Fair Game: True Confessions of a Keyboard Quaker
By DeeAy, November 13, 2000
I know I can’t be the only one who started out this way. My early addiction to Apogee side-scrollers taught me the most logical sequence for moving around – 4 directions, 4 arrow keys. Jump was space, fire was control, and alt activated either your pogo stick or your hand-suckers that allowed you to climb walls. There was no need for free look – you went in one direction, or in more advanced games, two: forward to greet your enemies, backward to pick up bonus point items you missed. Even Nintendo games followed this most sensible of ideals on their controllers. Everything was how it should be, and it worked well enough for me to defeat not only the evil Vorticons, but also the Spider Demons and the Barons of Hell.
I was a keyboard Quaker. I saw no reason to try these new-fangled controllers – not only did I see the mouse as a necessary evil, my little problem with motion sickness made the very idea of flicking 180’s and having to look up AND down something that I just didn’t want to be a part of. So on that fateful day in late 1996 when I decided to check out what all this Quake fuss was about, I didn’t even think about the mouse. After all, those giant floating eyeballs had nothin’ on me.
I was very successful as a keyboard Quaker. I breezed through single player and discovered the thrill of playing online. Sure, I had some limitations, but I was still able to hold my own and beat a lot of people while doing it. During my first tour of duty in clan PMS, I played keyboard only and enjoyed the varied reactions of not only being a girl who played Quake, but a girl who played Quake and was still using just the keyboard for movement. However, let’s face facts: you can’t hit someone above or below you in gameplay when you can’t look up or down. My only saving grace was Quake 1 rocket splash damage, and for this reason alone I was able to do better than I should have been able to do. To be fair, though, my love of keyboard Quaking wasn’t pure stubbornness. I tried to use the mouse – oh lord, how I did try. After several days of constantly running to the bathroom to vomit away the dizziness freelook gave me, I gave up and went back to the tried-and-true formula of arrow keys and ctrl-alt-space. When I absolutely HAD to look around, the ‘a’ was my up and ‘z’ was my down. Home brought me back to center, and everything was fine.
In August of 1997, I took a deep breath and went to my first ever LAN party, secure in my skill with a rocket launcher and my keyboard. I met a lot of interesting and scary people at Fragapalooza ’97, and in addition to being the only girl entered in the tournament, I was the only person who refused to pick up the mouse to play. Although I didn’t win any of my matches, the scores were very close – I surprised a lot of people, myself included. I think I might have been able to win at least some of the matches I played but for the misfortune of drawing maps I didn’t know (curse you, RangerBase) for *every* *game*. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought a conspiracy was afoot..
Playing on a LAN was new to me, and this was my first exposure to 3D gaming – suddenly, this whole hobby was to become a lot more expensive. The first of my upgrades occurred less than a week after returning from Edmonton. Fragapalooza showed me more than the seething throngs of cute geek boys, more than the wonders of LAN parties, even more than the beauty of GLQuake – I finally resigned myself to the fact that if I wanted my gameplay to improve, I would have to give up using only my keyboard, and pick up my mouse.
It was a slow and painful process. At the time, I was using a generic two-button mouse, the kind you can pick up for $5 in the discount bin at a grocery store. Not off to a good start, but I plodded along. My first revised config was an absolute mess. Many, many tweaks later, and with my computer wisely moved closer to the toilet, I once again decided that this sucked and I wanted no part of it. However, after getting royally smacked around by my new Edmonton friends, I resolved to try harder. I bought a mouse with three buttons. I stocked up on Gravol. I gave up on the bathroom and strategically placed buckets around my computer desk. Nothing was working.
In my desperation, I started to look towards different controllers all together. One of the first things I tried was a Space Orb. Not only was it endorsed by my fellow PMS’er Phoenix, it had a cool nickname – SPORB. I could say that for hours. Unfortunately, my experiments with the Sporb proved to be even more disastrous than my mouseplay. The only thing I liked about it was the cool jack-in-the-box whose movement you controlled while calibrating the thing. Other than that, it didn’t help me at all. I tried a joystick for about a day, and although there’s a lot to be said for controlling a man’s actions by handling his stick, it didn’t have the functionality I was looking for. Also, it made me feel kinda dirty.
I went through game controllers and config tweaks like a 15 year old boy goes through Kleenex, and I was getting nowhere. However, I found that the more I tried and threw up, the higher my tolerance level for rapid movement. Eventually, I was given a config that actually worked for me. I started out slowly, binding +mlook to my shift key – this allowed me to look up and down only when *I* wanted to, instead of my usual method of moving too quickly and ending up staring at the sky. Soon I was holding down the shift key for entire games, and then removed it from my config and turned freelook on for good.
Revisiting the Past
I don’t miss playing with the keyboard only. I loaded up some side-scrollers a while back, and automatically reached for my mouse. At the time, however, you couldn’t have paid me to try the mouse. Since then, I’ve gone through several mice and mousepads to find the perfect ones for me, and I’m always looking for bigger and better things. Every once in a while, someone likes to remind me that I used to play keyboard only. Nostalgia is a good thing, so I did two experiments: playing Quake1 with my old kb config, and playing Quake3 the same way.
Words cannot begin to describe how difficult that was. I know at one time I was very good at keyboarding, but now I’ve been tainted by the freedom of movement. People would come at me, I’d try to strafe – no, can’t do that. No strafe key. So I’d verrrry slooooowly turn around and try to walk away. Of course by this time, I’d be dead twice over and cursing my inability to dodge things. Anything. I couldn’t even walk around walls; I’d turn to reorient myself then run away. You can forget about rocket jumping – my fingers aren’t that nimble. Who has time to line up, press ‘z’ for down, space for jump, and control for fire all at the same time? I’m a busy person! I’ve got places to go, and if it means inching over to the staircase to get there, then so be it! It was just easier to let myself be killed and hopefully spawn where I wanted to be in the first place. I re-tweaked my config to allow for strafing, but this added little to my overall ability to do anything whatsoever. Sure, now I can run to the side, but it still takes me 3 hours to turn around. Anyone who can circle strafe immediately has several thousand skill points above me; simply run around my inert form and shoot to your heart’s content. An extremely frustrating hour later, I was ready to throw in the towel, my keyboard, my monitor, my desk, and whatever else was within reach. Frustration is not a new feeling for me, but this experiment introduced me to whole new plains of fury.
I know that if I REALLY wanted to use the keyboard without the mouse, there are many tweaks I can use to increase the turning speed, bind rocket jumps, etc. However, I didn’t have any of these crazy new features back in the day – I wanted to see if I could duplicate what used to be second nature to me. Obviously, I couldn’t .. at the moment, I’m hugging and caressing my mouse while asking for forgiveness. Keyboards are beautiful, useful things: they allow people to talk without sound, communicate with people around the world, and they’re great to bash around when you’re pissed off. However, they’re just not good as a solo gaming tool. I’d like to think that I’ve matured enough both as a person and as a gamer to be able to realize the error of my ways and strive towards improvement, but there’s a small part of me that still thinks the mouse sucks, side-scrolling is the way to go, and no matter how much proof I have to the contrary, nobody *really* needs to strafe. Yes, I’m stubborn.
Fair Game is written by Trillian and DeeAy. Send all comments, love mail, hate mail, naked pictures and money to them.