Unbound – How Lazy Controls Can Ruin Games

By: Steve Peacock

Published: August 6, 2009 Posted in: PC Gaming Nonsense

Unbound: Eye eye

Why do developers think it’s an acceptable practice to port games from consoles and leave the controls alone?

I suppose I understand the thought behind it (being that it is cheaper and quicker to just port everything across without any editing) but that doesn’t mean it should be the default position on such things.

As much as many people will contest this, we all know that consoles and computers have controllers that are better suited to certain genres than others. Sports, for instance, tend to be better with a game-pad, whereas strategy benefits from a mouse and keyboard. Once consoles really started cutting into the gaming market, developers made the effort to adapt the control schemes of PC-centric genres to compensate, I’m think specifically of RTS games.

There was a movement, largely led by EA, to maximise profits by unleashing the RTS game onto the home console. It took them a few goes, but ultimately they reached a situation which many gamers accept as ‘good enough’ for console strategy. The mouse and keyboard still trump the game-pad, but it’s still perfectly playable on a console.

So why is it that when the opposite situation is presented, developers just cannot be bothered?

I played Bionic Commando recently, and it is from that game which this argument has spawned. On the whole, the PC port does pretty well control-wise, although this is largely down to the simplicity of the controls. Forwards, back, jump, shoot, grapple and punch; easy enough to define to a few key presses and the mouse. This is all undone, however, by the game’s insistence on using the Xbox controller icons for on-screen displays.

I had been playing the game for hours when I finally noticed this becoming an issue, largely because I’m a bit thick and partly because the game was, in all other areas, mostly quite fun. Bionic Commando gives you the four buttons in order and will add little captions so that you know what each does, unfortunately, as you don’t know which buttons you’ve bound to what the game thinks is ‘Xbox X’, you have to try and remember the real button for each command, despite what the game keeps telling you. And while you can turn off the HUD, they would just be masking the laziness of the developers.

Why couldn’t they just update it for mouse and keyboard?

Contrast this with Clive Barker’s Jericho for instance, lambasted by critics for the most part, but I enjoyed it about as much as Bionic Commando. Jericho has quick time events (I know, I know, you hate them), more so than the small amount that pop up in Bionic Commando, but the developers have at least been kind enough to change the prompts to reflect your control scheme. Plug in an Xbox controller and the game will indeed come up with ‘Press B not to die’, but use the mouse and keyboard and it will say ‘Press Q not to die’ or whatever your punch button is bound to.

The thing is, as well as being a genuine annoyance and spoiling the flow of the game, failing to take into account the most common PC control scheme just sends a message of disinterest in your PC market. You’ve made the effort to port the game, we know that, but when errors like this are so flagrant, all it does is to tell the people who’ve shelled out for a copy that you don’t care about them. Whether that’s true or not is irrelevant, appearances are what counts here.

Stop treating PC gamers with contempt, please. There’s a reason people have started using ‘typical console port’ as a negative, and it’s your fault. For the most part it’s just little things too. Please sort it out, chaps.

Steve Peacock