Everyone who connects a standard PC to a TV runs into one problem: how do you comfortably use a keyboard and mouse on the couch? After solving that problem, I’m starting to reexamine how I play games, staring the mouse-versus-controller conflict straight in the face.
At first I put my mouse on a tray and the keyboard in my lap but that started to kill my arm after a while (the height difference between my couch and the tray is a bit bigger than that between a chair and a desk). There are products out there that try to replicate the feel of a desk in your lap, but really all I needed was a simple board maybe a meter long, which is just long enough to get the keyboard and a mouse pad in your lap. Once I did this, using a PC on a TV become pretty much like using it at a desk, except I can now view all entertainment on this PC as if… well as if I’m on a couch watching TV.
If I didn’t talk about this before, the main reason I got a new PC for the TV is because I realized there was more and more entertainment I could only enjoy on my PC: video formats that don’t work on any TV device I own, video streaming that’s only available on certain devices or only on web browsers, and games I’d become accustomed to buying on PC.
PC elitists like to bring up how an analog stick will never be as accurate as a mouse, especially in first person shooters. They might also bring up the numerical superiority of keyboard keys for certain kinds of games. Even though I agree with all this, for some reason I still prefer playing a lot of games “the console way.” That is, in front of a TV with a controller. Maybe it’s the way I’ve played games all my life. Maybe controller buttons are still more intuitive. Maybe it’s the sense that controllers were designed specifically for gaming. Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t dare go into multiplayer for any PC shooter with a controller, but for singleplayer I’m playing almost every PC game I can with a controller now, even DOOM. A lot of other games I have on Steam are also ports of what are really console games, so now I can play them like they’re supposed to be played.
That said, I was planning to split up my games in between “controller games” and “keyboard games.” I would play the keyboard games on my old PC because they felt better sitting at a desk. I’ve experienced this with console versions of PC-oriented games before. When I tried to play the PS3 version of Dragon Age: Origins I actually ended up sitting my chair three feet away from the TV because everything about how it controlled made me feel like I should be playing it on a PC. I got the same feeling the first time I played a PS3 rental copy of Fallout 3.
After comfortably playing through all of the first Crysis game on my new setup with a keyboard though, I feel like I can play pretty much any game, keyboard or controller, on the TV, which pits the controller directly up against the keyboard for me. With most people who get into this argument it’s basically an argument between PC and console gaming. But on PC sitting in front of a TV now I have a straight-up choice between just the two input methods. There are a few shooters for which I’ve tried both and the difference is indeed stark, but not unmanageable.
The first and maybe most shocking for some of you, DOOM. More specifically I switched to a controller in the middle of Final DOOM (run through ZDoom’s controller mapping). Man the game feels a lot harder. DOOM is probably the game that will most highlight the difference because it’s so fast. I thought it would matter the least here because classic DOOM was designed without any Y axis aiming, but nope. I got slaughtered like 50 times in one level before finally getting the aim sensitivity where I wanted it. Even after that I can still feel myself having to slowly aim and then strafe myself into position for each shot. I might actually have to activate ZDoom’s second layer of auto-aim.
On the flipside, for games that are really designed as console games the difference actually isn’t tough at all. I played maybe 15 hours of Borderlands 2 with a mouse and keyboard, and the switch to a controller was pretty smooth. The same goes for Far Cry 3.
On the other hand, my controller transition for Crysis 2 has been pretty tough for some reason. Maybe it’s because I played through all of normal and hard mode with a mouse and am now trying the highest difficulty on a pad. For some reason in this game more than most others, despite Crysis 2 having obviously been made for consoles first, I can feel the sluggishness of analog stick aiming.
The same feeling hit me like a brick in BioShock. I played through BioShock and BioShock 2 with a mouse and keyboard, and I didn’t realize this until I rented the Xbox 360 version of BioShock Infinite. Five minutes after stepping into my first gun fight in that game I turned it off, threw up my hands, drove to Best Buy, and bought the PC version (it was on sale there and the physical version is Steamworks, plus I wanted that reverse box art). I simply cannot transplant my BioShock and BioShock 2 skills over to a controller. I can’t explain why.
Maybe it really does have to do with the length of time I’ve spent on a mouse and keyboard before moving to a controller. One outlier to this might be the Half-Life series. I’ve played through the Half-Life 2 games many times on keyboard and mouse, and I remember playing through the whole Orange Box on PS3 without issue, though only vaguely.
This is why the Steam controller intrigues me. People scratched their heads at it at first, and I’ll admit it could use a D pad somewhere, but it does look to solve a real problem. If it works as advertised it could combine controller accessibility with mouse accuracy, or something much closer to mouse accuracy than what we have now. It’s what I hope the PS4 touch pad accomplishes as well. I’m definitely more interested in the Steam controller than I am in Steam Machines.
- Kids entering high school in fall 2014 were born in 2000.
- Unity of Command is $6 for a while. http://t.co/EQHYsWwsOu
- Really in-depth look at exactly why Squaresoft merged with Enix. http://t.co/8QQRLmHlgD