With keyboard+mouse controls, we seem to have an unspoken control mapping standard, with keys be like WSAD for moving, E for use, mouse button for attacks or interactions, spacebar for jumping, and so on. But I'm unsure what conventions apply to gamepads.

I'm doing the typical platformer game, so my input would be:

  • movement
  • sprinting
  • jumping
  • attack
  • interacting
  • accessing main menu
  • accessing inventory menu.

How can I map these actions to a gamepad's buttons/sticks in a way that will be intuitive for my players?

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ This varies between game genres, and regionally (frequently swapping the accept and cancel buttons between Japanese and Western releases of games), so I don't think there's one concise, universal answer to this question. Can you edit your question to be more specific to a particular control scheme decision you're making in your current game? \$\endgroup\$
    – DMGregory
    Feb 28, 2021 at 4:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ If I understood you right, added control inputs for my game into the question. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 28, 2021 at 10:19
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Do you have a specific target platform in mind? Nintendo consoles, for example, tend to use different conventions than Xbox/PlayStation in western releases. If you have a specific player demographic in mind, with similar games they like to play, it would help to play those games and see how they map these actions. If your game has a more retro style, that might also impact expectations (eg. around D-Pad use) versus more modern games. \$\endgroup\$
    – DMGregory
    Feb 28, 2021 at 14:01

2 Answers 2


Most importantly: plan for remappable controls from the start.

Different games use different conventions, and different players have different preferences. This is also important for accessibility - not everyone plays with the same hardware - electrically or biologically speaking - and the ability to remap controls can turn an impossible game into a favourite game. The last thing you want to do is alienate a player who would otherwise love your game, but who can't comfortably use the default control scheme you chose.

That said, there are some common conventions for several of the controls in your list:

  • Movement: Left analog stick (optionally with the D-Pad as a synonymous option, especially in retro-style pixel platformers)

  • Accessing Main Menu: (by this, I assume you mean the in-game pause menu, not the front-end menu you reach when the game first boots up)

    The button formerly known as "Start". Now different controllers call it different things...

    • Xbox One, Series S & X: "Menu" (the hamburger button "≡")
    • PlayStation 4: "Options" / PS5: "≡"
    • Nintendo Switch: "+"
  • Jump: In western games, this is almost always the "South" face button (Xbox: A, PlayStation: Cross, Switch: B)

    It often matches the control used to "Accept" a selection in a menu. Just note that this convention is different in Japanese games, which use the "East" face button (Xbox: B, PlayStation: Circle, Switch: A) for this. So games will often flip these two face buttons for localized releases. Games on the Switch sometimes carry this Japanese convention into their western releases too, since "A = Accept" is so ingrained)

Some of the other actions have less strong conventions:

  • Attack: Sometimes the "Cancel" button counterpart to the Jump action's "Accept", ie. the "East" face button (Xbox: B / PlayStation: Circle / Switch: A), or flipped if jump has been swapped as described above.

    In some games where attacking frequently needs to be done in conjunction with other face buttons like jumping, blocking, or dodging, it might be moved to a the right shoulder button or trigger - especially if you want to distinguish a "primary/light" (shoulder) attack versus an "alt fire/secondary/heavy" (trigger) attack.

  • Sprinting: If this is a one-off action like a dash, it will often be on a face button in easy reach not already used by another action. So based on the breakdowns above, the "West" face button would be a good option (Xbox: X, PlayStation: Square, Switch: Y)

    If this is a movement state that you need to toggle or hold, then it's more common to be on a shoulder or trigger button - particularly the left shoulder button to match the side of the controller used for movement.

    I'd recommend against using the "stick click" button for this, as it's harder for players to discover, easy to trigger accidentally when trying to move the left stick urgently, and can be difficult, uncomfortable, or even painful for some players to execute. I try to put only optional actions on this control, and provide settings to remap/disable it in case it causes frustration.

  • Accessing Inventory Menu: If this is a paused menu state, it will often be offered as a button or tab within the game's pause menu.

    • If accessing the inventory needs to be done frequently / on the fly with minimal gameplay interruption, then it may instead be implemented as a selection wheel accessed eg. by holding a shoulder button, or as a carousel widget on the HUD where the player presses D-Pad directions to cycle through the items.

    • Some games (particularly older Japanese titles) would put an in-game menu like this on the "North" face button (Xbox: Y, Playstation: Triangle, Switch: X)

    • Secondary menu shortcuts are often available via the button formerly known as "Select" (Xbox One, Series S & X: "View" - the two overlapping rectangles, PlayStation: touchpad click, Switch: "-"). But this is more frequently the map, rather than inventory.

  • Interacting: This can mean different things in different games. Since these actions are often less frequent, and can be prompted with an on-screen control when available, you can use basically anything. If you're not using the "North" button above, then it could be a good choice.

    If you're out of face buttons to assign, some games will make it a contextual action that takes over from one of your normal abilities (like attack or dash) when you're in range of an interactable object. Though you'd usually only do this if interactions are well-separated from combat areas to avoid accidentally triggering the wrong action. If you need to share a face button without interfering with combat/navigation, you can hold the button to interact but tap to execute the other ability, showing a progress bar filling on the interaction prompt to communicate this.

To sort out what to do in these more ambiguous cases, where multiple conventions exist, a good strategy is to play some popular games that are similar to yours, ie. ones that your players are likely also familiar with. Then you can match your conventions to what your players are already likely to know from these examples.

And of course, playtest. A control scheme can tick all the boxes above, following all standard conventions and looking great on paper, and still not be well liked be real flesh-and-blood players. So get hands-on feedback from players in your target audience, both early and often throughout development (using new players each time to avoid bias from their memory of how the game played previously). This will help you spot cases where your specific circumstances might demand a different approach.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ "The button formerly known as Start". I chuckled at that. \$\endgroup\$
    – Casey
    Feb 28, 2021 at 14:42
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ You can definitely see the difference between my Programmer answer and your Designer answer. :P \$\endgroup\$
    – Casey
    Feb 28, 2021 at 14:45

There are a couple setups that have become ubiquitous. Here are some common uses (non-exhaustive list):

  • Left stick for Player movement
    • Top-down shooters:
      • Movement direction
    • Clicking:
      • Ducks
  • Right Stick for Camera movement
    • Top-down shooters:
      • Shooting direction
    • Clicking:
      • Cycles zoom levels
      • Centers the camera on the player
  • Dpad:
    • Player movement
    • Side-scrollers:
      • Down: Duck
      • Eight-directional aiming
  • Right Trigger for Primary shooting weapons
  • Left Trigger for Secondary shooting weapons
  • Right Shoulder button:
    • Next page navigation
  • Left Shoulder button
    • Previous page navigation
  • For four face-button controllers:
    • The "bottom" button for the most common action the player will perform:
      • Jumping
      • Interaction
      • Thrust-based forward movement (or gas pedal for cars)
      • Confirm dialog/menus
    • The "right" button for the next-most common action:
      • Attacking
      • Braking/Reversing
      • Cancel dialog/menus
    • The "left" button for less-common but useful actions:
      • Open the map
      • Use sub-weapons
    • The "top" button for auxiliary actions:
      • Open a submenu
      • Open the map (interchangeable with left button)

The ability to re-map the controls is proportionally related to the number of buttons/controls in use. Re-mapping on an Atari controller is an exercise in futility. Remapping on a NES controller will lead to confusion. Remapping on a three-button Genesis controller or some thing more complex (6-button/SNES/Xbox/PS) is almost required.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Be careful of mapping important game actions to stick clicks. These are often harder for players to discover than conventional button actions, easy to trigger accidentally when trying to move quickly, and can be uncomfortable or even painful to execute for some players. You should always offer options to remap such controls to other inputs. \$\endgroup\$
    – DMGregory
    Feb 28, 2021 at 14:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DMGregory Noted and Edited. \$\endgroup\$
    – Casey
    Feb 28, 2021 at 14:28

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