(Deity) Mouse vs. WASD Controls

User interface is a huge pet-peeve of mine when it comes to video games. As a result, I tend to take a vested interest in designing the interface for games that I work on. With the case of Deity, the entire game was made playable exclusively with a 3-button mouse. The reasoning behind this decision actually stemmed from feedback that we had been receiving from our testers. Strangely enough, it was actually an aggressive response to doing exactly the opposite of what the testers were telling us. Generally speaking, this would sound like a very taboo action to take, but perhaps I should explain further:

When Deity was still in its early development, the control scheme actually used a combination of keyboard and mouse, and even used an action bar with icons and tooltips that explained a given ability. The keyboard was primarily used to select abilities from the action bar, using a basic 1-3 hotkey setup, and the mouse was used to move and activate a selected ability in a given location. This is basically a standard Diablo, Torchlight, or any modern dungeon crawler setup. The only real difference at the time was that we had bound move to right click, and ability activation to left click, which was drawn from a more League of Legends control scheme.

Action Bar Example

(Action bar example of early UI controls) [Deity – 04 – 10 – 2011]

We threw this control setup at players and the response was incredibly mixed. Some people really found the controls to be intuitive while others wanted the mouse buttons to be reversed. However, what got me the most was that about 50% of the players asked if the controls could be moved to WASD. This threw me for a loop. When I questioned them further, their response would be, “Well, it’s what I’m use to. I play World of Warcraft a lot, so I think it would just be more intuitive for me to use WASD.” While not surprised by the suggestion, I was still a little confused, mostly because I had rarely ever seen a dungeon crawler use a WASD control scheme successfully. Not to mention, our current AI calculations for the character wasn’t implemented with WASD in mind, and would cause a setback on a change like that.

I would respond back to these players with, “Sure, we could do WASD, but how would you like to move diagonally?” The players sat there and thought, and either responded with, “Well, you could use like, Q, E, Z, C for the diagonals, or even W + D, W + A, etc.” or “Hmm…I don’t know. Maybe WASD wouldn’t work too well.” Even still, I really didn’t believe players wanted to use WASD, and I just had a hard time believing that they honestly wanted a more complicated control scheme over a simple mouse click to move. I decided to do some more research about various dungeon crawler control setups, and found that a majority of them were mouse driven. As my first baby step to giving players an ideal interface, I switched the activate ability button and move button on the mouse (so that move was now left click and activate ability was right click). I threw this back in front of both new and previous players, and while a majority of them said the mouse portion felt more intuitive, I still had a fair amount of people asking for WASD.

Tipper Example

(First instance of Tippers and simplified HUD) [Deity – 04 – 17 – 2011]

I went back to just sit down and think about what was being told to me. I wondered if I  should ask my AI Programmer, Michael Travaglione, to rework his AI to accommodate for WASD. After seriously thinking about it for a few days, I realized that players weren’t really asking for WASD, but rather, simpler controls. As I thought about it, I came to the conclusion that people wanted WASD because their fingers would be in proximity of their abilities. This would basically make the mouse only used for targeting. This actually made a lot of sense, and while subconsciously I understood why they were suggesting WASD, to think about the control scheme from a different perspective really changed the way I thought about the problem.

I knew that the best choice for our isometric game was to use the mouse to move, and the rest of my team agreed with the idea as well. After careful consideration, my team and I decided to make a bold move and make the mouse the exclusive interface interaction that the player would be handling. We wanted to disassociate the keyboard in its entirety so that players never felt that the keyboard was even necessary to play the game to begin with. The real trick with this was that, at the time, we had three abilities and a move action to consider, and we only had three buttons to use (left click, right click, and middle mouse).

How-To-Play Image

(How-to-Play Screen showing Mouse Only Controls) [Deity – 08 – 15 – 2011]

While the interface was getting a re-work, so were our abilities, and came down to having the base abilities be Shadow Rift and Chain Rift. We ended up binding Shadow Rift to right click since it had a similar traveling feeling as move did. This way, you could walk with left click and teleport with right click. The bigger problem was that Chain Rift, we felt, was an extension of Shadow Rift, and wanted to associate the two together within the interface structure. I ended up coming up with the idea of combining mouse buttons to create a new action, and developed the idea for Chain Rift’s current controls: holding down right click while you left click (select) each target. We ultimately ended up using middle mouse for our third ability, and after internal playtesting, it was time to put it back in front of our players.

After not showing our game to players in a while, I was really nervous and excited about what players would think about the new interface. We removed the action bar, simplified the HUD to show only basic statistics, and removed the keyboard from the equation. Players quietly played the game as I observed how they interacted with the game. After going through the entire game, players would turn to tell me how amazed they were with how much they could do with just the mouse. They all found it to be intuitive and incredibly simple to understand, and made note that no matter what, to always have the game run on just the mouse, since that was a really nice quality that the game had. Not once did someone suggest using WASD, which included the players who had suggested doing so in previous versions.

So in the end, we did exactly what the players wanted us to do for the interface by implementing the exact opposite controls that were being suggested to us. I found this to be a really good lesson in looking past the surface of what the player tells you, and figuring out what the players truly wanted from the game. I think had we done a WASD control scheme, as some of the players suggested, it would have cost us time and resources that could have been detrimental to the game itself. To this day, we continue to get raving reviews about our control scheme, and arguably the most notable part about the usability and learning of the game.

Chain Tip Example

(Chain Rift Controls Tip Example) [Deity – 08 – 15 – 2011]

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~ by rhickman-design on September 25, 2011.