Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Cease and Desist: Context Sensitive Buttons

I have noticed an increasing trend in modern video games (particularly third person action games) for context sensitive buttons. The same button can have multiple effects depending on the context. In general I hate this. It leads to all sorts of control confusion. I played a shooter last week where the same button would either make you duck for cover or sprint forwards depending on your position and what you were looking at when you pressed it. Recipe for disaster. Of course you get used to it and for the most part learn when to press it to achieve the desired effect but I can assure you that many times in the heat of battle I panicked and pressed that button when I wasn't quite lined up with cover and instead dashed wildly out into a hail of gunfire.

For me it is not just a control problem it is also an immersion problem.  In order to maximise immersion I want to feel in control of my character at all times. I need to know that when I press button X the same thing will happen every darn time.

I imagine the main justification for context sensitive buttons is the limited number of buttons on a game controller but I don't buy this excuse. There are plenty of ways to squeeze more functions into those buttons. Use menus for functions that don't need to be done in real time and free up buttons for those functions that need to be done quickly. Use multiple key combinations if you need more functions than you have buttons. Heck why not use one of the triggers as a kind of shift key to give you a complete new set of  button actions.

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