Post­cards From The Clip­ping Plane

Con­ve­niently ig­nor­ing the se­ri­ous side of videogame de­vel­op­ment

EDGE - - SECTIONS - JAMES LEACH James Leach is a BAFTA Award-win­ning free­lance writer whose work fea­tures in games and on tele­vi­sion and ra­dio

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.

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