Limitations in my available time has created a fairly significant problem when it comes to reviewing and previewing games; I haven’t really played any. What I have had recently is a desire to write on HIDs (Human Interface Devices) and my ever growing collection. These articles will cover a variety of different device types, looking at their applicability to different games and perhaps giving a recommendation on a particular brand or variant to look out for. Consider these helpful pieces with sarcastic trimmings, business as usual really.
First and foremost is one of the most prevalent control schemes going; keyboard and mouse. Outside of console peasant circles this is by far the preferred control scheme although to some degree this doesn’t entirely make sense. Despite rabid claims as to the superiority of the keyboard and mouse it’s undeniable that it was never actually designed as a game interface mechanism, instead it’s principal purpose is general computer control and text entry. In spite of this however game have adapted to take full advantage of the qualities of both the mouse and the keyboard.
First of all let’s have a look at the keyboard: This device has a truly astonishing amount of different keys from a game perspective. A standard keyboard has 105 keys which even without the potential for key combinations is a huge variety allowing for input complexity and therefore system complexity within games. Keyboards, despite being designed for text entry actually turn out to be really very good for games as well. In terms of the modern gaming keyboard there’s a variety of things to look out for and some gimmicks that have somewhat limited utility. First let’s cover the mechanical/rubber dome comparison; the latter has a sheet of rubber with molded domes covering the input electronics. This makes for key presses that rely on the rubber domes to provide feedback, which makes for a squishy and unresponsive tactile experience. What’s worse is that rubber dome based keyboards wear fairly quickly as the rubber degrades, with the worse example of this I have ever experienced being a very old, very cheap and entirely unmaintained keyboard at work. It’s frankly awful, even for basic number entry.
Mechanical on the other hand have a spring-based switch mechanism for each and every key. The advantages of having such a mechanism are numerous; the switch is better quality and will last far longer, the contact point at which the switch activates can be half way down the key travel allowing touch typists to avoid bottoming the key out and for quicker gaming reaction and the general tactile sensation is superior. The disadvantage of the mechanical keyboard is generally the cost that all of this additional complexity incurs, although I will go on the record as saying that as a gamer and a regular computer user a mechanical keyboard is by far worth the additional cost. The most common switch type (and my recommendation) is the Cherry MX range which have a variety of colour codes for different switch types, each with differing properties. For gaming the Cherry MX Red and Cherry MX Black switches are recommended, I personally have a keyboard with Cherry MX Reds and the experience has been stellar both in game and for writing. In fact the closest I’ve ever come to a comparable keyboard experience is the older pre-chicklet Thinkpad keyboards, recognised as the finest laptop keyboards available.
Another common feature among ‘gaming keyboards’ is a raft of additional and macro keys which I’m less convinced by. Most of these features are tied into bloated and often Windows only software suites with functionality that could be emulated with proper key mapping in-game. Also common nowadays appears to be the trend towards backlit and fancy LED lit keyboards which again have me personally unconvinced: They look somewhat tacky and their functional advantage is surely limited due to the fact that keyboards are designed to function without being viewed at all, although that’s probably as much about my personal taste as anything else though.
Moving onto mice: First of all, if you have a ball mouse then put it aside and leave it well alone, that belongs in the 20th century. (Again though; the same work computer, old dying ball mouse… I swear that computer makes me die a little inside each time I use it.) So we’ve established that optical mice are the very minimum standard, everything else after that is extra. Gaming mice are abound and can come with a smorgasbord of button, shape and sensor configurations. The ideal mouse is highly subjective and very specific to personal tastes, some people like having a huge number of buttons, others don’t, some one shape, others another. Basically if you can’t imagine what you may map those extra buttons to, then you probably don’t need them so save the money. Another key consideration when choosing a mouse and reading reviews is your preferred grip on the mouse; claw, palm or in between. These are fairly self explanatory and whilst the product description may not state the type of grip that the mouse is suited to, the customer reviews often will. There are a variety of other considerations with mice that are supposedly important, things such as sensor sensitivity and such however these are generally not hugely important unless you’re really looking for something special. Again, like keyboards be aware that mice often don’t have cross-platform driver support for all of their functions, although I’m under the impression that Roccat have a good history with cross-platform driver availability. I personally use a Corsair M65 which is a good claw grip mouse without excess buttons, however the software to configure the settings stored on mouse are Windows only.
That’s it for this week, next week I’ll discuss the various gamepads available for the PC as well as a brief exploration of joysticks and HOTAS.