On Game Input and Response (Mouse, Keyboard, and Controller)

The Importance of Input

One of the large distinctions between video games and other forms of entertainment is the ability for the user to provide input to directly affect the state of the system. In essence, the user is driving the medium and has direct leverage over the future of their character(s) within the rules of the system. This uniqueness places a large burden on the designers to provide a good system of input for the users. Such a system can be the difference between maintaining loyal users and being completed ignored or negatively criticized.

When users play games, not much is worse than delayed/confusing controls or input with very little visual or aural feedback to indicate action occurrence and consequence. Think about that for a second. Try to think about how we manipulate the world in our actual lives. When you lift a book, open a page, or slide something across a table, action and response is immediate. Unfortunately, manipulating in a game system is never 100% immediate because there are levels of abstraction between you and the electrons. However, a designer can certainly work around this annoyance to provide a smooth experience. There are several considerations to maintain in order to achieve good input and feedback, and it is slightly dependent on the control schema available. (mouse, controller, headset, etc…)

Mouse and Keyboard

On the PC, the mouse and keyboard are kings. There are other ways of controlling your computer through touch interfaces, headsets, speech, and USB controllers, but the majority of the time is spent using a mouse and keyboard. In my personal opinion two of the largest sins regarding mouse input is the application of mouse acceleration and the occurrence of “soupy” mouse movement. The former is a large point of debate and the latter is a consequence of bad design and possibly video settings.

Mouse acceleration is the acceleration of the mouse cursor as you move your mouse at variable velocities. Moving the mouse from one corner of your mouse pad to another at a crawl will move the cursor on the screen a smaller distance than if you jerked the mouse across the mouse pad. This is because the mouse acceleration is trying to help with precision pointing at small velocities and reduce physical movement at large velocities. Honestly, I can see where it  might be helpful for some scenarios, but when it comes to games, I hate the inconsistent mouse movement that is a result of the acceleration kicking in. When I play games like Counter-Strike, reliable mouse movement is huge. “Flickshotting” where the user jerks the mouse from one point to another for a quick AWP kill is more difficult to achieve when mouse acceleration is on due to the variable velocity. No one will move from point A to point B on their mouse pad with the exact same velocity every time. Because of that, the actual translation of the mouse on the screen will fluctuate. Maybe this is not as important for slower games, but I still want the translation of my physical mouse to match up with the translation of the cursor regardless of the speed at which I am operating.… Read more