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For an ISO standard for video games | Standardization is always a good solution

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Nov 17 - 20:41, by Jed7


For an ISO standard for video games | Standardization is always a good solution In 1997, a young American player, Dennis Fong, known as Tresh, won the first official Quake tournament. Of course, he was certainly faster and more accurate than his competitors. But he had a little secret. To move, he was one of the first to use the WASD keys - or ZQSD on our French azerty keyboards.

As strange as it may seem in 2022, WASD keys were far from being a standard feature in the 1990s. They weren't even included in Quake's default controls. As PC Gamer recounts in a 2016 article, every game, every studio, every gamer was doing their own thing. System Shock, for example, used ASDX. I remember playing the very first FPSs with the arrow keys, before adopting ESDF on the first Duke Nukem. There were no rules.

Tresh's domination of Quake changed all that. Players wanted to copy his setup since it seemed to give the best results. The information circulated on IRC, on the forums, on the newsgroups of the time. The Quake community massively adopted the WASD control scheme. The final step in this standardization: when he released Quake 2, John Carmack made it the default keys. Nearly a quarter of a century later, every FPS on the market offers these keys as the standard move pattern.


By deciding that WASD keys would be the default control scheme in Quake 2, John Carmack set a standard that, twenty years later, is still followed by all FPS games.

Freestyle developers. Tresh has unintentionally created a standard. A convention that everyone follows without question, because it is unanimously recognized as the most practical, the most logical. All gamers expect to find it on their FPS. Unfortunately, this is a unique case in the history of video games. Let's take for example the key to reload a weapon. It's R on one game, E on another, C on a third. To operate a door? In my long career, I've seen X, F, E. To kneel, it's even worse: Ctrl, Alt, X, C.

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Unfortunately, the WASD standard is a unique case in the great history of video games.
Of course, it's not just FPS developers who freestyle their control schemes. All of them are guilty. Launch a strategy game and welcome to the great click lottery. One studio will use the right click to give a move order, while the other will use it to deselect a unit from its neighbor. I'm not even talking about the mouse wheel, whose direction of use is probably decided by flipping a coin one night while drinking. If I roll it up, it will zoom in one game, zoom out in another. No consistency.


Jonathan, an indie developer, has just hardcoded the "reload weapon" function of his new FPS on the A key, and it makes him happy. When he was a kid, Jonathan used to pull the wings off dragonflies.

We're in way over our heads. Is this lack of standards really a problem? Meuaaah no," will tell me, while smoking their third joint of the morning, "you have to give freedom to the developers. Of course, I have nothing against freedom. But as Victor Hugo said, the freedom of the developers ends where the comfort of the players begins.

My personal case: at the moment I like to play Victoria 3, Soviet Republic and Endless Legends. Not one of these games uses the same key to scroll the map. Middle click on Victoria 3, right click on Soviet Republic, left click on Endless Legends. You're walking on your head. "No, but it's good, breathe through your nose, you only have to reconfigure the keys..." So on the one hand, I don't have that much to do. On the other hand, only Soviet Republic allows you to change the button assignments of the mouse. So I'm doomed to have to keep changing my clicking habits when I switch from one game to another. And that's a drag.


With Victoria 3, I was hoping that Paradox would have finally allowed players to reconfigure the game keys. Missed. What is the European Union waiting for to condemn this kind of practice?

I had a dream. So I had a dream. I dreamed of a world where every game genre had well-defined control standards. Where every city-builder would use the same button to scroll the map. I dreamed that Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony gamepads would have the A, B, X and Y buttons in the same place, with the same color. That the F5 and F9 keys would be used to do quick saves/loads in all titles offering this feature. I dreamed that all survival game developers would define once and for all the key to call the inventory or the crafting menu. I simply dreamed of a world where we no longer have to spend five minutes in the Option/Controls menu to feel comfortable in a video game we just bought.


"It's decided!" exclaims Samantha after a fourteen-hour meeting with industry professionals, "we're all going to put the inventory on the TAB button!"

I appeal to the professionals. In this chaotic world, there happens to be a non-governmental organization that is responsible for bringing some order and reason to the prevailing anarchy. The International Organization for Standardization, located in Vernier, Switzerland, produces the famous ISO standards in a wide variety of fields. Experts from different industries and correspondents from 167 countries come together to define standards for just about anything and everything. The ISO 9000 standard tells companies how to ensure the quality of their product. ISO 22000 is for food safety, 13485 for medical devices. ISO 3166 is used by postal services and banks around the world to identify country codes (FR for France, AU for Australia, etc.).

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ISO standards have already proven themselves in the IT field.
These standards allow the players in an industry to work in harmony by adhering to common practices, and they often simplify life for consumers. Photographers, for example, can imagine the headache of buying film without the ISO standard that standardized sensitivity measurements. And these standards have already proved their worth in the computer field. We can now read, under any operating system, an .ISO file located on a USB key or a DVD-ROM, thanks to the ISO 9660 standard.


The Soviet cities, where all buildings followed identical plans dictated by a government agency, are a perfect example of how strict standardization makes people happier. What are we waiting for to apply this to video games?

At least I tried. So imagine what a real ISO standard for video games would look like. Every time you find your little logo on the loading screen, you'd be reassured that everything is logical, coherent, exactly like in the game we played two weeks ago, and the one we'll play in two months. No nasty surprises, no fancy keyboard shortcuts, no "alternative" controls, no weird menus, no artist's whims.

Of course, this is all a dream. Developers from all over the world will never sit around the same table and try to harmonize their practices. They will talk about "creative freedom", originality and other vague notions. They will brandish their right to innovation, to audacity, to madness. And we'll still have games that use the mouse wheel to open a door, or the Alt key to zoom in with a sniper scope, because Jean-Michel (a senior game designer who hasn't played a single video game since Zelda on his Nintendo in 1986) thinks that "it works pretty well and it's going to set us apart from the competition.

In addition to the examples I mentioned in this article, here is a list of other features I would like to see standardized in video games :
  • Mouse sensitivity should be calibrated for all FPS. For example, on a 1600 dpi mouse, setting the sensitivity to 50 on any FPS should give the same rotation speed from the player's point of view.
  • The azerty keyboard should be detected and supported automatically so you don't have to change the WASD keys to ZQSD in the options.
  • All the cinematics (I said "all", Mr. Kojima) should be zappable by pressing the Escape key.
  • The location of the local backup files should be in "game_folder/saves". The tweakable configuration files in /config. Mods in /mods.
  • All games should perfectly support full-screen windowed mode, as well as a FPS limiter, disable V-Sync and Alt-Tab.
  • The number of videos and logos displayed before accessing the menu should be limited to 0.5 seconds. Heavy fine for violators.
  • In all games with variable time scrolling (RTS, city-builder, wargames, management...), the space bar must activate the pause, as God intended.
  • 100% of the actions should be reconfigurable on any key on the keyboard, mouse and gamepad. And not just 60% like in Cyberpunk 2077, or 0% like in Paradox games.

And you, what do you think?


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by Jed7 Dec 06 - 08:42


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