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I have the following problem:

My game supports multiple powers, that you can use when you want, or even mix them, I currently assigned them to the numbers on the top of the keyboard.

After so much time playtesting, I ended developing high skills in playing my own game, and several of my new tactics involve mixing powers, but I found that I keep pressing incorrect buttons, or that I need to pause, look at the keyboard, and unpause, or I plainly press the wrong button (like, I try to press 5, but press 6 instead).

I already expected this when I made the keybindings, but I don't found how to solve...

How I fix that?

EDIT: The game is a fast-paced action game, or arcade game... (you know, not necessarily on a genre, except it is action, and you aim for high-scores), so I cannot use random keys, I really need to allow the players to press the keys REALLY fast, ANY key that they need to press.

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I have to say I always appreciate games where I can press F1 or some help key and see all the keycodes and what they do. I dislike when I have to pause the game and go into the keyboard setup screen just to remind myself which key to press. It seems these developers have a very high opinion - too high - of their program and think everyone should just remember the layout. I don't play their game 24/7. –  JustBoo Aug 10 '10 at 15:48
    
Huh?!? And why you wrote that? –  speeder Aug 11 '10 at 0:01
    
I see, I asked a too hard question, noone know any study, only "guessing" :( –  speeder Sep 23 '10 at 21:50
    
There is this game called GunZ that applies a nice config and is a really fast game! And they even have an image of the keyboard and key disposition in their website's main page video on youtube main site with keyboard config –  Pablo Ariel Sep 12 '11 at 17:54
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7 Answers 7

Allow players to map their own keybindings would be the simplest solution in my mind.

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12  
While that is a good thing to have, it's not a solution, because it expects players to be usability experts. If you don't provide sensible defaults, most won't bother and will just dislike the game. –  Bart van Heukelom Aug 10 '10 at 9:32
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Try adding quick-slots for the most used powers like in Diablo 2, Torchlight ,Titan Quest, World of Warcraft etc..

Let the player assign whatever skills he wants to these hotkeys without having to go into your options menu.

This adds to the excitement for the user, since he can try to create as effective hotkey combos as possible.

EDIT:

If it wasn't clear I meant for you to keep the number key mapping like you already have, but add the possibility to map which skill is where.

You could also have be able to map Q and E to your bindings.

Conan did this quite well with their combo combat. In conan you could hit 1,2,3,Q and E for directional attacks. These buttons are close enough for the player to hit them.

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You could try selecting keys that are easy for the user to feel their way around. Something with a unique formation like the arrow keys. These are easy to locate and also from these it's easy to find Ctrl, Shift, Enter, Delete, End, Page Down and numeric 0. Until someone tries to play your game on a notebook of course.

Another possibility is the F and J keys on a QWERTY keyboard which usually have raised bumps on them.

Also if there's an alternative (buttons that can be selected with the mouse) then it's not necessarily a disaster if the keyboard controls are tricky to get the hang of. Look at Desktop Tower Defense for example. You can play it with just the mouse, but advanced players can use all 10 digit keys, S, F, N and U. It takes some getting used to but if the game is addictive and there is a simpler (if slower) alternative they can use early on then they probably won't mind.

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I've never been quite sure why people are so obsessed with numbers and the very edges of the keyboard.

Tell the players to put their left hand on ESDF. Now map commands to the rectangle bounded by 1, 5, Z, B. That's space for twenty commands, over half of which of which are very easily accessible, most of the remainder being only moderately more difficult.

Be careful with internationalization - on German keyboards, for example, Z and Y are swapped compared to most Roman-language keyboards.

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+1 Although I'm pretty sure that keys 0-9 are used mainly in MMOs where the keys around ESDF (or ASD) are already utilized by other commands. Otherwise I don't see why to use them. Especially when you need to press them quickly. –  pek Sep 12 '11 at 18:37
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I've always found games using 1-8 work well. As long as you give some kind of display menu, something like a wheel of the hot keys showing each power and the ability to correct a mistake, it should be fine.

If you are worried, then allowing players to change them works too; if they can't get key mapping X to work, they could try and find something that works for them.

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You didn't say what kind of game. I'd say the easiest usability solution is, find a similar game that has similar mechanics, something your players might be familiar with, and use the same keys.

So, if your game is an action-RPG like Diablo, making the default keybindings work an awful lot like Diablo is not a horrible way to start.

See: http://www.joelonsoftware.com/uibook/chapters/fog0000000061.html

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+1 Always try minimizing re-inventing the wheel... –  pek Sep 12 '11 at 18:38
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You may want to look into the keyboard layout called Dvorak for inspiration here. The Dvorak keyboard layout is designed such that the home row houses the most frequently pressed keys. The upper row (the one below the numbers) has the second most frequently used keys, and the bottom row has the keys with the lowest usage. For the Dvorak layout, I believe this is determined by the frequency of the characters within the English language.

In general, this design in based on the concept that it is easier to extend the fingers than contract them.

To apply this design to your game, you would need to know which abilities are the most commonly used to create an optimum layout.

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