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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. Heron says:

    @David (53): How is Win+E hardcoded to undock? Windows itself hardcodes Win+E to open an explorer window. What manufacturer made your laptop? (And yes, I use Win+E all the time, and yes, I run a docked Dell laptop.)

  2. vede says:

    *comments without reading any previous comments*

    In order to work up your skills in the WASD department, you might try playing a deathmatch-type game in super-slow-motion. It’ll be slow, sure, but if you misreact, you have time to correct your mistake instead of just being blown away.

  3. BikeHelmet says:

    Re: Windows Key Landmine

    I’ve never had a problem with it. However, the Windows key has saved me hundreds of times when games lock up, and alt+tab and ctrl+alt+delete just get eaten as input.

    @Shamus: Don’t take offense, but I think you learned the wrong key layout. :P It’s no sweat though – I did too.

    I used to play a lot of 2D platformers. When I started on 3D platformers, I naturally wanted to use the four arrow keys for movement, Shift for jump, Ctrl for Attack, and Alt for Block.

    This layout didn’t work so well for me. For one thing, camera control is a bitch. I had to migrate to WASD too – but after approximately nine months of playing L4D almost every night, I’m now extremely proficient with it, and my mouse coordination has gone up as well.

    You’ll get there eventually! Keep at it!

    Oh – and I spend time reading the controls for every game, before playing. I hate not knowing what the chat key is(There’s no standard!) or not knowing how to activate buttons or other in-game objects. (OMG – why not E!?!)

    • WJS says:

      Wait, is it even possible for ctrl-alt-del to get intercepted? I thought that was reserved at the highest level? If it isn’t working, I wouldn’t even think about alt-tab or win-key.

  4. echelon says:

    In my competitive Q2 days, my classic configuration was actually based around UHJK.
    Having that many bindable buttons nearby seemed like a logical way to do things.

  5. Blake says:

    Shamus, I don’t know how much the game’s hijack the input but have you tried writing an AutoHotkey script to rebind the numpad keys to wasd etc. So that the game only recieves input it allows?
    Probably less effort than retraining your keyboard hand.
    As for invert Y axis, I used to always use it but somewhere along the way changed to “standard”.
    Developers that don’t put it in though are just being stupid. You know as well as anyone all they need is something like
    float yInput = g_invertYAxis ? -Input::GetMouseY() : Input::GetMouseY();

    I always hate when a game doesn’t have the option just on principle now :P

  6. Miral says:

    I think I originally learned with the arrow pad (Wolf3D, Doom, etc), and then migrated to WASD fairly early on (Quake etc). I tend to avoid the numpad, partly because of inconsistent binding and partly because the shape doesn’t match what I’m used to — in fact I had to remap the right-hand controls in Fahrenheit to the arrows before I could get anywhere in that game.

    But FYI: the reason behind all of those remapping nightmares (numpad 5 going missing, numpad 9 being treated identically to PgUp, etc) all comes down to whether the game is mapping input by character or by scancode. Everything should be using scancode, since that allows every button to be treated individually; but sometimes devs are lazy and map by character instead (whether because they’re easier to express, or because they’re more consistent [eg. backslash has several possible scancodes, depending on keyboard layout], or just because they don’t know any better). (Things are a bit simpler under Windows, since Windows provides a single unified scancode [the virtual keycode] that hides keyboard layout differences, removing that as an excuse.)

  7. Bailey says:

    You can do it, Shamus!

  8. Tomas.se says:

    It’s wonderful to hear that I’m not the only numpad/inverted-y-axis player. I might have used the arrow keys back in the early Quake days, but never the WASD-keys. I feel that the separated placement of the numpad gives much better points of reference for the hand. With the WASD-setup I often found myself unintentionally shifting to “ESDF” or “SZXC”.

    Shamus – if I might make a suggestion – consider trying a separate game controller. I have a Nostromo n52, which works pretty much like the numpad, except that it has more buttons and it can be programmed; so poor numpad-support in games is not an issue.

  9. Justin says:

    Shamus, if you’re going to go back to the beginning, I’d recommend grabbing Doom Legacy — it has a Quake-like interface, lets you remap keys arbitrarily, and keeps its gameplay true to the original.

  10. simmuskhan says:

    My favorite all time game.

    Especially the first one, you know when you blew up the generator then had to afterburn your way as quickly as possible to the exit!

    I used to LOVE the little cutscene of flying through the exit tunnel with all the explosions happening.

    The 3-D blew my mind, I remember having “endless” fun getting the keymapping *just* right.

    I used numpad also back then. Eventually I got a joystick, and with some tweaking, still use the joystick for FPS games today. I’ve even tried a combo joystick/mouse.

    I’m right handed, but I used to use my mouse in my left hand so that my right hand could do joystick or keyboard depending on the game.

    Because of the lack of ability to change keybinds in lots of games I’m now a right hand mouse, left hand keyboard player. It took me a surprisingly long time to adapt, I’d find myself clicking the LMB and RMB at the wrong times.

    Anyway, I’m really glad I’m not the only person who has difficulties with controls AND loved Descent!

  11. Nihil says:

    Before you go on masochistic 12-step WASD programs or spend unnecessary money on l33t shiny glorified numpads, do a Google search for “remap keyboard windows”.

    Hell, do an I’m Feeling Lucky. One click away is a workaround that will take you far, far less time to set up than it took you to write this rant.

  12. Ator says:

    What if, instead of having to relearn keybindings for your left hand, you instead had a mouse with a few more buttons… http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2009/11/18-button-open-office-mouse-makes-a-keyboard-look-minimal/

  13. Dix says:

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

    Brbrbr. I’ve played Nethack on a laptop for like, ever. These here arrow keys work wonders, and if you mash down two at once you move diagonally. Maybe that’s how Macs work?

  14. Jonathan says:

    Descent 3 just wasn’t as much fun. The gameplay changed too much.

  15. wererogue says:

    Disclaimer: I didn’t read the comments.

    Is AutoHotKey (http://www.autohotkey.com/) any use to you? It’s free, and lets you rebind keys to actions, other keys, whatever. You could probably knock up a script that rebinds Num8 to W, and home to P or whatever pretty quickly.

    It won’t solve your mouse Y problem, though. I just learned to play both ways when I was a kid – inverted for flight sims, and regular for FPSs.

  16. MadCow says:

    I don’t get how WASD or inverted-T evolved until its state now.

    I gamed since the 8088 times and at that time, not many keyboards had inverted-T cursor keys. So gaming was usually numpad 2468 (with 5 being the fire key) or some strange beast like QAOP.

    When Wolfenstein 3d and Doom came out, I played with numpad (2468) + Ctrl-Alt-Space-Shift for a very long time, even learning to circle-strafe with the keyboard until I saw a person using the mouse and showing me how quick and efficient it was in FPS games.

    It was then that I tried to learn and shift to mouse+keyboard — but WAXD, not WASD. There was a short period of time when I used the right mouse button to move forward, and hold down W to run… but when games with secondary fire started becoming common (I think it was Half-Life that made me do the switch), I began to switch to always-run, W moves forward, RMB for secondary fire.

    When true 3D fps games came out I naturally used inverted mouse, from familiarity of flight sim games.

    However, it’s probably somewhere during 2003-2004 that I got sick of remapping the keyboard all the time, especially when having LAN parties and I wasn’t always on the same machine consistently and just forced myself to stick with whatever “default” keymapping the game offered.

    That was probably a positive experience for me, since now I can easily adapt to either WASD or WAXD, inverted or regular mouselook.

  17. Bryan says:

    I never got to be any good with Descent, but I don’t remember what input scheme I was using. Never played a lot of Descent 2. I did play a lot of Wolfenstein, but with the arrow keys looking left-to-right and moving forward and backward (totally different from everything after it :-) ). Never played a whole lot of Doom, and never used mouselook at all. (Mostly because it didn’t exist in Doom 1 that I remember, and I never played Doom 2.)

    Fast forward about five years, to when I found Half-Life (the first one), and WASD + mouselook; that worked really, really well. I found Unreal and UT around the same time, and used the same setup.

    Then I got an old copy of Descent 3, and managed to bind WASD to sliding, Q/Z to slide up/down, E/R to tilt left and right (roll, basically), and mouselook for the other two axes (pitch and yaw). This worked really really well, and I’ve since gone back to Descent 1 and 2 (an updated, GL-capable version of the engines, with the original data) with this scheme; it seems to work even there.

  18. tussock says:

    Of course, ergonomically, asdf, with a-back (rare) and f-foward (most used), is a little more how your keyboard was designed to hold your hand, and gives the naturally dominant finger the most use. If you’re going to bother with relearning your muscle memory and all.

    I’ve still got the two-hands on keyboard layout from descent in my head for 3D sims, which I can’t fly with a mouse at all, slide about with the left and pitch/bank/roll on the keypad.

  19. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Why so much negativity for windows key?Ive never ever pressed it by accident.Probably because Ive never used alt in a game(too hard to reach when using wasd).But I did use it quite often in some games that(stupidly)dont support alt+tab.cAPS LOCK,ON THE OTHER HAND,IS SUCH A BIG PAIN.aND SO IS NUM LOCK IN SOME GAMES WHERE i USE JUST THE KEYBOARD(GTA WHEN YOU GET INTO A PLANE?HELI IS MUCH EASIER WITHOUT YOUR MOUSE).

  20. SHODAN says:

    I started out with FPS’s like Wolfenstein, Doom, Duke and Descent. Back then I used the arrow keys and mostly the row “qwerty” on the keyboard. I then changed from arrow keys to the numpad for movement and some extra buttons to play with. Of course I did not use a mouse back then, so I would mostly rotate and walk forward and backward using the arrow/numpad keys and strafe using the other hand on “q” and “w”, open doors with “e” and run with “r” (or slow down, since auto-run is such a great feature I found after some time of keeping “r” constantly pressed while playing ;) ).

    Then I started playing Quake, and after about a year, I began considering using the mouse for playing since the competition of multiplayer required me to do so. I simply did the normal “wasd” for movement and mouse for jumping and looking around (not inverted). After some playing using “wasd” I realized that the amount of buttons available to me were getting too low, so I simply moved the layout to an “esdf” setup, which I’m still using.

    Now however, I begin to question the “esdf” layout as well, since it would be much better to actually have the hand in the middle of the keyboard and have stupid amounts of extra buttons available on each side of the hand.

    I will go home and try a “tfgh” or “yghj” layout now. Oh the horror of setting that up and deciding what all the surrounding buttons will do :)

  21. Matt P says:

    I never played Descent (always wanted to) but Freespace was my second big jump into the pool of PC complexity*. Luckily, after feeling the love of the numpad I transitioned over to WASD sooner and at a more tender age. I still sometimes gaze longingly at the neglected right-hand side of my keyboard, but my hand still feels comfortable over on the left. When I sporadically rediscover the fold-out keyboard layout diagram that came with the game I get the sudden urge to boot it up again.

    *The first was Civ 2, without a manual at the age of 12. It took me five minutes to realise I could control the flashing guy. I thought I was doing well until a catapult unit of mine bumped into an enemy tank.)

  22. ColdFrog says:

    Obligatory Descent Nostalgia: Insert Here.

    I feel your pain. The numpad is so… Designed to be used for directions. I mean, it’s laid out so perfectly square and nice, as if intended to be always recognizably placed in that geometric fashion, and letting those silly letters to flounder about, cockeyed and askew, wondering if the trapezoid was the wrong shape after all.

    On the other hand, I ALSO remember being tormented by people because I used the keyboard to play descent, when a REAL man would play with a joystick with a thousand buttons, a throttle and a cupholder. Being about 13 at the time, being a real man was probably the only thing I cared about, and so I came home with a Microsoft Sidewinder, and a complete lack of ability to use it. Even with the hat stick.

  23. toasty says:

    Wow… I feel sorry for you. I’ve used the numpad for some games, but mostly, ya, it was WASD, I guess this is the advantage of being young. :p

  24. KarmaDoor says:

    My foray through input layouts:
    Started with Atari 800 and 2600, so it was mostly stick and button for a while.

    Eventually I was migrated over to a spiffy 8088 and thus MS-DOS based games. Many were side view platformers so…
    QWE for Jump, Activate, and Fire, or whatever, plus the Numeric Pad for moving about.

    First person shooters came along and I’d try them simply because they were 3-D. 8-) Nothing stuck, so I moved back to other games, mostly puzzles.

    1998 came and I ended up trying the demo for Unreal Tournament since it happened to be on a Mac I was using. (Not mine.) I tried WASD but, despite not having to worry about the Command key, I decided I didn’t like the irregular alignment of keys. (I had brought my own mouse to use on the G3; remember those atrocious “pucks?”) Numeric Pad because my fried, as I could slide the keyboard over on the large desk.

    Eventually I got a copy of U.T. for home and started migrating toward WASD. Not having a desk or tray had forced the issue since I balance the keyboard on my knees. Ctrl and Alt were redundant to the mouse buttons, so not much of an issue.

    Pretty much I can go either WASD on Num Pad, these days. Alas, keyboard layouts are getting more convoluted, so it is moving toward the WASD-or-die camp. X-d

    Lastly, UT 2004 was, oddly, the game that got me to actually tri-chord. I haven’t gone back to try it in Descent, though.

  25. Gildan Bladeborn says:

    Descent was the first game I ever purchased (a tale I inflict on all the whippersnappers I interact with whenever I get the chance!), back when I was… 12? Great, now I feel old (I’m only in my mid to late 20s!).

    For some reason (probably all my previous experience with the game Stellar 7) I never got the hang of using the Numpad when playing the Descent series, even though I objectively knew it would have been a better control system than using the arrow keys (no roll or slide controls there), so I always relied on the Alt key to toggle strafing, which meant I couldn’t turn while strafing. But then when I started playing Descent the inability to circle strafe was hardly much of a detriment considering my complete inability to, you know, MOVE through the environment without frequently having to stop and re-orient myself. Thank goodness for cheat codes or I would have given up in frustration long before I got the hang of the whole 360 degrees of freedom angle.

    But learning to fly before you learn to walk has it’s advantages – there is not a game environment in existence that I find disorienting or confusing thanks to those maddening zero-gravity mineshafts and their constantly shifting frame of reference (doors in ceilings!).

    Even though I was using both hands on the keyboard (so using the arrow keys with my right and the thrust/weapons/other controls with my left), my use of the arrow keys still managed to become a bad habit. By the time I started actually utilizing the mouse and playing non-flight sim FPS games, my reliance on the arrow keys was starting to get a bit ludicrous – I think I realized how untenable a control scheme it was back when I was first playing Rune: I would have to take my left hand off of the arrow keys to jump or do anything other than move.

    That still didn’t stop me from beating the entire game using my retarded control setup, but it did make me realize that perhaps I should learn to use the WASD layout instead. I haven’t looked back!

    As for the whole inverted mouselook issue, I’ve realized why I grew up playing the same games that instilled this habit in Shamus and yet still think he’s weird for doing that: I never used the mouse to play any of the Descent games or space sims (yup, I still played Descent 3 using just the keyboard), until Freelancer came out and made using a mouse in a space sim something other than a really bad idea.

    When Descent 3 came out I gave using the mouse a try, decided I’d rather stick with what I knew and promptly went back to ignoring it in favor of my keyboard-only control scheme.

    Apparently I made the right call!

  26. Simon says:

    Have you considered buying a specialist gaming keyboard like the wolfking DK-2388U? It has the WSAD keys and most of the surrounding ones arranged in a more “NumPad” friendly style with no offset between rows.

    It might be just what you need to transition to the more recent key layouts.

  27. Zaghadka says:

    Ah, Robert Frost, the balloon animal most likely to scare pigeons:

    Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
    And sorry I could not travel both
    And be one traveler, long I stood
    And looked down one as far as I could
    To where it bent in the undergrowth;
    Then took the other, as just as fair,
    And having perhaps the better claim,
    Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
    Though as for that the passing there
    Had worn them really about the same,
    And both that morning equally lay
    In leaves no step had trodden black.
    Oh, I kept the first for another day!
    Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
    I doubted if I should ever come back.
    I shall be telling this with a sigh
    Somewhere ages and ages hence:
    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference.

    He never said whether it was a positive difference, however.

  28. Yeargdribble says:

    I tried hard to play Thief with the numpad (which I’d grown accustomed to by years of UT), but Thief was what eventually broke me and forced me to use WASD. I’ve never looked back and am much happier for it.

  29. guy says:

    I’m an arrow key man myself, but then the games I tend to play are more accurately described as mouse+hotkey games and the way I play them is most accurately described as poorly.

  30. Simply Simon says:

    I have always used the wasd keys for movement as long as I can remember, but recently, for some reason, I went through freespace 1 and 2 while steering only with the keyboard. The largest annoyances I found was that I only could hold down three keys at once and that there is a (for me) too large distance between 8 and 2, which I used for looking/aiming downward and upward. Other than that, it was quite easy to adapt to using it to steer, albeit with the right hand on the numpad rather than the mouse.

  31. Michael B says:

    Hrm, I doubt my comment will be seen now that it is waaaay down here.

    But I, for the most part, am like you. Descent was a game that has left a permanent mark on me. However I didn’t use the number pad for movement. I used the arrow keys, navigation keys above the arrow keys, and the buttons on the eastern shore of the keyboard.

    The WASD players could lick my balls. That’s about it. I curb stomped them in whatever game I played. But like you, I was eventually forced to move to WASD. Not because of the superiority. No, I miss my old set up. I was quite good with it.

    No, this abomination made me switch to WASD:

    For the longest time, the only keyboards I could find, ergonomic or not, had the evil cluster-$#@! of arrows, and the horrid layout of the navigation keys. Not only had the layout changed, but the keys themselves were smaller. Trying to use the arrow keys for more than 20-30 minutes of gaming resulted in some hand cramps I haven’t had since my first all day Baywatch marathon.

  32. Peema says:

    Now I’m going to have to dig that up and play it again.

    Being lefthanded, I had my joystick out to the left and rigged for attitude control and remapped the numpad for linear motion with 4 and 6 strafing left and right.

    _Such_ a fun game.

  33. kathleenb says:

    Ah, yes. Descent marks my wonderful discovery the any first person game of any kind makes me sick. Rather limits my gaming options nowadays…

  34. Decius says:

    I started with RH on the inverted T, LH on CTRL/SHIFT/SPACE/ALT (what mouse?). That got me through Wolfenstein 3d and doom. For Descent I moved my right hand to the numpad, left hand stayed on the bottom right.

    For quake and Half-Life, I moved my right hand to the mouse, for looking and shooting, and my left hand to the numpad for movement. I rebound everything, in a similar manner. I think it was 7 and 9 to change weapons, 4 and 6 for turn left and right, and 1 and 3 for move left and right. (At the time, I had a mental line between “turing” and “aiming”.) Plus became jump, enter became duck. I never used mouse for movement.

    It was Aliens vs. Predator that messed me up there. I had more commands than I could shake a stick at, and three sets of them. I think “change vision mode” got moved to numlock, and the other commands got put on their various keys. I never finished AvP because of that.

    When I finally switched to WASD, I first switched to WADZXC, moving my movement mapping directly over. After a few hand cramps from learning to circle-strafe, I retrained myself to WASD and I haven’t looked back -yet-.

  35. Kdansky says:

    Same thing happened to me too, also with Decent. Mouse Inversion plus A = strafe left, S = strafe down (duck), D = strafe right, W = strafe up (jump). Right hand on numpad for all looking, and where do I put forward/back? Oh, I know, space for back (frantically back out of a room = slam the thumb down) works well, and I can use my right pinky on Enter for forward.

    Fast forward to shooters with mouse, I did forward on right mouse click and backwards still on space. It also gives me a fraction of a second in speed advantage, because I can switch quicker from back to forward with two fingers than you guys can with the middle going from W to S. Then WoW came and fixed the right mouse button on mouse look. Weeeellll…. I relearned (mouse inversion was damn hard to relearn), took me quite a while. Nowadays I play on ESDF instead of WASD, because that gives me more reach for hotkeys.

  36. MadForce says:

    MAN, this article. It took me ages to convert to WASD even now I still sometimes make the painstaking effort to map to numpad. Now with the new mice about with 5+ buttons I have finally been able to let go of the numpad. I just map the mouse buttons to abritrary keys around the keyboard and use the mouse buttons for as much as I can and use the keys for as little as possible. The QWERTY’s just do not line up right. I can never hit the right key.

    Now I am trying to becom acustom the the console world TWO THUMBS to move WHAAAAT ! I can’t aim with my thumb and try and mash to trigger buttons at the same time. No wonder all the games have Lock on or auto aim. Dont get me started on that Xbox 360 design my hands convulse when I approach that thing. The PS3 ones are more barable 6 axis is a major fail though. Tried riding a motor bike through the streets of Liberty City with that think on. NOT POSSIBLE 4 second delays and all sorts.

  37. Go1988 says:

    I’m born 1988 but I DO know Decent thanks to my 14 years older brother. But I had the good fortune to play it with a joystick.

    Does anyone know Forsaken for the PS1? That game blew my mind when it came to navigating. The movment is just like in Decent, you are conducting a vessel that is hovering in zero g. So you can and have to move it in all possible directions and axis. I’m used to a lot of games, racing, sport and FPS, but trying to get a hold on that flying thing in Forsaken takes load of time and effort.

  38. Sarah Miller says:

    The pong clone I’m writing uses the numpad for camera movement (it’s in 3D). I’m probably going to leave that in as a ‘secret bonus feature’. Then again, I don’t have any configurable key mapping yet.

    Regarding keyboard layouts, I’m still waiting for a full unicode keyboard…

  39. Dengus says:

    Descent had a similar effect on me. In my case, I wanted the SLIDING key setup to be as intuitive as possible. So I assigned “WASD” to sliding “Up Left Down Right”. (As if your keyboard were glued vertically to your screen, not laying flat.) The reason I did this was — in DESCENT anyway — sliding UP and DOWN was just as important as sliding left and right, or even moving forward & back. I didn’t care so much about forward & back. So I assigned forward & back to my left THUMB. (Which had to move left & right, from Space to Alt, DOH.)

    Which led to my eventual problem – in time, many games did not allow the ALT keys to be bound. Ugh. I could not move forward. Literally.

    Point is, I committed myself to this layout, because of Descent and Descent alone. But no other games I’ve played since utilize sliding up & down in the same way.

    It’s kind of like when your first girlfriend trains you to do something a particular way. Her way. And no lovers after her like it that way. “OMG, who taught you that? Really? She did? Like that? I’m sorry sweetie, I’m trying not to laugh. Honest.” Thanks Descent. (Funny how you say “go down on somebody” rather than “descend”.)

  40. Danielle says:

    Man, I loved DESCENT. Don’t remember what keys I used (we had a joystick, which made playing X-WING a joy. I remember learning how to circle-strafe in DESCENT and it was my first multiplayer game online at like, age 10), but it took a number of years before I adopted WASD–maybe until HL2? For a long time in FPSes, I used keys to look around, spurning mouselook out of pure stubbornness.

    Tendonitis set in in college, so I had to switch to trackballing with my left hand. As a result, I use IJKL almost all the time now. I make it work for most games, but on others I run out of well-positioned buttons–I’ve got some pretty weird keymaps (including the NUM pad) for DARK SOULS.

    I don’t remember the IJKL move being particularly difficult for me, BUT I was also in piano lessons as a kid (let’s say, 8-10 years). So here’s your next thesis study: does being a pianist/keyboard musician make it easier to change over hand habits/positions in gaming?

  41. Bhazi says:

    Yes, a very, very old post to be commenting on. I got lucky in that I was an arrow key user back in the ancient days. WASD is close enough to the arrow key layout that I just had to move my hand over (although the first thing I had to do was stop using my right hand for movement once a mouse became a thing that I had), the only games I used the numpad for movement for was the old Sierra games since that was the only way to get diagonal movement. When I was playing Descent, I used a joystick that my grandpa gave me years earlier for some flight sims.

  42. Erik says:

    Now with extra necropost!

    I saw this on the footer, and re-read by impulse. But I don’t see mentioned in comments the real solution to your problem, which is something my wife uses: a gaming keypad.

    My wife uses a (formerly Belkin, now Razer) Nostromo N52, which gives her left hand 14 keys (with a directional cross in the middle), a 15th “spacebar” button under the thumb for jump/use/whatever the game maps, AND above that a D-pad for the thumb. You can remap the keys on the pad to map to what the game expects. Couple this with a Razer Naga mouse (which I loved playing WoW with) and its 12 keys under your right thumb, and you have tons of keys to map. I have a (formerly SteelSeries, now Razer) keyboard with a built in gaming pad on the left, numpad on the right; it takes a BIG drawer, but it works perfectly.

    Googling around, it looks like the Nostromo has been replaced by the Tartarus v2 (low-end) and Orbweaver (high-end). Both have 20 keys; neither is cheap, but either would effectively give you a dedicated gaming “numpad” device that you can configure just as you like. Other vendors also have keypads (I remember the Logitech G13 being popular once upon a time), but I have no experience with them.

    And *my* muscle memory was first built on the original Doom, then filtered by most of a decade in WoW.

  43. Jeff says:

    Hey Shamus – Wondering if you are going to take a crack at Overload, which by all accounts I’ve seen so far is a successful spiritual successor/inheritor to the Descent series. Might make for a good stream… :)


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