Spacing Out: For the Love of a Gamepad

Oh Gamepad, How Do I Love Thee, Let Me Count the Ways...
Oh Gamepad, How Do I Love Thee, Let Me Count the Ways…

I know I know, I keep harping on this gamepad stuff, but seriously, hear me out. For years, I didn’t think I needed a gamepad on the PC. I mean, I had a full HOTAS setup, and for games that didn’t use that, a mouse and keyboard were far, FAR more accurate than a gamepad, right? I mean c’mon, any game that had gamepad support had it there to be secondary to those other, apparently superior forms of PC gaming control, right?

Boy, am I being proven wrong, and it’s amazing.

It wasn’t a space game that finally convinced me to get an Xbox 360 wired gamepad for my PC, it was a truck sim. Euro Truck Simulator 2 (which is seriously that good people, get it if you can) has got me by the short and curlies, and like most PC driving games I had, I thought the keyboard would be fine. However, after playing for several hours, I found the keyboard to be too finicky and the joystick to be way too sensitive (hurr hurr, I know). Therefore, I decided to bite the bullet and budget myself out  360 gamepad. People kept telling me that it was far superior in feel to the PS3 gamepad I’ve been using for several years now, but I didn’t believe ’em, thinking, “How different can they be, really?”

Again, I’m glad to be proven oh so, so wrong.

After the gamepad arrived, I began to play ETS2 with it quite a bit, and had a great old time. I was initially quite surprised how both comfortable and responsive the pad was. It just felt amazingly right, you know? ETS2 wasn’t enough though. I began to re-install games I’d tried to play previously but never clicked with while using the keyboard, like Renegade Ops and Batman: Arkham City. While I never got far in those games using the keyboard, I found I was not only having more fun with the gamepad, but I was doing much better as well.

So then I began to experiment with some space games:

  • Strike Suit Infinity – Not bad with a gamepad, but not awesome either.
  • Wing Commander: Privateer – Not too bad, but doesn’t feel quite right.
  • Star Wars: TIE Fighter – Wow, this feels good, how do I change these buttons…
  • Ring Runner: Flight of the Sages – Wow, this is freaking perfect, and I’m doing better too! Pew pew!

This started me thinking…is the gamepad the future of game control? Hear me out! The mouse and keyboard is great, but it feels mechanical and doesn’t work for every game. The joystick is fantastic for some games, but for many it doesn’t make much sense. This leaves the gamepad, a catch-all device that can be used in a huge variety of games, from 2D platformers to 3D space sims and beyond (is there a beyond?). The gamepad has enough buttons to simulate the most important commands in a space sim while the rest could be abstracted.

For example, I can now TOTALLY see a reimagined version of TIE Fighter using a gamepad as the primary control while abstracting such things as wingmen and power control as necessary to use the right buttons. I mean, before I got one of these little things, I totally scoffed at the idea. Now I am alllll for it.

This might not seem revelatory to y’all who already have one of these things, but to me, it’s a serious shift in how I think about playing and controlling games. It’s revolutionizing how I interact with the games I play, and I don’t even remember the last time that happened (maybe the CH Flightstick Pro back in the day, since it had a throttle slider which was the bees knees at the time). I mean think of it, games like Star Citizen will have to support a gamepad because hell, so many people have one it’d be stupid not to. Slowly and surely, I think the gamepad will eventually become the primary method of gaming control for a majority of PC gamers, if it isn’t already (I have no numbers to back that up). ;)

So what do y’all think? Are gamepads the shiznit, or is the mouse and keyboard still king of the PC gaming hill? I look forward to our thoughts in the comments. Thanks for reading my ramblings, and have a great day!

Author: Brian Rubin

21 thoughts on “Spacing Out: For the Love of a Gamepad

  1. We finally got him to use a gamepad! I’ve been playing with a gamepad on my PC for years. All right, now here’s the next step: buy an iPad and get Galaxy on Fire and Eclipse. :)

  2. I keep a 360 controlled attached to my computer. The Assassin’s Creed games are way better with game pad!

    I’ve tried gamepad with some FPS, but it never sticks. Fine control is a little more important there, so the mouse wins. I don’t buy into the thought that one is universally superior to the other. There’s a reason cars have steering wheels and fighter jets have control sticks. ;)

    1. Oh yeah, totally it’s dependent on the game, but I feel like more games should support this thing regardless. ;)

  3. I proudly own a 360 gamepad with no sign of an xbox in my home and yes, they are the shiznit. Any game which is compatible I use them for, the best experiences I’ve had with it though are the games which allow me to modify the controls. Games like the batman arkham games and skyrim felt right at home. Galaxy on fire on the other hand felt.. Kinda strange, especially since I couldn’t modify the controls. Anyway…

    Oh and don’t you worry about Star Citizen. You can plainly see Chris Roberts using a gamepad when testing the game in the kickstarter trailer. It’s going to be glorious!

    1. Yeah, since GoF is firmly in the Freelancer-style camp, a mouse is likely much better for that game, but for most games that aren’t hard-core sims or FPS’, I think this gamepad can rock.

  4. X3:Albion Prelude recently added Gamepad support. I gave it a try but quickly ended up switching back to my HOTAS. I just couldn’t get the hang of piloting with it. That said some games, like Dark Souls, Saints Row 3, Batman Arkham Whatever, ect are much better with the 360 pad, but then again they are all console ports, so I guess that makes sense, but other than those the only thing I can thing of where I would take a pad over a stick or mouse would be driving games. There, I can definitely see the advantage of a analog stick over keyboard controls.

    1. I had actually the opposite reaction to X3: AB. It didn’t like my HOTAS, so I was using the mouse. It feels great with a Gamepad to me.

  5. It’s not a step forward, I don’t think, rather, it’s a step to the side. It’s just one more option for games. The same way the full HOTAS setup is a much better way to control space and flight sims, you wouldn’t use to play Quake III. A racing wheel and pedals are what you want for racing games. A gamepad is superior to a keyboard in those cases, of course, but it’s still not the ideal control method. It just happens to be better suited to emulate the wheel than a mouse. It’s more of a general-purpose peripheral, along with the good ol’ m+k. Most games still benefit more from keyboard and mouse than from a gamepad.

    1. Welcome to the comments Claidheamh! I don’t think it’s a step forward, necessarily, I just think it’s gonna become more prolific in all forms of gaming, including space gaming.

      1. Yes, I agree. Games should really start looking to support more control methods. I was just trying to say that I think (or hope, I guess) the future will be more forms of control, and not just a particular one dominating.

        Thanks for the welcome, I’ve been lurking for long enough. :P

  6. I think it started to grow quite a bit in popularity with Steam’s Big Picture mode. I know that even Amazon was out of stock on the Logitech F310 gamepad for a while after the big push and announcement…

    Some titles just feel more natural with a gamepad, and that might be just because it is how I first played that particular style or genre (top-downs, shooters, platformers, other sidescrollers like metroidvanias, etc.) or because it is just a better fit.

    I can’t play an FPS with a gamepad, because of the precision and speed needed, nor many RPG’s, because of the number of available buttons to press (although Magicka with the gamepad is enjoyable, once you master the system.) However, I can’t really play platformers effectively on a keyboard either – I first found this out when trying emulated NES/SNES games back in the day…Trying Mega-Man or even Contra was difficult and seemed very awkward.

    I, for one, welcome our thumbstick overlords.

    1. Well yeah, I’d never play an FPS on a gamepad, but lots of games seem to work well with the thing.

  7. Tried to play play space sims with a pad (I have both a Logitech pad and an old banged up Cyborg Evo stick), but I’m not entirely sold on the idea. It’s generally comfortable to hold, sure, but angular precision for those short sticks really sucks. So not so great for your basic “chasing a dot” scenario. Might be more useful for I-War/ I-War 2 type of sim (larger, more ponderous ship with turreted weapons).

    1. I’m tellin’ ya man, TIE Fighter wasn’t bad with a gamepad. I’ll have to do my next Let’s Play video with one.

  8. As a developer, this is all extremely interesting to me. As a gamer, I’ve been more partial to the HOTAS setup for flight sims, but during the development of Jumpgate Evolution at NetDevil, very early on we committed to gamepad support in addition to HOTAS and mouse/kybd.

    Nowadays, I’m developing mobile products. However, with the Android experience I’ve obtained in the last couple of years, I’m very interested in the Android-based OUYA console as a venue for games that will be necessarily more complex and interesting than I’ve been making for mobile. The OUYA, of course, has a native gamepad controller, and I’d already been wondering about the prospect for a flightsim using that setup. I’d welcome discussion.

    1. I’m actually fascinated to see how the OUYA fares in this crowded market. I hope it does well, and the gamepad looks pretty cool too. I’ll play some more sims with it and let you know as I go. :)

  9. Gamepads evolved over the past 30 years to be the perfect, ergonomic controlling devices for all types of games. Mouse and keyboard controls were always just a workaround because most people in the 90s didn’t have gamepads. For years I tried to convince my friends that gamepads are far superior to mouse and keyboard. But they almost exclusively play FPS and RTS games (the only two genres where a mouse is actually better). There are other devices for certain genres that are beat gamepads like joysticks or driving wheels but no other device is as versatile and ergonomic.

    1. Welcome to the comments, Kev79, and yeah, I’m seeing that now in my own experience. :) I’d very unlikely use a gamepad for a PC FPS, but for many other games, totally. :)

  10. Yes! There’s no reason to be afraid to use a game pad. Some games just feel better with certain controls. Time to get you a wheel though, way better than a game pad for driving sims. Just sayin.

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