Are You Human?
Justifications and Criticisms

In Control


To what extent has the "standard FPS control scheme" (that is, mouse and ASWD on PC, or twin sticks on console) become the de facto control scheme of the core gamer? Obviously the casual market and those on the fringes of the world of videogames cannot use this control scheme, but does the ability to use this control scheme constitute something of a demarkation of the domain of the "gamer hobbyist"?

I'm interested in your views on this, in particular in the following areas:

  • If you play games with this scheme, are they primarily first person (such as the FPS itself) or third person (such as World of Warcraft)? Do you have a preference?
  • Do you consider yourself to be a dedicated hardcore gamer, but prefer not to play games with this control scheme?
  • This control scheme effectively affords direct control of the camera to the player - does anyone resent this? Or does competence in this mechanism mean the reverse - that you resent it when the game attempts to manage the camera for you?

If possible, try to remain focussed on the control scheme, and the view representation (first person versus third person) rather than discussing the details of specific games.

Thanks in advance for sharing your views!


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I like the xbox/halo two stick interface better, because I can sit on the couch and play.

Generally, given the choice, I like how the second stick basically works the camera. In third person games, the canonically correct camera scheme was the one used in KOTOR or Splinter Cell, where the right stick controlled the point of view. I can tolerate fixed camera games like God of War, but I like the FPS-y third person camera more.

I'd definitely classify myself as a core gamer -- when I was a student, I did an awful lot of gaming. I don't have much time for it now (though, I work in the gaming industry, so I still get my fill).

I'm comfortable with both control schemes, but lately, I've begun regressing to pure keyboard control schemes for character control in MMO-style third-person games (Guild Wars, WoW, DAoC, etc). With the auto-targeting that's so prevalent in these games, I find it much less of a cognitive load to merely select targets, rather than sift through the morass of special effects and eye candy using a small mouse pointer.

For first-person games, I still prefer a completely mouse/stylus/joystick-controlled view, rather than a system managed view, simply because so much of the gameplay is purely dependent upon what's behind a targeting reticle.

To give you a bit more info, on a title I worked on (Shrek, Xbox launch title), we built a camera that was user-controllable, as well as partially manipulated by the game. It would automatically handle corners, tight spaces, naturally follow the player at a distance at high speeds, and closer at low speeds. As elegant as this sounds (to me, anyways), it was not well received by reviewers. Generally speaking, they resented the lack of control. However, they weren't the target market, which we felt was too young to really depend on them being able to really understand dual-stick controls.

Hope that helps.

I like the keyboard ("ASW(a)D" as I call it) and mouse combo for FPS style games, 1st or 3rd person. As long as I can make the A and D (left and right) be a strafe or slide move. This leaves me to turn my view with the mouse. If the A and D were turning my view, the mouse would be pointless in my opinion...

Having said that, I like the camera system in GTA where it is effectively twin sticks, but you don't need to do much with the right stick (the looking stick). I think the reason I like this so much (as opposed to "fully" twin stick control systems) is that I like the auto-aim. If there is no auto-aim you have to look about with your looking stick/mouse more than in an auto-aim kinda game... :-)

Auto-aim rules! I am happy for a game to have the option to turn it off for the purist hardcore-ers, but I want it on. I am playing a game to have fun - not simulate trying to get a mouse cursor to stop exactly over some hard-to-see pixel.

So I like it when the camera is mainly managed for me, but I like being able to control it when necessary... As usual, I want the best of both worlds. 1st or 3rd person doesn't bother me much, but I would probably vote for 3rd person, simply because some of my favourite games use it. If they used 1st person it'd be my choice instead...

I'd consider myself in that subset of hardcore gamers - the ones that want fun, not blisteringly hard frustration, but still get frustrated with friends who should be better at and more willing to play games!

Subjectively speaking, I've found the dominance of this scheme in the PC game development market has slightly affected my playing habits. I would say now my diet is nearly 50% PC FPS games, and yet this isn't my real playing preference. I'd see myself as a wanderer, I enjoy discovering (at my own pace) novel worlds and stories. Tomb raider 1 and ICO, fav games. Prince of Persia, up there. But it's so easy to get progress in a well-designed FPS that it makes itself an attractive option. To refer to schema theory, I believe its easy because the FPS control system has become dominant in my personal control-scheme schemata [ugly as that sounds!] This familiarity made it easy for me to pick up Halo and compete with established players, even though it was my first touch of an Xbox. What does that say about whats going on 'under the hood'? Because the two physical control systems couldn't be more different. So any similarity would seem to me to be an invariance of spatio-temporal processing that accompanies gameplay in my head - I think the same way, therefore I act the same way, across platforms.

Hmm. Tempting to go on, but...not today, Josephine :D

I prefer third person games as it gives me a sense of peripheral vision.

I'm quite comfortable with the WASD+mouse combo for both perspectives and prefer to have complete camera control when on the PC.

I enjoy the twin tophats for third person games on the console, but haven't quite gotten comfortable with them for first person. I'm less intolerant of a system controlled camera on the console, as I find tophat control to be less precise than the mouse and having some assistance (when done well) is nice.

Thanks for this! More comments on this topic most welcome! (Specific responses below).

This tiny sample seems to confirm FPS controls are universally known by gamer hobbyists - and that this is in a certain sense a demarcation condition for the gamer hobbyist (or hardcore gamer). Any disconfirming evidence?

Incidentally, this radically changes my view about this control scheme. I've been 'opposed' to its use for some time on the grounds that it narrows the audience appeal - but it seems that it's too late for that. This scheme is apparently universal in the core audience, so any game targeting that audience has limited reason to develop an alternative with broader appeal. Anyone have a contrary view?


Some specific responses...

psu: like you, I want to play games on the couch. I sit in front of the computer all day at work, and I don't want to play there. Unlike you, I don't particularly like being given direct camera control - I find it hard work that distracts me from play. It seems I am in the minority, though.

Andy: I want to offer my praise to you for the Shrek camera. In my professional opinion, you did absolutely the right thing here. The hardcore player was categorically not the central audience of the game, and developing a camera that reflected the needs of your target audience was the correct game design and business decision in my opinion. Bravo!

Neil: my personal preference is the same here; I want the camera managed for me, but I want to be able to take control when I need to. It's a shame that this is the most complex and therefore most expensive solution to the problem. :(

zenBen: I find this comment particularly telling! You're playing games that don't meet your needs directly because they are available and make a reasonable substitute. I'm also interested in this idea that the two forms of FPS controls are interchangeable because of similarity of cognitive pattern - the difference in physical interface device is secondary. Do you have a reference to Schema theory I can look into?

"But it's so easy to get progress in a well-designed FPS that it makes itself an attractive option."

Yes! I have been thinking exactly this. By designing FPS games on a linear path, players achieve progress more readily (there is a more constant sequence of intrinsic reward), and this allows for the FPS game to have comparatively wide appeal. I wonder if better implemented funnelling in more open games would improve their appeal?

Now personally I find I cannot enjoy most FPS games because to me they are self evidentally linear tunnels in which I am expected to jump through hoops. I find this tedious. But this reflects a difference in my play needs which is a minority concern in audience terms.

Corvus: yes, I can see the peripheral vision issue - this is why when I play racing games I cannot bear first peson. The lack of peripheral vision leaves me feeling blind. May I ask: do you find the increased sense of mimicry (you can see your avatar) a positive factor in third person view?

Most of what I've read on schema theory (which is f all, to be honest), I got by putting 'schema theory' into google :D So much for rigour - at least its not what I'm researching. But I got turned onto schema theory by a nice little paper that looks at Flow in terms of engagement and immersion, and (to an extent) uses schema theory to frame these concepts so that comparisons can be made sensibly.
I like the idea that different process constructs can be formulated so that a methodical transformation can be made, so I tried to do the same thing with games, players and Flow in the framework of information systems (partly inspired, of course, by Rules of Play). I hope this work will produce a paper soon (so that I can go and code something again, earn my keep :D ).

Anyway, that schema theory paper - at // look for:

Douglas Y, Hargadon A, (2000). The Pleasure Principle: Immersion, Engagement, Flow. In Proceedings of the Eleventh ACM on Hypertext and Hypermedia (San Antonio, Texas, United States, May 30 - June 03, 2000). HYPERTEXT '00. ACM Press, New York, NY, 153-160. 2000.

""But it's so easy to get progress in a well-designed FPS that it makes itself an attractive option."

Yes! I have been thinking exactly this. By designing FPS games on a linear path, players achieve progress more readily (there is a more constant sequence of intrinsic reward)"

Well, this is true, but I should point out that when I said that its easy to progress, I was thinking of the ease with which the control scheme facilitates play for those who are familiar with it. I suppose when I said "well-designed FPS" I was unconsciously referring to the funneling - I just hadn't analysed it on writing it.
Funneling, it seems to me, wouldn't help much until after the player groks the FPS control scheme. Maybe thats tautology?

Ah, I see I constructed my own narrative around your earlier comment. :)

Thanks for the paper reference - but alas although I am frequently *accused* of being an academic, I don't have an academic subscription and so can't get to the paper.

Perhaps I should buy one - they can't be that expensive, surely. Academics have no money, I'm told. :D

Well, I use FPS-style controls for most of the games which support them including WoW, at least on the PC. I don't play FPS's on consoles, mainly because the controls suck compared to WASD+mouse.

It's too hard to aim with a stick, and do all the other things I might normally do in an FPS (sneak/crouch, switch weapons, etc.) I do think a game where you are moving an avatar around a 3-dimensional space while fighting either needs some sort of lock on mechanism for fighting, or needs a two handed control scheme -- one for look/aim+attack and one for movement. The one exception might be for basic melee type games (where there's no ranged component), when you can pick your target by simply facing them. (But then you are moving into platformer space, away from the shooter).

I don't know if it's too hard for a casual gamer. Both my spice play WoW. My wife is the more hardcore of the two, and took to the WASD controls pretty naturally. My girlfriend adopted it 6-9 months after playing and prefers it when fighting.

I think the question presupposes that the types of games that need FPS-style controls would be enjoyed by a casual gamer.

First, let me say that I absolutely consider myself a hardcore gamer, though I am not a fan of FPSs.

I don't like WASD controls. They are awkward and unnatural. Those keys are not well-placed, like other keys (F/J, arrows, spacebar, numpad). I would much rather use the arrow keys for movement, with left and right controlling the camera. At least in third-person games, camera control doesn't need to be that precise, and in fact I enjoy good cinematography in games as long as I can move the camera slightly to account for imperfections that arise. In first-person games, I'd rather just play the game on consoles. If I have no other choice, I can certainly make do with the standards, but I won't be satisfied.

Using a WASD set-up makes movement feel much too mechanical. Of course the forward movement is digital, which is a huge problem, but that can't be helped as long as you're using a keyboard at all. But why strafing? I see how it could be useful in a shooting game, but it feels wrong. When was the last time you strafed in real life? In addition, you feel the keys all around those four, which further reinforces the sense that you're not a person walking but a machine being controlled with buttons. Bad, bad, bad.

Enough about the keyboard, because it is really the lesser half of the problem. Computer mice were designed to efficiently move around a cursor on a screen. It is a terrible interface for anything else. It's not precise enough, it doesn't give you an intuitive sense of how far you're pushing it, and it doesn't move around quickly enough. In first-person games, mouse-control is the biggest hindrance to a sense of direction.

The desk the mouse is on is not infinite in size, and presumably the actual area the mouse may occupy is smaller still. Whenever you reach the edge of that area, you need to pick the mouse up and move it over. There is no in-game meaning for this action, so it emphasizes the separation of the real world and the virtual world. In other words, it just pulls you out of the game a tiny bit, over and over and over. Eventually you stop consciously paying attention, but it is still a nuisance on the subconscious level.

To sum up: I hate the mouse/keyboard combo, especially as it is typically used. I think PC games should always tremendously simplify their movement/camera controls in acknowledgement of the fact that keyboards and mice simply were not designed for games.

OK, grab it from

Think that url should work...

Generic Joe: "I think the question presupposes that the types of games that need FPS-style controls would be enjoyed by a casual gamer"

This is a very pertinent point! I'm also starting to wonder about how much age might be a factor in this - I shall bear this in mind for the next round of research.

Mory: I feel very similarly to you about the whole matter, but I also feel very much in the minority. :( It seems most people do not find any of these clunky interface problems as a cause of breaks in immersion at all. Those of us that do seem to be a very small crowd.

I also share your opinion of strafing! In particular, I find it a complete barrier to enjoyment of a game if I am armed with a firearm, but the dominant strategy is "circle strafing". In terms of mimicing a real firefight, nothing could be quite as preposterous as lamely running around in circles! :D

And yet, the subscriber numbers for WoW and the sales figures for games using these controls place us rather squarely in the margins, I fear. :(

Still, this is not an argument against trying to simplify movement and camera controls, per se.

My problem is that I am currently being forced into developing games with an FPS-style engine, and it is annoying the hell out of me. But I am not the audience for these games, and I have to keep bearing that in mind.

zenBen: many thanks! Much appreciated.

May I ask: do you find the increased sense of mimicry (you can see your avatar) a positive factor in third person view?

I do, and I've given this a lot of thought. I repeatedly hear people say that FPS games make them feel more immersed in the world. I find this to be exactly the opposite in most cases. First person perspectives tend to serve to remind me that I'm not in the world because "I'm" doing things I cannot do in real life.

Give me a character to empathize with on screen, however, and I'm immediately sucked in. Empathy, I believe, is key. As a highly empathic person, third person draws me in where first person leaves me cold. Also, I have a pretty high body awareness in real life and being able to fully view my character's actions strengthens the empathy.

I might be in a minority on that one though...

On the topic of strafing, I strafe all the time in real life. As do you, I suspect. Walking the wrong way through foot traffic, making room in a hallway for a co-worker carrying a heavy box, getting out of the way of an oncoming bicycle, even stopping to look at that new gadget in a store front window... All these thing require 'strafing'. The problem is that the strafe movement is abused by most players and designers who decided to include lock-on strafing target to pad their poor combat systems didn't help the situation either. When I played a lot of melee combat in Heretic II, I was terribly effective because I never, ever, used only strafe. I combined strafe with turns to produce fluid and organic movement which players found more difficult to track.

"...I was terribly effective because I never, ever, used only strafe. I combined strafe with turns to produce fluid and organic movement which players found more difficult to track."

Yeah this is how I play with these controls too. Especially (for instance) going round corners - I would use a turn and strafe at the safe time to produce a nice curve round the corner where I can keep my aim (or whatever) in what I consider to be the hot zone.

I also agree that I strafe in real life - I did some today whilst visiting hospital - numerous times did I need to sidestep out of someone's way. Very useful skill ;-) I also agree though, that I would only use that particular motion in short bursts - I'm not going to move sideways at a run (not these days anyway), but it is, for me, the most useful way of using the keys when you have a mouse in your other hand.

I would prefer to use cursor keys in some senses, but this would require me moving the keyboard off to the left so those keys were under my left hand (my desk at home has no such room as it is full of very necessary junk (cough)), plus having other keys around them, while maybe not immersive, means other functionalities (the ubiquitous and crummy torch, crouching, running, weapon changing, and "action") are close at hand (small pun intended).

I also agree it isn't a great system, but I think without a separate controller, it makes good use of two bits of kit every PC has nowadays.

And to be fair (as I tell Chris all the time), if you can't alter the keys in a game to suit your needs, is it worth playing?? :-)

Hi guys!

I just don't consider taking a sidestep to be anything akin to strafing, especially not in terms of the historical context of the term, and besides my objection was to "circle strafing" which I still consider to be the lamest play element in modern gaming, as well as being very nearly physically impossible to render in real life. So phhssb! :P

In less petty news, I am interested in the distinction between players who find first person more immersive and those that find it less immersive - I wonder if there is any pattern behind this?

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