Getting back into the controller groove, with the Steam Controller

Recently I picked up a Steam controller and started playing games in front of the TV, not something I have done in a very long time. Being part of the PC master race meant I was anchored to a desk hunched over a keyboard sticky to the touch…  and covered in biscuit crumbs. To the side of it lay my ‘bitchin’ gaming mouse with about three million thumb buttons. Perfect for quick switching weapons in UT or mapping every priest spell from WoW to one thumb.

Taking up a controller for me was like a watchmaker being given an iWatch.

“What the fuck is this handy compact all in one thing where I can just tell the time with out having to configure 8 million different things at once and spend hours calibrating it” – is what I suspect s/he would say.

Its been a slow few weeks with the new Steam Controller, but not for the reasons you might think – after all the controller has been heavily slated. People stating that its difficult to pick up and hard to use. For someone who has been off the controller game for a while I can’t say I noticed, being generally bad with a controller anyway.

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My first experience with my new controller was Skyrim. Unfortunately for me Skyrim has no built in controller support. By default the Steam Controller tries to map to the games Xbox controller settings, since this wasn’t an option with Skyrim the game fell into some kind of half controller half mouse monster. Strangely this worked quite well.

Opening up the controller settings opened up a vast array of customisable options for the controller, you can map any button to any keyboard button and map any of the d-pads (?) to any mouse configurations. They also have an option for user created controller set ups ranked by user approval.

It turned out I wasn’t the only one trying to play Skyrim with the Steam Controller so I opted for the best ranked set-up. This again gave me a mash up of button support with a mouse cursor I could control when it came to the map.

Despite being impressed with the versatility the controller gave me it still failed to come close to ease at which I can play the game with a mouse and keyboard. Despite my lack of “skillz” with a controller it would likely be better for anyone to just play the game with a mouse and keyboard given the lack of native controller support in the game.

Some time later I fired up Witcher 3 on the big screen, having just played the game all the way through with the mouse and keyboard I was interested to see if the controls mapped better on a gamepad. In this scenario the game does indeed play better on a controller, taking into account my obvious keyboard and mouse bias I can see myself becoming more proficient at the game with a controller.

As expected the controller mapped itself over to the native Xbox set up. This unfortunately took longer than expected – basically fuck GoG overlay, and fuck importing game into steam. Its just a massive cluster fuck, after a little bit of googling I managed to fix the issue. So yeah if you have problems with GoG and Steam playing nice, turn off GoG overlay.

Okay lets go back a bit before all the rage. So yes, the controller worked nicely with Witcher, a game with native controller support. The benefit of the steam controller if you can take the default controller set up and fuck around with it, but not just in game. You can fuck around with it on a lower level – okay lets look at an example.

As a rule you want to quick save after every mouse press.

With a controller you lack something all PC loving people can’t live with out – Quick save. As a rule you want to quick save after every mouse press. The problem with a controller is it has no such support. You have to go into a menu and save that way, like a common console player. The Steam controller comes with two back panels which you can map to whatever you like as developer have no use for them since the Xbox controller misses these buttons. So you can straight up map one of them to F5 (Quik save). The other I map to F12 in order to get some sweet arse screen grabs – like this mother fucker:

Is the steam controller worth the money? For me, I’m happy with it. The Steam controller gives you more flexibility over the xbox controller and lets you map any button to your keyboard giving you plenty of control over how you want to play. It even mimics mouse movement pretty well and with further updates I’m sure it will get even better.

Currently using it to work through Firewatch, and everything works. With the added benefit of screen grabs.

 

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The Effect of the Internet on Social Gaming

So with the introduction of “Youtube for Gamers”, I thought it might be interesting to look at how the internet has impacted the gaming world, and the effect it’s had on gaming socially.  I know, I know – it sounds like a student essay – but stay with me!

Early on in console gaming if you wanted to play with your friends (*snigger*) you had very few options. Arcade games were one option, with the first co-op game “Fire Truck” released in 1978 (DP Interviews Howard Delman 2010-11-08). Games at home though were another story; there were games with a “2-player” option, however these generally ended up being taken in turns.

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Second Gen consoles included the multi-player functionality that we’re more familiar with, porting over arcade favourites to home consoles (Streets of Rage is one I fondly remember – I can still remember the car noise screeching up to give you the air-strike special move). As consoles got better, we began to see a greater variety of multiplayer options:

  • Racing games
  • Beat-em-up Fighting Games
  • Tactical Fighting Games
  • Co-op story

We also had the multi-player games that used accessories to add a twist to social gatherings. The Eye-Toy (which in my house just turned into a cheap webcam in the end), Guitar Hero, Sing Star, Dance Dance, even the GameCube got into this trend with Donkey Konga (providing you had enough bongos).

So what did this mean in terms of social gaming? Games were limited to the number of controller ports a console had. If you wanted more players, generally you ended up needing to hook up multiple consoles/computers in a LAN – resulting in wires everywhere and the hassle of lugging hardware to various locations. If you wanted to play with people you didn’t necessarily socialise with on a regular basis, you needed to attend special events set-up for that kind of thing, again with all the hardware you owned.

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Online gaming in the console generation really became popular with the release of Xbox Live in 2002, allowing players to shareplay over the internet. The other console giants started to follow suit, with Playstation releasing PSN and the Nintendo Wii allowing limited online gaming. With these networks, players could now pay a subscription and chat to players wherever they were in the world. As the networks have developed, players have been able to rent games and download them directly to their consoles/PCs, game developers are able to release patches and expansions to released games. We’re able to spend money on small pointless add-ons to games to our hearts content.

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The PC shouldn’t be left out here, as Steam has also added to this network. Steam sales and gamers being able to vote and share their reviews have helped indie developers reach out to the market, which would have been nearly impossible 10 years ago (just look at the Binding of Isaac). The introduction of “Humble Bundles”, in which the price of the bundle was determined by the purchaser further strengthened the Indie market, which the additional bonus of a proportion of the profits being donated to various charities.

I think at this point it is also prudent to mention the key player in the world of online and social gaming – the MMO, or “Mass Multiplayer Online” game. There have been many examples (FFXIV, FFXI, Runescape, EVE Online to name a few), but the Daddy of them all is obviously World of Warcraft. Released in 2004, WoW is the most subscribed MMORPG, with 5.6 million current subscribers (as of end of June 2015) and over 100 million accounts created in the game’s lifetime. We have a WoW player in our group of writers, and most people will know at least 1 player in their social circle. The 6th expansion, Legion, was announced at Gamescom this year and they are as popular as ever. These games are pretty much *the* definition of social gaming, since at any one point you will be playing with thousands of other players. I won’t go into too much depth about these games, since there are no end of articles focussing on this aspect. It also links to Second Life, however the creators do not class it as a game as there is no set objective to the universe.

If I’m honest, it was at this point that I thought online gaming and the integration of the internet into gaming as a whole had reached the pinnacle. The ability to play with as many players as possible? Check. The ability to rent and purchase games online without needing a pesky disc? Check. Players being able to influence pricing of games through reviews and bundles? Check.

Nope – totally wrong.

Social Media has added a whole new dynamic to “social gaming”. Gamers recording their game play to review it on shows broadcast on YouTube, we even have gamers live-streaming their games to whoever wishes to watch and enjoy their commentary (I’m not brave enough to do that just yet, I don’t think I’m witty enough or a good enough player to keep people entertained). In fact, Twitch took things to a completely different level with “Twitch Plays Pokemon” – viewers actually inputting commands in the comments to control the game itself. It created a huge following, with a complete mythology and culture behind it – adding a deeper level and new playing experience to a game a decade old.

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You can link your game console to your Facebook profile, your twitter account – whichever social media you happen to be using. You want the world to know what you’re playing and how well it’s going? Well now that’s possible. Games like Bloodborne  encourage players to interact, and can influence a player’s decisions in the game by leaving clues, showing clips of previos player deaths. In the Little Big Planet franchise you can use the tools the developers used to build the game to build worlds of your very own, ones that can be shared with everyone to play on and vote. The community now has a greater influence on games, both from the developer’s and player’s point of view.

I would say the internet has added a new dialogue to the gaming community, and we have all seen the creativity that has resulted from it. We now have YouTube channels, blogs, in-game comments, live streaming of games, MMOs; players are interacting on so many different platforms, that the distinction between consoles, or between console and PC for that matter, is becoming obsolete. Old games are being introduced to new gamers in completely new ways, and this connects old and new gamers on a level playing field.

I am genuinely interested to see what comes next.

 

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