Mad Science: Configurations Without Face Buttons
Lately, I’ve been playing a lot of Dark Souls, as the previous post on this site hints. It’s a game of its own style, but playing through the game it became apparent to me that it borrows a lot from the 3D Legend of Zelda titles. After all, it’s a Japanese adventure game, with its native home on consoles, that focuses primarily on dueling based combat with a targeting reticle used to determine which enemy your combat movement should be faced on, and spatial puzzles in the level design. But despite the similarities in the game’s genre, Dark Souls employs a very different control scheme. Where “The Legend of Zelda” uses Z/L-targeting and the A/B face buttons for general combat interaction, Dark Souls instead moves targeting to a right stick click by default, and the triggers/bumpers for your blocking and attacking. The net effect of this is that, while Zelda completely forfeits camera controls during combat, Dark souls seems uniquely tailored toward using combat and camera controls at the same time. In other words, Dark Souls gives more functionality out of its control scheme by avoiding putting time sensitive actions on the face buttons.
Upon realizing this, I began to think that other games could benefit from a changed up control scheme that de-emphasizes the face buttons, so that I can keep my thumb on the camera controls in every game I play. And the Steam Controller, with its additional grip buttons and configurator software seems like it should be possible to create such a control scheme. With four grip buttons it would be easy, but with two you need to make some sort of concessions. However, I wouldn’t be a good mad scientist if I let something’s imperfections prevent me from releasing it on the world. So here’s what I came up with so far.
First, the A button. Primarily, the A button (or either the O or X button on PlayStation, depending on game) is used as the primary action in most games that you play. It’s such an important button, that the Gamecube controller even made it larger than any of the other face buttons! Commonly, actions associated with the button are menu confirmations, interacting with an object, running, or jumping. Since it’s such a versatile yet important button, I map it to the right trackpad click. This also winds up often being a free space, since the right stick click in most games is usually either unused, or is a camera reset option (which won’t be needed when you have full camera control). However, on the rare occasion that it is used, I’ve mapped right stick click to the “B” button on the Steam Controller, just in case (so that it’s still close to the trackpad).
The B and X buttons’ actions are typically mapped to just the “B” button in Nintendo games, but with PC gaming normally utilizing X-box control schemes, they do need their own dedicated locations. In the Xbox control scheme, the B button is usually used as a third action button, or a “move backward in the menu” button. The X button, on the other hand, is usually used as a secondary action button, with special actions occasionally in the menu. Because they’re related, but separate buttons, those seem to me like the obvious candidates for the grip buttons. Since some menus operate with submenus popping out to the right of their parent menus, I thought mapping “B” to the left pad (although different than its normal face button location) would be more intuitive for more games, so in the config I put it on the left side. However, you may find it more intuitive to switch them around after loading the config for certain games (especially games with quick time events).
Now, at this point we’ve run out of natural places to stick buttons, yet we still need to map the Y button. So, in order to do that, we need to start searching for a superfluous bumper, grip, or trigger button with which to swap places. Since the emphasis with most game controls is usually on the right side where the face buttons are, I find that often the left bumper actually gets overlooked. Since the Y button is the furthest away from your resting position on the A button, it’s normally used for infrequent and high power commands. With infrequent being a key word there, it seems like a great thing to swap for the left bumper, so that’s what I went with.
Here’s what it looks like when completed.
In my experience, this template is never perfect without a few remaining alterations, obviously dependent on the game. For example, in the Batman: Arkham series, swapping the B button with the Y button in this config seemed to allow countering and fighting to feel more natural, while still providing that menu navigation intuitive placement on the left side of the controller. I also found that I often would want to have the face buttons still available as well for menu actions or quick time events, though that tends to work better with natively supported games anyway, and this template doesn’t really help much in those situations. Still, it has proven to be a good enough starting place for the control schemes I’m searching for, so I often start with it.