A couple of days ago I was invited to start playing a game called Brawhala with friends on the dnf slack. This is a fighting game heavily inspired by the Super Smash Bros. series, and as someone who has played a whole ton of smash (brawl mainly) with both a Gamecube controller and a wiimote+nunchuck, making the transition to the same type of game but with a keyboard was harder than I thought. This sparked some discussions about what controllers are "better" for this type of game. I have given it a whole bunch of thought, so here is my take on this. Note that I will use the word "controller" to define any input interface one can use to play a game (GC controller, wiimote, keyboard, mouse, toutchpad...). The main factor I will use is how intuitive
a controller is to use: I am focussing on how beginner-friendly a controller is, and not on "you can do this super technical tech better on this, your argument is invalid". The reason for this choice is that you will always be able to do your weird difficult techs if you spend a long enough time
practicing with a controller, even if that controller is a baguette
, a toaster
(I understand those examples are stupid, you got my point).Part one: Controllers
Firstly, we need to define what type of game we're talking about in order to know what is most intuitive. With a first-person game, there is no doubt that a mouse is quicker and more precise than a stick or dpad
when it comes to aiming, but that's not the type of game we're talking about. Smash and Brawlhala are both side-view 2D fighting games that control like platformers with directional actions. What I mean by that is that nearly all actions you can perform in these games (weak hit/A, strong hit/B, dodge, throw...) are dictated by the directional input you give them. As such, all inputs are derivatives of direction+action.
Let's first look at what would be the most intuitive controller for the directional input
of a platformer. We're instantly rolling out things like mouse and touchpad for obvious reasons, and so we're left with stick (or dpad, same) in one hand, and wasd (or arrow keys, same) in the other. My argument for which one is most intuitive to use is that stick is innate
, while wasd is acquired
: allow me to explain why. Everything we do, we either know how to do it because it is innate or acquired. Things that are innate are things we will naturally learn (regardless of our environment) because our brain was made that way: this includes walking, swimming or even elementary algebra (2+5=7, not √546=23.36664289109). Things that are acquired can only be learned through things like human interaction and all that: this includes talking, having a rocket science degree or, more impressive, building an ikea shelf. Now, don't worry, I'm not pulling my ass out saying that playing videogames is innate, I'm just saying that using a stick turns out to be more innate than using wasd. With a stick, you have your thumb doing all of the movement: you want to move left, move your thumb left; you want to move up, move your thumb up. The correlation of the direction you want to take and the finger movement you have to perform is completely innate. Now look at wasd: you want to move left, you have to press your ring finger; you want to move right, you have to press your index finger; you want to move up, you have to press your middle finger upwards. These are things we know how to do very well, because we have the keys in front of us, and we use them all the time. But just look at your (left) hand, separate from the keyboard. Yes, the ring finger is on the left and the index finger is on the right and all, but using them in that specific way (for instance, pressing instead of moving in that direction) isn't actually that intuitive when you think about it. Yes, I know what you're gonna say, we use wasd all the time really easily it's not a problem. But in the context of a fighting game such as smash or brawlhala, when you have to use a lot of other buttons in combination with the directional ones, having those three fingers for directions just ads more noise to your brain trying to use the proper inputs. Now, you can obviously come up to me and say that, even in that context, you find wasd easier to use than stick, and that would be perfect understandable. You have been using wasd for a while on some different games, and almost never used a stick, so wasd fits you better. But in the context of someone who has no experience in either (or as much experience in both), like what I'm trying to talk about here: stick is (in my imo) more intuitive to use for those games.
Next let's talk about the other inputs which systematically have to be paired with directional ones: the attacks, dodges and all of that. On these ones, the difference between keyboard keys and, say, a GC or playstation controller buttons is far less polarizing, but I feel like there is still some stuff to be said. Since we're essentially just pressing down one of many buttons in order to specify what effect we want, what type of controller you use is gonna matter less than what mapping you prefer. Though something I will argue is that on a keyboard, all keys are mostly identical and have the same feel under your fingers, making them harder to differentiate and remember, leaving more room for mistakes especially for new players (remember, this is a fighting game, inputs are confusing). On any other type of button controller (from wiimotes to gamepads to handhelds), you have triggers and buttons with unique shapes and sizes. That might be only me, but I feel like the fact that those buttons are so different and require very little finger-movement helps with input coordination. When learning smash on a GC controller, I spent very little time confusing the inputs (that was my first time using such a controller), while I feel like I'm constantly confusing strong hit with weak hit with dodge with throw in Brawlhala on keyboard.
Final takeaway: a console controller with a stick or dpad is a more intuitive way to play smash/brawhlala in my imo. And then, everyone puts a disagree or an abuse flag on this post because pc masterrace and whatnot. Hey, I have my GC controller adapter, but brawlhala doesn't want to hear none of it, you made me argue about this in the first place.
bottom page note: this was like the first boring half of what was gonna be my full post, with the rest going over the intuitive game design of smash and talkin about stuff but who cares i hate my life don't read this
i didn't even read my post to check for mistakes i'm so full of shit