After years out of it, I got back into PC gaming recently because I’m Creative Director around here and playing PC games is going to be, one way or the other, part of my job. But that left me with a dilemma, because I also dislike keyboard/mouse.
Yes, I know, I know, “It Is the One True Control Scheme”, blah blah blah, whatever, argue about it all you want in the comments. I’ve used both; I’m gaming on the couch since the only way I can justify buying a massive tower when I already own a laptop, a tablet AND an editing desktop is to set it up as a home theater PC; a gamepad is an ideal solution for my particular situation.
So I get the tower set up a few weeks ago, I download Steam, I install a few games I’ve had before like “Deus Ex” and “Portal” and then discover that using a gamepad with these games is impossible without editing config files. I run an Ubuntu laptop, I spend enough time screwing up code as it is. I’m not doing this to shoot people in the face.
Then, while reading about editing these config files, somebody offhandedly mentions XPadder. “But that’s cheating”, they insisted. No, that’s time-saving. Sign me up. And it was easily the best $10 I’ve ever spent.
Within fifteen minutes of downloading this program, I was fully up and running. This was after two hours fiddling with two different games and getting, at best, outrageously broken results. Why doesn’t this come standard with Steam? Why doesn’t this come standard with Windows? This is software at its best: it sees a problem and just stone cold solves it.
XPadder is pretty straightforward: it simply binds your keys to keyboard and mouse bindings. It’s a bit more involved than just setting bindings: you will have to go through a pretty painless setup process for each controller, and you will need to tag each button with each binding individually. But setting up a dual-stick controller for, say, “Portal” is a snap: just get your buttons entered, build a layout, and bind the keys to the points you want. It’s incredibly easy, and works right away. Helping the process is the program being quite responsive; as you set bindings and use those buttons or mouse movements within the program, the key lights up. You can even download a diagram of your controller and use that as a visual guide, if you want.
Something more complex like “Deus Ex” is going to still require a keyboard, at least for more exotic functions, but the nice thing about XPadder is you can lay out functions any way you want: it’s just key bindings, so control schemes are up to you. With ten minutes of fiddling and playing through the tutorial a few times, I had a setup that handled most situations easily on the gamepad. This has great uses beyond just gaming, really: it makes it easy to configure an old gamepad you have as a floating mouse for home theater PCs, for example.
There are, of course, trade-offs that XPadder just can’t solve. You’re going to spend a lot of time tweaking your mouse sensitivity from game to game, and you are going to give up a degree of precision no matter how much time you spend messing with the settings. But that’s inherent in the control scheme, really, and not the fault of the program.
Still, if you’re using a gamepad, or want to have a gamepad set up to handle certain gaming functions, XPadder is the best $10 you’ll ever spend.