Postcards From The Clipping Plane
Conveniently ignoring the serious side of videogame development
James Leach breaks cover and calls for standardised controls
We should just use GTA as the basis for everything. Even real life. I’d be a better driver if I could use the joypad
I’ve just spent about an hour creeping towards the enemy bunker. Bullets have flown past me every inch of the way. I’ve seen several of my squad members obliterated by mortar fire and my own health has been reduced to a point where if I survive this, I’ll need a walk-in bath and a stairlift for the rest of my days. It’s true that only the dead have seen the end of war, but I just want to keep going to see the end of this mission. With that bunker full of furious servicemen and women gone, our brave tanks can flood through and add years to the war, thus giving me great value for money as a member of the game-buying public. It has to go and it has to go now.
Along I crawl, until the bunker opening is just in range of my rocket launcher. One wellplaced shot and the concussion alone will have the occupants behaving like latter-day Ozzy Osbournes for years. As I get ready, instinct takes over. I aim, and let muscle memory take over. I press X.
Immediately a flag waves above my head and everybody in a radius the size of the O2 Arena knows I’m there. X is, of course, the button that sets a visible rally point. X is the biggest “Look! I’m here!” signal you can send. It’s useful in the nighttime missions when you’re assuming the role of the squad commander and making sure that everybody forms up on you. When you’re trying to be as stealthy as a greased eel in an inner-tube factory, it happens to be the worst thing you can do. So. An hour wasted and we’re back to a restart point so far back in time that it seems to be set during the rise of the Phoenician Empire.
Why can’t we all agree on a standardised set of buttons for commands in all games? Yes, don’t tell me – it’s for the same reason that we don’t all drive on the proper side of the road, or use the same plugs or systems of measuring things. But games are new and innovative and we could implement this with little fuss. My beloved GTAV has, to my mind, the best set of button assignments that I’ve ever seen. Of course, there are a few weird bits, but I can see why. There are about 800 people alive today who’d have been killed by my sticky bombs if I hadn’t accidentally turned Los Santos Rock Radio on instead of detonating them into orbit. But let’s say that this set of buttons and what they do is the datum. The baseline. Everybody use them, OK?
I’m too old to change my ways. I moved my kitchen bin in the summer because it kept getting hit by the door. That was half a year ago, and while the bin contains nothing but a Twix wrapper, there is a mountain of wrappers, apple cores and crumpled bills in the corner where it used to sit.
Games are like a language. Those of us who play them totally get it. There are reasons why some doors open and others don’t. We instinctively know that crates contain goodies and barrels blow up. We don’t have trouble with the idea that jumping again while you’re already in the air can add 50 per cent to the height you’ll attain. But the random and arbitrary choice of controls is like telling English users that, whenever you go into a public building of any sort, the word ‘the’ will be seen as swearing, the word ‘please’ means ‘architrave’, and no matter how much you’d like there to be, there is no letter ‘n’.
I’d even happily spend half a day configuring my own control pad or keys. Many games let you do this, and it’s a grand start. But the trouble is, I need to know the game well to be able to do so, and once I’ve done it, I have to write down all the things I’ve assigned for anything unique to the game because manuals and guides and overlays won’t be able to help. Also, I’ve gone off the idea of having to do this for myself. Next, people will be asking me to help make the games, and where would that, er, end?
I really do find myself playing one big game at a time, and being unable to switch between console titles without struggling. I’m fine with clicking the mouse on different things, because we all know that mouse controls are the same the world over. I’m lefthanded, and I’m happy not to be when mousing, because the world works that way and I’ve conformed to it for years. For games, though, we’re just not getting it. The answer is clearly not controllers which involve you waving your arms around like Magnus Pyke. (Come on. You remember.) We should just use
GTA as the basis for everything. Even real life. I’d be a better driver if I could use the joypad to do it. I’d revolutionise my social life if I could auto-aim at people for whatever reason, too. All I’m saying is don’t force me to learn any new controls.