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Chapter 4. Playing with Hardware > Find and Configure the Best FPS Peripherals

Hack 36. Find and Configure the Best FPS Peripherals

Stop blaming your poor first-person shooter performance on the wrong tools!

While it's important to have actual first-person-shooter (FPS) skills to do well in them, when it comes to how you control your onscreen avatar, your weapon of choice also makes a big difference. Not only do professional FPS gamers have certain choices for their mice and keyboards, careful configuration can make a massive difference to how well you do in the heat of a frantic online fragfest.

4.3.1. Mousin' Around

The mouse is the single most important device for a committed FPS gamer. There's one obvious selection criterion to start with: does your mouse have a ball in it, as did all mice of old? If you still use a standard ball mouse, invest in an optical mouse of any kind. These are leaps ahead in accuracy from ball-based mice, which tend to skip, need frequent cleanings, and are not as sensitive as optical mice. Even a basic optical mouse is a major improvement.

Microsoft's Intellimouse and Logitech's Optical Mouse are generally considered among the leaders in the market and are relatively inexpensive to boot. However, there are many types of optical mice from a variety of different manufacturers. They often boast fancy features such as dual optical sensors or a variety of extra buttons.

Microsoft's multidirectional mouse wheel (which moves from side to side as well as up and down) may be excellent for some desktop use but can be annoyingly imprecise with FPS titles. It's easy to trigger inadvertently the sideways motion while moving up and down on the wheel. Even if you don't have mappings for the side-to-side motions, they can still put off the smoothness of your up-down mouse wheel spinnin'.

On the top end, the Razer Boomslang, a semimythical, fairly expensive mouse that many hardcore gamers swear by, is a famous example of a gaming-specific mouse. However, some feel these fancy-featured mice make relatively little difference when playing FPS games because the difference in quality of input from different optical sensors is negligible, and the extra buttons can be awkward. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

Better players almost always use mice with connected wires. For one thing, older wireless mice may have a slight amount of lag or may lose signal strength irregularly. This can be fatal.

Any additional buttons besides the basic right and left normally aren't useful, but they may be convenient to activate extra features, such as voice communication. In general, a mouse with extra buttons is no better than one without. The only extra button you really need is a wheel, commonly used for switching weapons.

A trackball mouse is another option, but I don't advocate it. It's too difficult to control your crosshair effectively. Similarly, professional gamers almost universally testify that joysticks or other controllers are ineffective with shooters. That said, if you do choose to use a trackball, much of the mousing information available here still applies. Mouse configuration

Mouse configuration may be even more important than your choice of mouse. When configuring your mouse, pay the closest attention to its sensitivity. You want a level of sensitivity that's quick enough to allow you to turn around quickly yet slow enough to aid in precise aiming. If you can't turn a full 180 degrees easily in one motion, increase your sensitivity. If you find it difficult to aim, lower your sensitivity. Play around until it feels right.

Inverting the mouse movements is also an option. If inverted movements feel natural to you, do it.

Mouse pads can also be important, though you can certainly choose to use none at all. Everglide, Ratpadz, Ice Mat, and Func Industries all sell mouse pads designed specifically for FPS games. Some would argue that these aren't any better or any worse than a basic cloth mouse pad or even a piece of cardboard. As long as your mouse pad isn't too small, it will work fine.

4.3.2. Keyboardin' Around

There are two aspects to consider when it comes to keyboards and FPS titles: type and configuration.

When it comes to the type of keyboard, your current keyboard is probably perfectly adequate for just about every FPS game imaginable. The most basic keyboard will work just as well as the most extravagant. Any buttons other than the basics are unnecessary, and you likely won't use them for playing games. However, you should concern yourself with comfort. A hand rest is usually a good idea. Better yet, use an ergonomic split keyboard. The last thing you want is a sore wrist after playing games for a hour.

Configuration is much more complicated. If you're anything like me, you've found assigning the 30+ different keys very intimidating. My best approach is to assign keys based on a common configuration across every FPS I play, making exceptions only for unique functions. This ensures that you won't need to remember a different arrangement for each game.

The most common layout is the WASD arrangement. W moves your character forward, and S moves backwards. A strafes left, and D strafes your character right. The spacebar most commonly jumps, and the Shift or Ctrl keys crouch. The number keys work well for selecting weapons, but advanced players often use the mouse for this task. The keys surrounding WASD control each game's unique functions. For example, the R key commonly reloads weapons in games that require it.

With this configuration, you'll need to remember very few keys from game to game, and you'll have the optimal settings by default. When you first start a new game, make sure it uses the standard WASD setup, and go from there.

The only problem arises for gamers who mouse with their left hands. As a left-hander, you need a configuration based on the opposite side of the keyboard, unless you have a desk that's big enough to allow you to shift your keyboard further to the right. Otherwise, you'll need to set up your keys for every game based on the right side of the keyboard. The arrow keys often work well.

4.3.3. Monitorin' Around

Gamers ignore their monitor configurations all too often. This includes the brightness, refresh rate, and resolution settings. A higher-than-normal brightness setting can aid in games that have dark scenes and dark characters—making it easier to see the characters. However, a normal mid-level brightness setting is often best.

Many web sites can help you find the optimal settings. Use your preferred search engine to search for something like correct monitor brightness to find a web site with meters to test with. Also make sure that your refresh rate is the highest supported by your monitor and video card. By going to Display Properties → Settings → Advanced → Monitor → Screen refresh rate, you can adjust the setting.

Resolution is often a controversial issue among gamers. Some people believe a lower resolution makes the characters larger, but this simply isn't true. You will want a resolution that is high (1024 768 or higher) but doesn't cause your frame rate to dip too far (below 60).

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