Living Room PC Interfaces (Continued)

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A few months after extolling the virtues of the Steam Controller more than once, I find myself seriously considering Corsair’s Lapdog lapboard for using a keyboard and mouse on a couch. It looks like I’m still on a quest to find the optimal living room PC human interface.

The Steam Controller was a huge change for me. It really does make using a PC from a couch feel a lot like using a console, but with almost no loss in functionality. At one point it had pretty much replaced my mouse, but I kind of switched back and I’m still not completely sure why. Overall I don’t think the Steam Controller’s track pad is any slower or less accurate than a mouse, but a lifetime of mouse muscle memory does tend to prevail. The most obvious problem is of course that I still have to reach over and grab my wireless keyboard to type anything. I still type these blog posts on a laptop which I find better since I’m trying to separate my computers for different uses. For gaming, the real issue is that PC gaming has become so diverse in terms of user input (or maybe always was). A plurality of games work with the Xbox controller now, but many still gain advantages from other methods, and whole genres still don’t really work without mouse input.

Right now I’m swapping between three input devices for playing games on the same PC: The Steam Controller for Dark Souls III (the main advantage over an Xbox pad being camera movement and menu navigation), an Xbox One controller for Street Fighter V (my only arcade stick is a PS3 stick and the PC version of the game doesn’t have DirectInput support yet), and a keyboard and mouse for Fallout 4. My last post on this subject was specifically about how great the Steam Controller can be for that game after taking the time to craft a great configuration for it, but now I’m trying to figure out if mouse aiming and keyboard shortcuts are still better

Before the advent of the Steam Controller, I found the lapboard to be the optimal solution I was looking for. It easily rests the keyboard and mouse in the perfect position for what is honestly near-console-controller-level comfort. My version however was a simple wooden board just big enough to host a keyboard and mouse pad. Eventually I figured out what is probably the most important component in Corsair’s design — the underside cushion. Without that, the board eventually made my legs sore. Right now I have that board resting on a tray, but it’s not quite the right height, and the tray is cumbersome to move around. Finding one with just the right dimensions and functionality is a journey in itself.

Corsair’s Lapdog itself is pretty expensive, even if you get one by itself without a keyboard it’s $120, indicating it’s a bit of a niche solution. There are cheaper lapboards that also have cushions. Corsair’s main advantage seems to be the integrated USB hub which allows for a wired mechanical keyboard for less input lag. Perhaps in the future more similar models will arise at varying price points. Then again, I’m surprised at how many people are shelling out $150 for the Xbox One Elite Controller.

I feel like I wouldn’t be using the Xbox controller at all if Valve found a way to shimmy a proper D-pad onto the Steam Controller, but I understand that’s only useful for a minority of 2D action games… which actually aren’t uncommon on Steam these days.

I guess this is just one of the lasting advantages of gaming on consoles — the assurance that every game in the closed platform is going to be designed to accommodate the input device that ships with the hardware. Manufacturers have always made alternate input devices for consoles, but you can always rely on the base one. Dealing with various inputs on an open platform might just be one of those things I’ll have to deal with on PC like updating graphics drivers. Maybe more PC games should strive to have better mouse and keyboard controls since that’s what every PC user reliably has access to.

BULLETS:

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