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Descent: The Game That Ruined Me

By Shamus
on Thursday Nov 12, 2009
Filed under:
Game Design


Shamus, why do you use the numpad for movement in videogames? Why do you use inverted mouse controls? Why are you always banging on about bad ports all the time?

When will you people learn to stop asking questions? Now I will punish you for your earnest curiosity by answering you. In excruciating detail. Like most long boring stories concerning people of a certain age, this one begins a long time ago…

My first mouselook FPS wasn’t really Quake, it was Descent. Descent was a strange game. This was the early-ish days of gaming before the genres had been fixed in stone and developers were still running around doing crazy stuff with every new title. Like making an action 3D first-person flight simulator set indoors.

This is the game in its 320×200 glory. The other screenshots here were made using an <a href="http://www.dxx-rebirth.com/">updated open-source fan version</a> that drags the thing into this century.
This is the game in its 320×200 glory. The other screenshots here were made using an updated open-source fan version that drags the thing into this century.

You flew your ship through weightless 3D environments. This means you needed to be able to navigate and rotate in all directions. For sheer complexity of movement keys, it was surpassed only by real flight simulators and the like. At the time, this many inputs was unheard of in an action game. (Although System Shock came close.)

By default, Descent used the numpad. Like this:

This is just the basic movement, and leaves out cruise control, weapon-switching, etc. EDIT: After making the above image, I went back and fired up the game to find I’d gotten several details slightly wrong.  Still, you get the basic idea.
This is just the basic movement, and leaves out cruise control, weapon-switching, etc. EDIT: After making the above image, I went back and fired up the game to find I’d gotten several details slightly wrong. Still, you get the basic idea.

This was the first time I’d ever really used “mouselook”. I’d dabbled with it in Doom and Wolfenstein, but that was only horizontal. Since you were flying, looking down = moving mouse forward. Descent, being a “flight” game, had mouse inverted by default.

Thus began my habit of using:

  1. “Inverted” mouse controls.
  2. Numpad for movement.

When Quake came out, it felt natural to retain this keyboard layout, since it was now second nature to me. Up / Down translated seamlessly into Jump / Crouch. Roll left / right keys became lean left / right when stealth games came along. There were plenty of extra keys around the edges of the numpad for whatever special actions were required by the game.

The opening cutscene, which is a static picture of a corporate suit explaining the mission while your character inner-monologues about what he thinks is going on.  Man, sometimes it was impressive what games were able to do with storytelling when all they had to work with was text.
The opening cutscene, which is a static picture of a corporate suit explaining the mission while your character inner-monologues about what he thinks is going on. Man, sometimes it was impressive what games were able to do with storytelling when all they had to work with was text.

When Windows 95 rolled in, I was so grateful for my Numpad style. The WASD folks were suddenly getting blasted out of the game by that blasted key, which ended up tucked between Ctrl and Alt. (Run and crouch? Something like that.) It was bad news, and I was doing just fine on the other side of the keyboard. (Ergonomics: I slide the keyboard WAY over to the left so my hand is still in a natural position. Yes, I have a big keyboard drawer.)

The tables began to turn as we entered this decade. Games began accumulating additional inputs. WASD people had lots of keys under their hand to accommodate the new complexity, while I was forced to offload things to the inverted T arrow keys and the six-key group just under ScrLk. And I was still running out of keys.

At this point I tried migrating back over to WASD, only to find it was murderously hard to do so. Partly this is because of how much skill I’d built up. Back in 1995 I’d begun at zero: Inept. Then I learned to kick ass with the numpad. Moving over to the WASD was going to make me worse off than I was at the start. I’d be worse than inept. I’d have no skill with WASD, plus I had years of muscle memory working against me. I found myself fighting to keep my hand lined up right because the keys are staggered on the main part of the keyboard. WASD is also a different shape than Num 1, 2, 3, 8, so even when my hand was lined up I ended up over-reaching for “move forward”. It didn’t help that I was ten years older, which always slows learning down a bit.

In the end, the frustration of not having enough buttons was less than the frustration of trying to re-learn everything according to the traditions of WASD. This is about having fun, after all, not being the most elite.

But then game developers tightened the screws: Having drunk the console kool-aid, they came back to the PC with a head full of stupid and lazy:

1) Suddenly they forgot about the numpad 5. Like, you couldn’t bind that key anymore, and I was down one precious input.
2) They began treating numpad enter as identical to the main enter key. And lots of games hard-coded that one to “chat” and the like. Another key gone.
3) Suddenly the six key collection of Insert, Home, Page Up / Dn, Del, and End were all merged with numpad. You couldn’t bind numpad 9 to one thing and Page Up to another. Six keys gone!
4) The arrow keys were merged with numpad 8, 4, 6, 2. Four more keys, gone.
5) Invert mouse? Wuzat? They either omitted the feature, or implemented it in some useless, bone-headed way. (Beyond Good & Evil inverted BOTH axis, so moving mouse left would turn right. Murder.)
6) Games for Windows Live recently decided to take the Home key (both of them) for itself, forever and ever, in all cases. You can’t re-map that one. (Hey idiots: Why didn’t you take the WINDOWS KEY, since that thing is a manifest pain in the ass when running a game anyway?) One more key gone, which pushed me beneath a crucial threshold where there just weren’t enough buttons to get the job done.

Now I’m stuck here at 38 years old. I’ve been numpad-ing my way through games since 1995. Numpad gaming is obviously unsustainable. I can rant all I want against the cross-eyed dunces responsible for the above list, but the best I could possibly hope for in my wildest dreams is that things would stop getting worse.

The cockpit-style view. More immersive, but the window frames blocked too much of the view and I always ended up switching back to normal view.
The cockpit-style view. More immersive, but the window frames blocked too much of the view and I always ended up switching back to normal view.

That one game all those years ago presented me with a perfectly reasonable setup: Use the numpad! It had enough keys, all lined up, no with Windows Key landmine, and a nice easy-to-feel edge so my hand never got lost. At the time, there was no reason not to use it. I went along for years before any problem showed up. But as a result of that one coin-toss decision, I’ve had nothing but headaches for the last five or six years. People who used WASD and the non-inverted mouse have been able to jump right into games without having to rebind everything first.

I tried again a couple of months ago to get used to WASD. It’s still so frustrating that it sucks the fun out of the game. What I think I need to do is retrace my steps. I need to go back to 1996 and work my way forward. Trying to play something complicated like an MMO or a stealth game is just too dang hard. There are too many inputs to re-learn all at once. (This drives home an important lesson about why the Wii is doing so well. Modern games have a MASSIVE learning curve, which is more or less a wall to the uninitiated. There are precious few adults with the patience and time to jump into a modern FPS and scale that sucker.) I should go back to Quake or other simplistic old-school game and re-master basic movement. I’ve got Serious Sam 2 here, which seems like a good tool for that particular job.

Once I get my skills back into the “competent” area of the spectrum, then I can give Deus Ex or Thief a try. Complex FPS games are my drug of choice, so I’ll have a nice reward waiting for me at the end of that road.

There, more than you ever wanted to know about why I take this stuff so seriously.

(Descent and Descent 2 can be procured from Good Old Games for six bucks. For both of them. There’s no school like old school. Just make sure to re-bind everything to WASD before you start.)

Comments (113)

1 2

  1. Aergoth says:

    Shamus, as a Nethack player I can see whre you’re going with the numpad useability. In the case of Nethack, you mapped every direction of movement except up and down (I think you might still be able to do that) to a numpad key. It’s much easier than arrows because the game (*GASP*) requires you to move diagonally quite often.

    I’ve more often used the arrow keys than the WASD configuration simply because it removes part of the chance of having to deal with wrong button presses and awkward keyings. Usually it’s something like Arrow Keys = Movement
    Switch Weapon or some similar toggle on the CTRL key, Reload/Repetitive/needed action on the shift key and something else on Delete and Insert. It worked out pretty well until I got into flash games that didn’t like the idea of bindable keys. WASD, I don’t like you.

  2. karln says:

    Yikes, I can see Thief being horribly punishing if you’re still going for the wrong keys at that point…

  3. bickerdyke says:

    Descent was my reason to buy a real Badass PC-Joystick. Complete with thrust control and lots of buttons.

    • Alexander The 1st says:

      Responding to an old post, but same here – although I think my dad was on board with it for flight simulators too.

      But the main reason I bring this up – just recently had a conversation with someone else on Twitter that played Descent without a joystick…and they ran into the same problem Shamus did here.

      It’s starting to feel like if you didn’t get a joystick for Descent, you were pretty much guaranteed to run across an issue with controls at some point on PC.

  4. …and Nethack and other roguelikes are hardly playable on most notebooks without numpads.

  5. Glazius says:

    Huh. Guess it’s a coding thing. I just checked the keybinding options in City of Heroes and the entire numpad and pretty much everything that’s not on the keyboard are all available for use as controls.

    Myself, I use WASD for movement and the numpad to activate my character’s many powers. I don’t think I could get by with just a “power selector” and a single fire button, Descent-style.

  6. Zapata says:

    That’s the same game I got started on, and I’m a lefty, so the NumPad was perfect for me. A few years later UT came out and I never looked back.

  7. Ranneko says:

    I feel your pain in part.

    I started using a mouse with Quake 1, I did use WASD, but I also used as jump. It has with later games become the default key for alternate fire, melee, etc. So every damn time I start a new FPS I have to rebind right click to jump. (Mouse 3 was my alt-fire key with Unreal, these days tis Mouse 4, which is conveniently next to my thumb, leaving mouse 5 and my pinky to push to talk on vent).

  8. Conlaen says:

    When I first moved from the arrow keys I initially went to ESDF in stead of WASD. I was a little peeved when games started to set WASD as standard, but I learned to live with it, because with many games it was quickly obvious that it was a lot easier to adjust your muscle memory then to adjust the keys to fit your old habits.

  9. Hirvox says:

    I’ve gone through several exotic keyboard combinations. Back in the Duke 3D and Quake days, I used full-keyboard with arrow keys for moving and a/z for jumping/ducking. Then I moved to using comma and full stop for strafing and jump/duck in mouse buttons. I did try the numpad, but I ran out of buttons (especially in QWTF, where macros and team comms started to emerge) and moving the keyboard left wasn’t always an option. I eventually settled down to almost-standard wasd, with c being jump, x being crouch and q/e being lean left/right. Naturally, that’s quite bad for games that demand duckjumping.

  10. fuzzyillogic says:

    Have you considered investing some bucks on a programmable keypad? On one of those, you could map all the desired keys in the position you want without caring about wich key is on the stadard keyboard… something like the logitech g-13, the belkin n52te, or the saytek “cyborg command unit”.

  11. Joshua says:

    Hmmm, I used the NumPad for Descent, Doom and others. I think with the first Half-Life I switched over to using the arrow keys plus the right shift/control/”/” keys. After hearing people rave about using WASD for those types of games(easier access to the 1-5, which change weapons), I switched about five years ago.

  12. Ell Jay says:

    I’m in the very small minority that moves with the arrow keys, so everything I need has to be reachable from there (Ctrl = jump, / = zoom, ‘ = crouch, Delete = Gravity Gun). I may have been shaped by the actual flight sim Tie Fighter, in which all the important throttle/power controls were clustered around that Enter key.

  13. SolkaTruesilver says:


    That would be like giving low-alcohol drinks to somebody who tries to get on the wagon (on or off the wagon? damn Seinfeld). Shamus wants to reprogram his brain to WASD setup, as there is little choice left for gamers now.

    On a Ad-hoc basis, I have to remember fondly the joystick my father bought me when I was young (but it was later than my Descent years, which I played at 4 yr old).

    The joystick was sensitive to how I positionned it, so I really had to lift my control to make my X-Wing go up. It was a joy of sensibility…


    I hope I will ever find it back… :(

  14. Klay F. says:

    I (sort of) feel your pain. My first FPS was the early versions of America’s Army. The game used WASD controls so I got used to that pretty quickly. However, the difficulty arose when the newer versions started coming out. With each new version, they would change the keybinds of some very important actions. Switching between 3-round bust and semi-auto fire went from Mouse key 2 to some far fetched key on the other side of the keyboard. I would actually have to take my hand off the mouse to switch fire modes. The crouch and prone keys were combined into one. The drop weapon command went from the CapsLock key to the RIGHT CTRL key. How does that make any sense? The problem was that the controls changed like this with every new version of the game. You had to go into the keybindings and study the thing like you were cramming for a test so you could change the controls into something that made a little sense.

  15. Amarsir says:

    Keybinding options are nearly perfect in City of Heroes. But I wonder how you made it work. I need WASD to move, a couple nearby keys for other features, tab and tilde for targeting, and then all the numbers (often combined with ctrl and alt) for actual powers. If I was numpad-centered I can’t imagine how I’d activate the 3 trays of 10 powers each. Unless I [shudder] clicked them, and you as a mouselook person probably wouldn’t do that.

    And I remember Descent. I picked it up shortly after Doom and Rise of the Triad, and the gameplay wasn’t as great but the idea of 3d combat was pretty darn cool.

  16. Matt K says:

    Ah, Doom and Decent my first forays into FPS. For Doom I pretty much just used the arrow keys with little problem. I have no clue what used for decent but I sucked so hard at that game that it probably never became an issue. That said, After getting Decent (also my first foray into rebates or more accurately never reciving my $10) I stuck mostly to RPGs and so I had no issue switching my setup when I finally got back into FPS with Deus Ex (god has it been that long?).

    EDIT: Oh, how can I forget Hexen. I have no clue where I got it or if it was a demo but I played the hell out of that game.

  17. nilus says:

    I played a little decent but at the time I was big into Wing Commander. I much rather have 3-d dog fights out in space then in little tiny rooms. But all those space Flight sims is why I always go with an inverted control scheme.

  18. bbot says:

    My first FPS was, of course, Doom; it of the arrow keys for movement and ctrl for fire. But for some goddamn reason, I found it easier to cross my arms, ending up with my right hand on ctrl, and my left on the arrow key cluster.

    What finally broke me of that habit was gaming at a net cafe. When you pay for time in half hour blocks, and you have to spend five minutes remapping the keys at every computer, you drop your own custom keybinds pretty quick.

    • Zagzag says:

      I did something similar. I played one of the really old Tony Hawks games many years ago, which were designed with console controllers in mind. Movement was with the arrow keys and everything else was controlled with just about every button of the numpad, set out with 8, 4, 6 and 2 acting like the four right hand buttons of a playstation controller. Other buttons were covered by other parts of the numpad. As I found it impossible to move with my left hand, and the game stubbornly resisted my eforts to change the controls, I started moving with my right hand, and crossing my left over it onto the numpad. This led a very strange muscle memory when playing other games.

  19. MadTinkerer says:

    I’m in a rather different position: from 198X-1999 I played on semi-recent-gen desktops with a full keyboard. I never got used to mouselook when it was first introduced, and played Half Life with classic-Doom-ish controls(arrow keys + ctrl = shoot, alt = strafe, shift = run, space = jump). I did use the numpad for Descent, but I think that was the last game I played with the numpad.

    From 2000-2007, I basically didn’t upgrade my computer due to cashflow issues and ended up missing out on a lot of the “Golden Age” as well as pretty much every post-Golden-Age PC game prior to the Orange Box. In 2007 I got a shiny new laptop and decided the OB was the very first thing I wanted to try out. My muscle memory from the 1990s was pretty much gone at that point so it was easy to use the default WASD + mouselook controls when I started playing Half Life 2.

    I tried playing Halo on the Xbox and found it impossible to look at the sky/ground when I didn’t want to, because my two-analog-joystick muscle memory wanted to use the Square Enix style third-person camera control. There is no Halo control setting that I’m comfortable with: I’ve tried them all, and there’s no way to invert just the right joystick Y-axis. GRRRRR.

    • aldowyn says:

      wait, what? There totally is, at least on PC :/ It tells you to ‘look up’ at a sensor, and you just move the right joystick either up or down and it does it automatically, IIRC. And it’s SEPARATE from x-axis inversion. Actually there might have been a button to switch it or some more explicit choice, but I’m pretty sure you could change it.

  20. fuzzyillogic says:

    Well, as then he would have that keypad, he would not need to re-train on wasd, he would simply use his old scheme on any game without caring about wich kind of scheme-du-jour they’re implementing. It would mean using the hardware to bypass the lazyness of the programmers that didn’t care about giving their game adequate remapping options. By the way, I’ve not done any research about this, but I think I remember reading about some gaming mouse that did support inverting axis natively.
    Personally, I never found FPS of any kind very entertaining, so I mostly ignored this kind of interfaces, but for a dedicated player it could be worth the expense.

  21. Galenor says:

    “(Descent and Descent 2 can be procured from Good Old Games for six bucks. For both of them. There's no school like old school. Just make sure to re-bind everything to WASD before you start.)”

    Hah! I did this when I downloaded D1+2 from GOG a few months ago. “What’s with these odd Numpad controls? Time for a modernization!”

    With all those problems cropping up with the numpad becoming less and less versatile, I doubt it beats the problem I have, where my laptop doesn’t have a numpad at all</I. I guess they're just not trendy, or something.

  22. Ritch says:

    I LOVED Descent and its sequel. After Wolfenstein, I was exposed to both Doom and Descent simultaneously. I managed to learn both well enough, but I found Descent to be more enjoyable. There’s just something special about being able to move in any direction.

    Thanks so much for that link. I know what I’ll be doing for the next few days. ^_^

  23. Eric Meyer says:


    Oh HELL yes.

    I think Descent was my first multiplayer experience””it was either that or Marathon. And the keypad still makes total sense to me as a controller.

    Still, Shamus, you’re one of those super-über-geek types, right? You should just build your own programmable keyboard! Keypad in the center, keys ringed around that, and all of it assignable at the keypad to whatever lame-ass WASD scheme the game du jour demands. With that and mouselook, you can school the newbs from here to Charon and back again.

  24. Falke says:

    I’m not sure if anyone suggested this yet but how about using a gamepad? I’ve got a G13 two month ago and it pretty much solved every problem I’ve ever had. SInce you can adjust the setup completly you could get it to work almsot exaxly like the keybpad your familiar with.

    Edit: Also I rember that the Decents graphics blew me away. I feel old now :(

  25. Nathon says:

    I was an arrow keys T guy for a long time. Eventually, the number of keys available just couldn’t cut it and I switched to esdf (actually .oeu because it’s dvorak) which has all the advantages of wasd’s many reachable keys in addition to letting me take advantage of the fact that I’ve been touch typing since I was 12. The kinesis keyboard adds a lot to that too, since its keys are arranged in actual columns and they’re hardware remappable. A game doesn’t let me bind backspace to jump? I’ll just move the space bar over there while I’m playing. Anyway, if you’re seriously considering trying to learn wasd, and you know how to type, I recommend you try esdf instead.

  26. David V.S. says:

    My story is almost exactly the same.

    Being left handed, the number pad worked perfectly for my right hand (more keys in easy reach when all were bind-able) since I use a trackball with my left hand.

    One reason I enjoyed WoW so much as my only character was a rogue. I deliberately picked a class that veteran players said used few inputs. Sure enough, with the right macros I could do everything I needed with only the track ball and number pad.

  27. “Man, sometimes it was impressive what games were able to do with storytelling when all they had to work with was text.”

    They still do. It’s called interactive fiction.

    Also, +1 for Serious Sam. Pure, mindless, shoot-everything fun.

  28. Vladius says:

    Oh, man, I LOVED DESCENT!

    I used to play that all the time.

    Thanks for triggering a wave of nostalgia.

  29. Craig says:

    I once got descent for free with one of my previous macs. I loved that game, the whole 0 gravity flying indoors was really disorienting, but very cool.

  30. GoodApprentice says:

    If there was ever a game that would rewire your hand-eye coordination, it was Descent. The part of my brain that handles the third dimension blew a fuse while navigating those spaces.

  31. Graham says:

    I played Descent, but I played it with a joystick. (I was also never very good at it, as I got disoriented too easily in the 100% 3D movement.) The inverted mouselook never felt right to me, even in a flight sim. I can only do inverted axis with a joystick (including console joysticks, where I can also do inverted left/right if need be, but don’t prefer it).

    But man, 1, 2, 3, 8? Holy crap, my hand would cramp up so badly from that stretch. I can’t imagine using that for the years you did.

    Oh well. To each their own. Either good luck on your retraining, or on obtaining a programmable usb keypad, as mentioned above.

  32. David_DHX says:

    I also want to give a hearty shout-out to my Descent-loving colleagues. Not only did one’s spatial memory get a real work-out while navigating to the escape hatch after blowing up the reactor, the AI on those robots was amazing for the time. They ganged up on you, went around corners to come at you from behind, readied weapons and hid when they heard you — I seem to remember a recent rant on this topic, Shamus ;-)

    I dreamed about flying through those corridors for months after.

  33. Drew says:

    I’m just going to agree with something hinted at above. If you’re going to learn WASD, you might find ESDF easier. It puts you a little more central in the keyboard, offering more surrounding keys, and it also (on most keyboards) puts one of those little home-key nubs under your index finger, so you always know you’re in the right place.

    But either way, you’re in for a learning curve. I was a num pad guy for a while, then moved to the arrow keys when the num pad started to lose support. WoW was the game I taught myself ESDF on, and after only what…a billion hours of that, I’m pretty comfortable with it.

  34. Factoid says:

    You’ve got the right idea. I never made as drastic a switch as you…but I have managed to retrain my brain to be able to switch competently between several different key configurations.

    I did pretty much what you are doing…find some less complicated games and emulate my progression through the years. I don’t think it takes as many steps as you fear, though….nor do you really need to replay the same old games. There are plenty of new games that would be terrific for retraining yourself.

    Give MAW a try. It’s a 3d platformer, and it’s a terrific indy game. It requires some rudimentary jumping puzzles, but doesn’t require a ton of overall dexterity.

    Then I’d maybe try going through the Quake 3 single player tournament. It provides a nice progression of decreasingly hapless AI opponents and you really only need the movement keys, the mouse, reload, jump, crouch and the number keys or mousewheel for switching weapons.

    Then try a game with a hojillion buttons to manage. It’ll be rough, but I think this can be accomplished in as few as three games, a few hours into each.

    You’ll hit the steep part of the learning curve eventually, but I don’t think it will be as steep as it was the first time around.

  35. Stranger says:

    The answer, or solution, if you will, is quite simple. Get yourself a sidewinder keyboard (Or similar), flip the keypad over on the left side (for better ergonomics) and map the WASD keys to the keypad, independent on whatever the game allows.

    And you’ll never need to adapt, ever.

  36. Jonathan says:

    Yay, one of my favorite games. We tried some Descent 2 at the last LAN party I was at, but too many people had trouble making it run.

    Descent 1 was actually the first or second game demo that I tried back when we got our brand-new P133 (replacing a 286). Sat through the briefing and then got lost in level 1.

    I played with arrow keys, slides on the Insert-Page down 6pad, and ctrl/alt/shift/enter for shooting and going forward/backwards. It worked pretty well, although I had to switch to mouse useage sometime in the past decade because windows got too sensitive to the ctrl-alt-del combo.

    I have the Descent 1 soundtrack on my Winamp playlist.

  37. Louis says:

    If I were in your shoes I’d refuse to give in to relearning everything again, that just seems stupid and unnecessarily frustrating.

    You could manually write an entirely new windows keyboard layout moving letter keys over to the numpad, inverted T and 6 button island above it, I imagine it would be irritating to need to change the system keyboard layout every time you wanted to play a game but I guess you could script that changeover to make it reasonably painless, if still a reminder of the inanity of most game input layouts.

    I would buy a special keyboard for gaming, as fuzzyillogic suggested, my logic being that the 100-200$ a good customizable keyboard would cost is cheaper than the amount of my time I would otherwise being ruining through frustration. My suggestion for a keyboard would be the Ergodex DX1, ergodex.com, I’ve never actually used one myself but I’ve known people who said they were pretty awesome, the only complaint I’ve ever heard from someone that used one was that it isn’t cheap (~150$). You could reconstruct a numpad shape out of them with whatever keys your current game-of-choice wanted.

  38. Girl Gamer says:

    It’s interesting to hear everyone’s preference and how they learned it. I haven’t done nearly as much computer gaming as most people here, but I always liked the arrow keys for movement. Of course that’s less than ideal for current games. Now I find that I pretty much have to relearn the coordination of wasd movement with every game and the first couple of hours can be quite annoying.

    As for the mouselook thing: I game on a laptop and quite like it when a game lets me use the arrows to look. It works nicely for me and it’s easier on my hand/arm than holding a mouse for hours (and I can game from the couch or bed without worrying about a flat surface for a mouse, yay laziness). I also hate inverted axis looking; I always look the wrong way!

  39. Rayen says:

    My dad was one studyibng to be a pilot when descent came out. my learning curve was from joystik to keyboard/mouse controls PERIOD. Thats why i’ve played consoles until recently.

  40. LintMan says:

    My initial Wolfenstein 3D/Doom/Quake playing all used a flightstick-type joystick, so I was stuck on the inverted Y axis also. (For some reason, I remember playing Descent with keyboard, though. But my keyboard mapping used the WASD area and not the numpad).

    Anyway, a few years back (just before HL2 Episode 1 came out) I decided to bite the bullet and break the inverted mouse axis habit. (Sorry if I mentioned this before in a previous post). During a period when there weren’t many new games out, I picked a short-ish game I had already played through a few times (HL2: Lost Coast) and played through it again with the non-inverted axis.

    It was a tough at first, and I took my time, just manuevering round the environment for a while to get a bit more used to the controls. Soon enough, though I was able to get by mostly OK, with occasional screw-ups. By the end of the game, it still wasn’t quite “natural” but the frustration was mostly gone. And by the second or third game I played, it was natural and I don’t feel I had lost anything over my previous skill level. (Not that I am or was a super-skilled player or anything).

    If I can do it, you can too, Shamus. Remember that while you might be trained in-game to use inverted-y, outside of the game, all your mouse work is non-inverted, so you’re already at least partly trained in using the mouse that way.
    I don’t think you need to go back to the beginning. Just pick a not too complex game you’re already familiar with, and maybe play it on easy.

  41. Lalufu says:

    I’m probably the only person on the planet using UYHJ (mapping to movement as WASD). Started using that with Quake2, where I discovered that there was something called mouse look and that I needed my right hand for the mouse. It’s way more comfortable for my wrist than WASD. The Wolfensteins, Dooms and Q1 were played with the keyboard only, Descent with Joystick (1st generation MS Sidewinder).

    Oh, and inverted mouse, of course.

  42. Kennet says:

    You might want to take a look at autohotkey, if you haven’t already. I switched to at mac a while back so my memory might be a little off, but I believe it will allow you to map all the numpad keys to regular keys and then use them in a game (or wherever else you might want to use them). You can also use it for a lot of other things, like (again, as far as I remember) turn your right mouse button into a toggle for that mouselook thing you talked about in a previous post.

  43. Groboclown says:

    I loved Descent, too. However, even then, I settled on mapping the keys close to the WASD side. I seem to recall using ASDF + QWER + ZXC for all the different pitch / yaw / roll / slide / thrust / slowdown commands; no mouselook.

    The one thing that peeved me about that game was that even though you could slide easily, any time you tried to turn left or right, the nose on your ship would dip, which would throw off any place where you needed accurate aim.

  44. Scott says:

    I started with Descent as well, but moved to Dark Forces 2 (Jedi Knight) to play with my friends online, so I learned to play with WASD movement, inverted mouse and right click to jump. The right click to jump has stayed (I ALWAYS use it; if I can’t, I use programs to re-map), but the inverted mouse changed fairly recently to accomodate newer games.

  45. krellen says:

    Descent was the big game on my college campus in early 1995, and I spent a lot of time playing it (we had a campus-wide network even then). Our top player used numpad and mouse like Shamus; most of the rest of the top ten used joysticks. Except me: I was keyboard only, and was around the #10 player on campus. I was kind of proud of that (I was the only keyboard player even in competition).

    Nowadays, I’ve learned the WASD setup, but I still like my Y-axis inverted.

  46. CaptainFrance says:

    Curse you all! I’ve always used WASD, although ALWAYS mapping anything on Crtl or Alt to somewhere else to avoid the windows key landmine, aside from simple games where I could map the whole thing to the numpad, but since switching to a laptop, losing my numpad, and getting used to a touchpad (with my left hand, since there was no way I was going to get used to that with my off hand,) hooking up a mouse has gotten annoying, not to mention some of the horrible hand gymnastics needed to avoid Ctrl and Alt on a more cramped keyboard and finding a place for the mouse now that my tiny little optical mouse doesn’t work in the bottom right corner of my new laptop, and using the wrong hand for gaming and nothing else . . .

    You guys have me considering falling into the arrow keys trap to use the touchpad with games, just because it seems like it would be so effective with the cramped little laptop keyboard. D:

  47. Nick says:

    Has nobody mentioned Duke Nukem 3D? I think that was the first actual game to have mouselook (to be fair, it hardly rotated 40 degrees up or down, skewed the view, could only get it by console magic, and still didn’t make the gun fire where you looked, more of the Doom method where it shoots where it thinks it needs to or else on the horizontal otherwise).

    I’m not sure why, but my older brother at the time showed me how to enable mouselook AND invert aim for that game. Since it was the first mouselook game, I am not sure why I enjoyed invert more than normal. But, from then on, I have had to use invert for EVERYTHING else. Any time my non-invert friend comes over and changes it, I always get disoriented when I forget to re-invert it.

    As for my control scheme, I use the “inverted-T” control scheme. Not sure where that came from, but at least I got my friend addicted to that. Only problem are some dumb-*** games that decide the CTRL key cannot be used (usually on complex games that allow mixes of ctrl and alt on the inputs), or that the arrow keys can ONLY be used for sliding the map around.

    Even some normal, modern games are not innocent of re-map hell. Battlefield 2, I remember, had some addiction to certain keys. Enter, for me, was the all around use/enter-vehicle key for me. But, when chatting, it also finishes and sends the text you just typed. How annoying is it when you type something like “Roger” and the game decided “Oh, you hit Enter, time to eject you out of that jet!” I had to spend some days perfecting my ini file for that game to get it to my liking.

    Fallout 3, recently, had a problem. Remapping the “Open pip-boy” key, did NOT remap the “close pip-boy” key, and there was no way (maybe aside from ini hunting) to change that.

    Some games, like MMO’s, that required handy access to obvious button keys like 1-6 near the movement keys, I have given up and moved to WASD. It’s not too bad, and I could probably adapt my other games over to it one day, but I just don’t WANT to.

  48. Rudegato says:

    I recommend picking up an mmo with “click to move” I believe WoW, Lotro, and Guild Wars all have this. then take your hand off the movement keys entirely, relying on an auto run button and mouselook for navigation.

    Then move your hand over to the dreaded “wsad” and just get used to controlling your hotbar powers with the 1-6. Eventually you can work non essential turning or strafing into the wsad keys as you’re comfortable with it.

    I recently helped a friend adjust to shooters from only consoles in this same way, his problem was a lack of finger dexterity and wanting to do everything with his thumbs. Give it a try, and stop if it gets too frustration :D


  49. Tesh says:

    Descent is still high on my favorites list. I can’t recommend it via GOG.com enough. It wasn’t my first, though. That was Wolfenstein. I used the arrow keys to move, so when Descent came around, it was easy enough to switch to the numpad. Inverted mouselook was also reinforced by my Privateer days, so these modern games that are all backwards with no way to remap it are just… not worth the time.

    Bad UI design like that is a Twinkie Denial Condition. Where are the Twinkie police?

  50. MadTinkerer says:

    “In 2007 I got a shiny new laptop and decided the OB was the very first thing I wanted to try out. My muscle memory from the 1990s was pretty much gone at that point so it was easy to use the default WASD + mouselook controls when I started playing Half Life 2.”

    D’oh! I forgot to mention an important point: neither my old laptop or my current one have keypads. The old laptop had an option to override the right part of the letters (789UIOJKLM = 7894561230), but I don’t think my new laptop even has that. The arrow keys are arranged next to the Enter, Right Shift, Menu (same as right-clicking), Page Down and End buttons. Needless to say, the default controls Valve uses are better for my current keyboards than trying the not-numpad or the arrow keys. Though I’ve been considering switching to ESDF for the games with a lot of different possible action types (for example: Saint’s Row 2).

  51. FTR says:

    I remember getting a Spaceorb just to play Descent, the controls were mental

  52. Cat Skyfire says:

    I wish more games gave more options as to how to set things up. I’m a left handed mouser, and it drives me nuts when games want to make me use the WASD section, because, well…that hand is on the mouse, not the keyboard…

  53. David says:

    Your rant about WASD’s proximity to the Windows key landmine reminds me that I just posted about how that key has been interrupting my normal workday. Windows,e maps (hardcoded) to undock on my laptop. Undock, Shamus. Undock. With the keyboard wired to the docking station, no more computer access without a serious interruption. Story here: http://dblume.livejournal.com/131070.html

  54. Carra says:

    I just wrote a blog post about it this afternoon. I bought Dead Space two weeks ago and can not get it to work as I can not rebind my keys to the numpad. Playing with WASD is a nightmare! It’s made even worse by having an AZERTY keyboard. I’m not gonna do it! I’d rather get a tool that sends W to the keyboard if I press numpad 8. But is that really worth the trouble for a game I’m gonna play for a few hours?

    Some games offer great keybinding features. I can bind 36 actions to numpad in WoW. I just rebind two of my mouse buttons to ctrl & alt. Then I can use all the numpad keys & mousebutton + numpad. It’s great.

    And of course you learnt the inverse y-axis from descent. Probably everyone who still uses that learnt it from descent or flight simulators. Newer games only put in the option to make those players happy.

  55. Sheer_FALACY says:

    Descent was definitely a cool game. For everyone mentioning 1 and 2, you realize there was also a Descent 3? With outdoors, even. And indoor to outdoor movement allowed, which was apparently a big deal at the time.

  56. Descent…. Indeed one of my favorites back then (and still hold fond memories.)

    I agree completely, nowadays they seem to be more interested in making it ever less customizable – and the worst part: claiming it is to provide us with a simpler/better/whatever experience.

    What will this lead to? An auto-playing game where you simply stare at the screen and don’t even have to press a key?…
    I though those were called movies! In games we want to be able to set it up as *we* feel confortable.
    I get really mad whenever they remove any kind of option that, even if it will be unused by 90% of their customers, it will still fulfill the remaining 10% of the people that have paid for their product.

    … and don’t even get me started on the new Modern Warfare 2 having removed the lean option… What next, removing strafe because it also “complicates” user experience?

  57. Matthew Clarke says:

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately due to my recent conversion to MacOS from PC (CTRL vs Command, Home/End keys now useless for coding) and from PC games to XBOX360 controller (circle strafe w/ analog sticks!!!).

    Muscle memory is a bitch to retrain, but if you stick it out, really only takes about 2 weeks max to do. With minor relapses for another month or so.

    I’ve generally found it worthwhile to rewire to a new system, rather than doing custom bindings. My theory goes: you develop an aptitude to rewire, making new control schemes easier to adapt to, without getting stuck in muscle memory rut.

    I started doing this because I hated having to always invert the axis on all the FPS’s I played… And then having to flip it back when another player came on. Laziness is the mother of invention.

    That all said, the inverted axis for FPS’s thing was the hardest to deprogram.

  58. Atarlost says:

    I’m normally a numpad user too and you’ve just reinforced my intention to never buy another FPS ever again. (MMOs I won’t even play if they’re free) If I need a mindless killing fix I can allways play Sauerbraten, which has no keymaping in the version I’ve got, but controls so simple the inverted T and a 3 button wheel mouse are all you need.

  59. Rutskarn says:

    I started playing FPSes in the Quake/Outlaws/Schrack days, where it seemed like every game just made up its own control scheme. As such, I never really got used to one set of controls until (I think) Aliens vs. Predator, where I switched to the ASDF keys. I don’t remember if those were the presets or what, but that’s what I used. I stuck with that until (again, I think) the Aliens vs. Predator 2 demo, which used WASD. It was tricky to get used to it, and it seems odd in retrospect that I’d change my entire control scheme for a demo of a game I’d never play, but that’s what I remember as the turning point.

    I can’t even imagine learning a new control scheme at this point. It’d be like if all of the sudden, the brake pedal was turn left and the gas was turn right, and you accelerate by turning the wheel to the right. Inside of ten minutes, I’d have destroyed more mailboxes than technically exist.

  60. Maleldil says:

    The game that ruined me (at least with regards to inverted mouse) was Top Gun for the NES. As an NES game you couldn’t remap any buttons, and since it was a jet fighter game the Y-axis was inverted. I played the crap out of this game years before playing any FPSes with mouse-look, but by the time I did it as already ingrained in me. At least on the Xbox 360 you can set invert mouse as the default for your account so you don’t have to remap it in every game before you play.

  61. Cuthalion says:

    I love Descent. So much.

    I usually play with numpad 4/6/8/5 for left/right/up/down “strafing” and wasd for accel/decel and turning, q/e for rolling. Can’t remember which keys I usually use for shooting. Probably spacebar and lctrl.

  62. Galenloke says:

    Oh wow, descent, that brings back memories. That was probably my first true game and I still love it. Only problem was that when computers got faster the game became nothing short of ridiculous(ly crazy). Thanks to your little link I just realized they have it set up for xp so I think I’ll be getting it again.

    The multiplayer on that thing was one of the best I’ve ever seen, co-op did exactly what you wanted it to and the versus mode was excellent.

  63. AlfieUK says:

    I’m a year older than Shamus, and have always used the numpad as well, although my reason is that I’m a left hand mouse user so it felt more comfortable to leave my right hand over the numpad and the keyboard in front of me in it’s normal position in case I needed to access more keys.

    I was also a big flight sim player where the numpad was usually bound to camera controls for non-hat switch joysticks (like my cheapy back then) so joystick in left, right for camera and other keys.

    I can usually ignore lack of ‘invert mouse’ after the first ten minutes, but there is absolutely no way I can use WASD.

  64. Falling says:

    Well I am a WASD player, well maybe a combination of that and regular arrow keys. But I really dislike it if there’s no option to rebind keys.

    With old school games like Comet Buster we’d rebind keys all the time- WASD, regular arrow keys, Num keys and IJKL or something like that. Ah yes, back when they made games that four people could play squished around the same keyboard. But sometimes the computer couldn’t keep up with the amount of input from four users, then someone would hit the stupid Windows key. Great times.

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