Arrow Key Phobia (Caution! Rant ahead!)

By JohnHassink

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11-07-2010, 04:28

Another thread made me think about this.

This always freaked me out pretty much.
It's about controls of the player character movement in games.

Older (European) games tend to (if you're lucky!) allow you to "redefine keys", but with a lot of them -
you're practically screwed if you don't own a joystick.

They make you use the DSKGJHFN keys or whatever.

Well, as far as I know, only older Apple machines (and I mean 'older' as, most of us were still in fluid form or at best crawling around on all fours back then) do not have arrow keys on their keyboard layout.

So there you have it, folks.
On the VIC-20/30, Commodore 64/128, Atari ST, ZX Spectrum, MSX, etc. etc. etc. - actually GOT KEYS WITH ARROWS ON THEM INDICATING A DIRECTION, which on the planet I'm from 'usually' indicate a certain direction.
Right is right, left is left, and so on (huuuh?!?).
Yes, it's a crazy world I'm from. Symbols actually having the meaning they represent. Strange, huh. Yeah.

So does anyone have a clue why, WHY, F*****G WHY they didn't just map player controls to the arrow keys?
Were they part of some obscure religion which says God was gonna kick their ass if they'd stray to the path of intuitive gameplay?
Did a renegade arrow key violate their pet bunny when they were little?
Some sort of cognitive disorder blinding the mind from all symbol recognition, perhaps?
Or couldn't they just code for shit?

Whyyyyyyyyyy. . . . .

Some more info here (*)

(*) which still doesn't explain the why, WHY, F*****G WHY by the way

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By SLotman

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11-07-2010, 04:45

It's dead simple - most of this games are spectrum ports, and on Spectrum it's usual to have OP (left/right) QA (up/down) + 0 (or SPACE). Since Spectrum ports were almost always a rushed job, this was the last thing on the minds of developers.

An no, the Spectrum 48k didn't have any cursor keys on it. Tongue

By JohnHassink

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11-07-2010, 04:48

OMG, Spectrum didn't have those? oO
I thought it had..
Well #$@%, I ranted for nothing then!
Thanks for the explanation then, any way. Smile
That's very lazy of the guys who ported it, then! Tssk.
Was the Spectrum a typewriter with some calculators soldered into it? LOL! (I kid, I kid)

(I admit, actually I don't even know how a Spectrum machine looks since I've never seen one and hadn't heard about it until 1995 or so, but I just assumed it had cursor keys, okay Wink)

EDIT: LOL it looks like an Atari 2600 with keys. Big smile

By Manuel

Ascended (18384)

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11-07-2010, 09:54

C64 also doesn't have decent cursor keys Tongue

By FiXato

Scribe (1726)

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11-07-2010, 12:11

At least M.A.S.K. - VENOM Strikes Back allowed for redefining keys Wink

By Yukio

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11-07-2010, 13:45

MSX-BIOS has a dedicated function GTSTCK that will get the status of the cursor keys or the joysticks. The problem is that a lot of games are not well programmed and avoid all the BIOS functions ... Or their simple works like console games with Joystick only controll.

Well programmed games even accept re-definition of directions and button for right or left oriented people!

By RetroTechie

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11-07-2010, 18:23

ZX Spectrum doesn't have dedicated cursor keys - there are arrow markings, but the keys are regular number keys (5~8 IIRC). What's more, these are not arranged in different directions around a virtual center point, but in a single row - so much for intuitive up/down movement. The same for ZX81. On other machines you may have similar issues, like having to press a shift key to activate a 'move cursor' mode. In short: the obvious default sucks & is a PITA to use.

So many Spectrum games use more sensible defaults like O, P, A, Z & space, allowing more intuitive play & relaxed placement of your hands. But you'd use those keys a lot, and one of the crappy rubber keys would get stuck, or not respond well. To fix this, enter the "redefine keys" option, allowing you to use other keys until those are busted as well. Evil

Better fix would be to use a joystick, but many Spectrum owners didn't have those. And a joystick required an add-on interface, of which there were several types, so programmers would have to write code for each of those interfaces, and ask players what type they're using. Lame all this I know, but that's just the way things were back then.

On the MSX, few of this is relevant since most MSX models have better keyboards, dedicated cursor keys, and standardized joystick ports included. MSX games not using those: indeed - probably the result of hasty ports, tradition and/or dumb programmers/publishers. Tongue

Btw: cursor keys are optimal for editing things in "control cursor with 1 hand, type characters with other hand" style. But for games, I prefer "up/down with one hand, left/right with the other hand". I'm sure there's more people who prefer that (when not using a joystick). "Redefine keys" is always nice, eg. it also makes keyboard layout issues (QWERTY <-> AZERTY etc) irrelevant.

By pacpacfujishima

Rookie (22)

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14-07-2010, 04:07

As correctly said above, Spectrum and C64 didn't had decent cursor keys. Maybe the Amstrad CPC suffered from this as well?
When I had the Commodore Amiga in the 90s, which has very good cursor keys, I was baffled to discover that very few games actually used the cursor keys! And being an MSX fan, I grew up used to play games using cursor keys (excellent in most MSX models, at least in the 3 models I have), but the darned Amiga force me to use crappy, always malfunctioning Atari 2600 joysticks or Sega Master System and Megadrive gamepads.... CrazyCrazy

...and I have two theories about this awful fact:
1) the "joystick" culture disseminated by the Spectrum and C64 (most Amiga developers came from the C64 scene)
2) a conspiracy between game Publishers and Joystick Manufacturers, to sell more joysticks

A last fact, is that in nearly 30 years of keyboard gaming, I never ever have any keyboard broken or malfunctioning due to gaming, in any system I owned (MSX, Amiga, PC). But in the other hand, almost all joysticks and joypads weared out very quickly leading to malfunction, or were already quite bad, with cabling/connector plugs needing "small adjusts" to work properly, very poor precision in diagonals or the opposite (only diagonals, hard to go in straight line), poor buttons, etc etc etc. The only exception in my extensive retro gaming collection is my Sega Dreamcast - its joypad is still fine and perfect after 10 years of endless gaming.

By Hrothgar

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14-07-2010, 10:45

...this was the last thing on the minds of developers....

If producing a decent user experience is the last thing on their mind, they should have got other jobs. Operating games with random letters is a truly horrible experience.

As for joystick vs. keyboard breakage: hammering the cursor keys for a HyperSports game caused me to have a stuck right arrow key in no time :-) I recall the C64 version of such games can be played by hitting the keys or stick at a much slower rate. Perhaps it was Konami having an agreement with keyboard repair guys.

By pacpacfujishima

Rookie (22)

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15-07-2010, 02:32

As for joystick vs. keyboard breakage: hammering the cursor keys for a HyperSports game caused me to have a stuck right arrow key in no time :-) I recall the C64 version of such games can be played by hitting the keys or stick at a much slower rate. Perhaps it was Konami having an agreement with keyboard repair guys.

hehehe good conspiracy theory Smile indeed I remember some cursor keys eventually popping out of brazilian Gradiente MSX back in the days due to some games, but it was only a matter of fitting them in place again and all was fine.

By Lazzeri

Champion (270)

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15-07-2010, 03:02

Galaga made the space key of two (yes, TWO) different HotBit I knew fly onto deep space, mine and my friend´s. Big smile