I have successfully rewired my brain
“Games that put select where you expect cancel or that offer 16 useless presets are shooting themselves in the foot. Or, more precisely, games that don’t give the choice of whether or not to invert are most likely shooting players in their own foot.”
– Edge‘s Ten Commandments, issue #128 (Oct 2003, their tenth anniversary issue)
I had a pretty roundabout path through console FPS control schemes. Excluding my early experiences with Zero Tolerance and Corporation on the Mega Drive (they don’t really count here), it went something like this:
- When I first played GoldenEye in 1998, I started off with the default 1.1 “Honey” settings (forward motion/rotation on stick, sidestepping/vertical aiming on C-buttons), inverted aiming. The post-Halo term for this on twin-stick pads is “Legacy” controls. I also used this in the Dreamcast versions of Quake 3 Arena and Unreal Tournament.
- In late 2003, after owning my own copies of GoldenEye and Perfect Dark for about a year, I switched to 1.2 “Solitaire” (known as “Turok settings” in the days of the N64), where the C-buttons control WASD movement and the stick rotates and aims vertically. This is partly because it wears out the analogue stick slower, and also because having fully digital movement is faster for speedrunning.
- I think the first dual-stick FPSs I played were the NGC version of TimeSplitters 2 and Red Faction on the PS2. I had no problem starting off with the default controls (left stick WASD movement, right stick aiming), inverted aiming.
- Even though inverted aiming had always seemed to be the most intuitive setting for me, I’d never really been able to do circular/spiral aiming motions very accurately. Even with diagonals, working out that moving the targeting reticle north-northeast meant pressing the stick south-southest meant a nanosecond of hesitation, which would clearly be a massive disadvantage whenever I get round to buying an Xbox 360 and going online.
So in 2008 I decided to see if I could adapt to non-inverted aiming. I began not with an FPS but with Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, because I’d sometimes used non-inverted aiming for certain games’ third-person cameras. Did a level or two, practising zooming in to take shots. Then I began a new save file in Halo – started off on “Pillar of Autumn” on Easy, upped the challenge a bit for “Halo”, and by the time I was on “Truth and Reconciliation” I’d pretty much got the hang of it. Before long, I was using upright aiming to about the same standard I had been inverted.
- However, upon returning to those two N64 FPSs, I found I still had to use inverted aiming!
- That didn’t last long, though. With all the hype around the XBLA version of Perfect Dark, I returned to the original N64 version a few days ago, and started new Solo and Combat Sim files with upright aiming. After maybe five hours of play, I was completely used to it. You might say… I have succeeded in rewiring my brain.
I’ve never quite seen why people who use Southpaw controls (right stick WASD movement, left stick aiming) say that they do so because it’s the closest to the 1.2 controls they used to use in N64 FPSs. True, in both 1.2 and Southpaw, movement is controlled with the right thumb. But pressing face buttons is a completely different sensation from flicking an analogue stick! As noted above, I had no problem making the transition from 1.2 in GE and PD to the twin-stick defaults TimeSplitters 2.
So, those people who say they’re stuck with Southpaw controls because that’s what they’ve always used? Pah, with the amount of time I’ve spent playing GE, PD, TS and Halo, if I can switch from inverted to upright aiming, you can adapt to anything!
As for my experiences returning to GoldenEye and Perfect Dark for the first time in a couple of years? After playing both of them FAR TOO MUCH over the last week or so, I can confirm that they’re both still utterly brilliant: I’m no more bothered by the framerate issues and blocky characters than I ever was. GoldenEye‘s generous-auto-aiming-overriden-by-R-trigger-precision-aiming is still possibly my favourite way of handling FPS aiming, on either console or PC. The weapons are still wonderfully satisfying (PD features one of the all-time great gaming shotguns, and unlike HL2’s Overwatch Pulse Rifle, the K7 Avenger is actually as effective as its sound effect implies). PD’s Sims still represent the high watermark for range of multiplayer options, and few non-racing games have got time attacking as right as they did (the TimeSplitters games were a big step backwards for both bots and time attack record presentation).
Perfect Dark still holds a prominent place in my all-time top 10, and GoldenEye… yep, still #1.