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Alter-Ego: Using a controller with DC Universe Online on PC

This week I'm actually going to detour slightly from the game and instead feature one of my favorite hacks for playing DC Universe Online. Well, OK, not a hack -- more like a fun project for the nerdily inclined. Part of the reason I've decided to detour is an email I received earlier this week from Rusty, who asked: "I am very interested in trying the controller on my PC and would welcome your opinion on the best way to accomplish this. I'm leery of downloading software to make this happen. Would you mind sharing your experience?"

As such, this week I'm dedicating my column to helping my fellow PC fiends get their controller on in DC Universe Online. Depending on your personal level of hardware nerditry, your extant pieces/parts, and your budget, this can range from incredibly inexpensive on up to ridiculously awesome. Hungry for more? Join me after the break!

First off, let me preface this by saying that my entire controller project started because I build my own PCs. When I did my last upgrade, there was a spare motherboard, 2 gigs of RAM, a 2.8Ghz dual-core AMD processor, and a 512 mb nVidia card left over. As my fiance also builds his own computers, there were enough parts in our combined PC graveyard to pick up a basic case and a wireless keyboard with a built-in roller-ball mouse and slap together a media PC for the living room. The idea was to hook it to our HDTV and watch streaming movies from the comfort of the couch, which I can assure you it does wonderfully.

With that said, I was immediately intrigued by trying MMOs from the couch. I normally keep a slightly lower-end machine with a different OS for beta testing anyway, which goal it would also fulfill. When DC Universe Online went into beta, I put it into rotation on the living room machine. However, the idea nagged at me that I should be testing with a controller since the game was really designed for one. Thus, the great controller project started -- and those of you who have never tried it may well be surprised how ridiculously easy this is.

Starting off, the media PC is a lower-end machine, as explained before, running on Windows XP. My office PC is a higher-mid-range machine with a slightly overclocked quad-core AMD chip, 8 gigs of RAM and a 1 gig nVidia card running on Windows 7. I've actually used the controller with both, and the setup is pretty much the same. Here's how you do it:

First, you'll want to get a controller. In my case, I already owned an Xbox 360, so I had 4 wireless controllers laying around anyway. My fiance got the idea to write "PC" on a sticker, thereby helping to avoid controller confusion since all controllers live in the same spot in the living room. If you're also going the wireless route, the next thing you'll need is an "Xbox 360 wireless gaming receiver for Windows," which you can pick up for about $35. I would note that I had some intermittent problems running the receiver peripheral through a USB hub, so you'll want to give it a dedicated USB port on your machine if at all possible -- if only to save yourself potential headaches. If you are going to be close to your PC, couldn't care less about wires, or don't have a 360 controller already, you can simply pick up a cheaper wired controller, which will also work.

Next, plug your adapter or controller in. Windows will actually automatically detect it. Then you'll simply sync the controller to the peripheral by hitting the sync button on the controller and the receiver until the single green light shows up. For DC Universe Online, that's actually all you need. Since DCUO was developed for consoles, controllers are completely native in the program. You'll want a keyboard to launch and exit the program as well as for text chat. With that said, if you do want to use your controller with other games or as the mouse in Windows, I've had great success using Xpadder. However, you'll want to shut Xpadder down before you launch DCUO as it can cause some issues.

So there you are. I'd love to say it's more difficult and make myself look like some hardware super-genius, but using a controller on PC with DC Universe Online definitely isn't rocket surgery. The controls do take a little getting used to, but overall, it's a great deal of fun -- and the combos are much easier on a controller in my opinion. For those who want to give it a try, here's how basic commands shake out on a 360 controller:
  • Left joystick controls your character's movement
  • Right joystick controls the camera movement
  • Arrow pad controls the quick-chat options (F2 on PC)
  • X is your left button or melee-type attack
  • Y is your right button or ranged-type attack
  • A is jump
  • B is used to interact with things
  • Back opens up your chat bar
  • Start will open up the game's menus, which are all clearly marked on-screen with their relative controller keys
  • Left bumper will target lock
  • Right bumper will block
  • Left and right triggers together will loot
I would note that VOIP on PC while using a controller isn't something I've done to date since I strongly dislike the always-on option. If anyone has attempted it and found a keybinding that I didn't for push-to-talk on controllers, please do leave a comment!

For those of you on the fence about taking the dip into trying out DC Universe Online with a controller, I hope this helps take some of the worry out of it. It really is incredibly easy to do and can be as simple or as involved as you want to make it -- especially if you also have a computer parts graveyard and want to kludge together a media and gaming machine for your own living room!

As always, feel free to email me if you have any questions or topics on DCUO you'd like to read about. For now, I've got some combos to work on since I'm still getting clobbered in PvP.

Every week on Saturday, strip off the mask of your Alter-Ego and soar through the world of DC Universe Online with Krystalle, then catch up with Larry on Wednesdays as he showcases the superhero game on the Alter-Ego livestream. Send up a bat-signal to ping Krystalle or Larry with your burning questions. (Packages wrapped in green with a purple bow will be returned unopened.)

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