Five years ago, I picked up a copy of Mirror’s Edge on Xbox 360 at Staples. Yeah, they sell games, and I was just as surprised as you were. Specifically, they sell budget games that are thrown unceremoniously on a rack along with other pieces of software that are no longer relevant. Titles like Conan, The Outfit, and TimeShift are what are commonly found on their shelves, as well as Mirror’s Edge. I had heard so many good things about the game so I bought a copy, went home, and began to play it. I stopped playing after, say, two or three levels in and never tried it again. The reason for this were the controls. The most used buttons on the controller were the LB and LT buttons, two buttons that don’t feel good constantly being pressed. I was baffled as to why the buttons were mapped the way they were and it ruined the game for me.
Fast forward to August 2015. My 360 copy of Mirror’s Edge is long gone but I have a PC version of the game I got from the EA Humble Bundle some time ago. I’ve not touched my PC copy of Mirror’s Edge until now, due to the recent hype from the upcoming new game in the series, Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst. So in this instance, I played using a mouse and keyboard. Now I have only played through the training section and the prologue but even with as little as I’ve played, I immediately noticed a difference in the controls. They just felt better. They felt more intuitive, more logical, more comfortable. The only complaint I had was the 180 turn function was mapped to Q. However, that wasn’t a problem because I just went in the options menu and remapped it. That’s when it hit me. Why can’t I remap my buttons on console games and gamepads?
It seems like you were able to before. I remember the Mega Man X games let me. I used to always remap the dash command to the R button. However, as I thought about it, remapping your buttons has always been a rarity in console games. What’s much more common are multiple preset configurations. You’re given two to four configurations already planned out and you’re limited to just those. Whether it’s those Halo players who use the Boxer layout or Mario games letting you flip the jump and run buttons to be the vertically oriented buttons instead of the horizontal, there seems to be a distinct lack of button mapping freedom in console games unless the choice is premade for you.
Maybe I’m just spoiled. You see, there is a major exception to this: fighting games. I play a lot of fighting games and they always let you change the button layout. The only one that didn’t that comes to mind is the Xbox 360 version of SoulCalibur. You can’t separately change the bumpers from the triggers. Whatever you mapped to the RB will also be what RT will do. However, even that’s just one part of it. All of the other buttons are configurable. I wonder what makes fighting games so different from other console games. Is the game going to break if I map the Up action to the RT instead of LB in Mirror’s Edge? Will the foundation of Mario games come crashing down if I want R to be the run button?
I don’t think there’s many excuses for older games but newer games might have a reason. Many modern games on consoles map more than one command to a single button. For example, many shooters have the reload and the interact command on the same button. Call of Duty has both crouch and prone on the same button. If the controls were to be changed, maybe some commands wouldn’t work properly. Maybe someone accidentally maps the interact button to the same button as jump. Then they’ll accidentally be jumping instead of picking up something. Another thing to consider is graphical inconsistencies. Sometimes the buttons on the controller are integrated into the world so as to tell the player what to do next. If you remapped the controller, these wouldn’t make sense anymore.
This is all well and good, and these are all issues I’m sure developers would experience. However, one problem with all of this is that PC gamers rarely have this issue. Hell, Call of Duty players can choose not to just remap the interact and reload buttons separately but to combine them as well, just like on consoles. They have a choice to have the iron sights command be a button tap or a function you have to hold to do. PC gamers are given a lot of choices, and sure, it’s because the keyboard has a lot more buttons than a controller. But a lot of these games on PC are games also on consoles. Limited buttons aside, the existence of these options on the PC versions show that it’s at least possible without breaking anything gameplay-wise. Even Gears of War 2 allows for a configuration where the cover and running/dodging mechanic are separate buttons (of which I prefer). Maybe some buttons integrated into the graphics look strange but it’s not out of the question to design all buttons into the world for this reason.
So we know that better control configurations can happen on console. Perhaps some more time would need to be spent to do that, but especially with games that are going to have a PC port and have those options anyway, it seems worth the effort. In my personal opinion, there should be full button remapping options in every game. However, there isn’t. Why not? I think it’s because it seems to not be needed. Like it or not, console gamers are seen as a more casual audience than those who play on PC. Most people seem to just use the default controls and even when they aren’t the most comfortable for them, they adapt. Playing a game on PC typically requires more work than sticking a disc into a machine and selecting in in the menu. As a result, PC gamers typically expect a more personalized experience and configurable buttons is one of those expected perks.
So it would seem that I, and others like me, are in the minority. Much of console gaming is automated. Updates, resolutions, even graphic fidelity. As a result, so is control configurations. Nothing on consoles should be hard to comprehend and your choices shouldn’t be overwhelming. Only the game itself can be that. Unfortunately, that means that sometimes, when gamers can’t comfortably play something, they move on. At least until I can slide and jump using two different fingers on my hand.
Esteban Cuevas is an Associate Editor for Middle of Nowhere Gaming and will finally be able to enjoy Mirror’s Edge. You can follow his enjoyment on his YouTube channel, and get video updates on his Twitter. He also has a Twitch channel and a WordPress blog.