Phantasy Star game back in 2001. The controls weren't that horrible although admittedly there wasn't much in the way of abilities to utilize. Aiming was done by pointing your character towards your target and hoping the console picked the right mob. I was horrible at aiming so I played a range class using shotguns, so I didn't really have to aim at all.
I know the keyboard/mouse vs controller issue is a bit off topic, but I use a keyboard/mouse adapter for the Xbox 360 called the XIM 3 and it is awesome. I know from lots of first hand experience with the Call of Duty and Battlefield series that no one on my friends list comes close to my K/D ratio in team death match. Aiming with your thumbs will never be as accurate as aiming with a mouse.
Agree that no-fixed-targeting makes for a less enjoyable experience for me. When you have free aiming, it makes the execution more difficult, and to make combat still feel responsive, that means other aspects of combat become more trivial.

I'd rather play games where playing well with skill means you're good at reading the situation and choosing the best action to take, rather than games where the next action is obvious, and the difficulty is hitting the buttons in the right sequence or timing in order to execute that action.

MMO's shifting from more mindful and strategic combat to more twitch and execution based combat is a loss for me.
I've been enjoying Defiance with a gamepad, but there's no other MMO out there that I'd really prefer with such, except maybe for Tera and DDO (I got DDO to work with a gamepad and it was a lot of fun, but I still had to rely on the keyboard more often than not).

For FPS K+M is ultimately still superior, but I've found that a lot of titles with a console focus are often more fun and accurate with a gamepad. One of the few games that lets you mix and match in pvp environments was Max Payne 3, and I was cleaning clock in that game with a gamepad. In talking with other players who were getting frustrated with their sad K/D ratios I found out they were all using K+M, which made me think that the game had been optimized to assist gamepad users.
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