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Free for All: Using a controller to play your favorite MMO


In my constant pursuit to make my game playing sessions smoother and more pain-free, I decided to finally buy a controller to play with. Lately, I have been needing some relief pretty badly. The whole "pain" thing started many years ago, back when I worked on a PC most of the day back. Even though I had physical therapy and an employer who was understanding about the dangers of repetitive action, my pain continued. I've tried heat, cold, and even shock therapy, but after all these years of drumming, drawing, and playing games, the pain still comes more than goes. Click past the cut and I'll discuss how to use a controller with an MMO... and whether it helped my poor wrists.

JoyToKey screenshot
First of all, I want to show you how to do it for yourself. You're going to want to get a controller. If you have an Xbox 360 wired controller already, then you're fine. I believe any wired controller should work. I had to buy mine from the local GameStop for $20, or I could have gone wireless. Be aware that the wireless adapter costs the same roughly as a new wired controller, and then you need to worry about batteries on top of that. I just went with wired to keep things simple and also to have a back up controller for my Xbox.

Next you're going to want a selection of games to try it out on. Some MMOs are better suited for controller gaming than others, and some really don't work at all. Make it easy on yourself and learn how to set this thing up and use it on games that are more friendly to controller usage. Sure, you could try to set it up to control your raiding Hunter in World of Warcraft, but I think that that massive number of hotbar buttons would not work out at all. I chose to play around with Milmo, an action platformer that is just begging for a controller, and several others like DC Universe Online. In fact, we've already covered playing DCUO with a controller, so read up on that.

Playing games that are not normally controller-friendly is the challenge here. I wanted to be able to use my controller on my desktop as well, basically allowing me to do anything. Next you're going to need the software to drive this controller, so Google JoyToKey. There is no real official site for it, so once you find it, scan it for any viruses or malware. I found nothing wrong with the program.

After installation you'll want to plug the controller in. More than likely your PC will auto-install the drivers for it, so just watch for the popups. If not, you might have to go to Microsoft's website to search for them. After that, you'll want to start JoyToKey. Next, go to your control panel and open the game controllers option. It will be the one with some sort of controller for an icon. After that, highlight the controller on the list and go to properties. The next window that pops up will show you which number the controller's buttons correspond to. You are going to use this to learn that the green or A button, for example, is button number one in the controller's properties. The red or B button is two, and the right bumper is number six.

Next you will open JoyToKey. Basically this software allows you to assign each button on your controller to a different function. (There are a lot of ways to do this, so I am only going to cover the main ones, using Milmo as an example.) While you have JoyToKey open, go to the "others" tab and check "use POV switches." This will give you the additional options to play with.

Let's say that I wanted my left joystick to act as my arrow or WASD movement keys in Milmo. I run Milmo at the same time that I am doing all of this and simply figure out which buttons are activated for different actions. In this case, either the arrow keys or WASD moves my character. So I will go back to JoyToKey and indicate that the "LEFT, RIGHT, UP and DOWN" options activate W, A, S and D. Just double click on the one you want to configure, and the next window that pops up will give you all of the options.

You can make it move your mouse, too. I decided that the d-pad should be my mouse, with my start button acting as my left mouse click and my right bumper acting as my right click. That way, I can hold down my right bumper and control the camera using the d-pad, just like holding down right click on the mouse to move the camera. The d-pad is tweaked using the "POV1" options. Again, just double click on them and go to the "mouse" tab. Next, use the sliders to indicate where the mouse is going, and how fast, when you activate that direction. I usually set mine to around 60, so the mouse pointer does not shoot across the screen.

This all sounds complicated, doesn't it? It really isn't, and as you play with it, it begins to make more sense. Basically, just use your controller properties (from the control panel) to show you the number your different buttons correspond to. Then just find that number on the list in JoyToKey and assign it an action. The mouse controls are the hardest to get perfect, but just tweak the settings until it feels right. My controller basically controls my mouse with my d-pad, my mouse-clicks with my start button, and my right click is set to my right bumper. Once I am in game, I can use the other basic buttons or just load one of the saved (and named) configurations in JoyToKey. I have a Milmo file and a few others. Games like DCUO and others already accept a controller, and some just simply do not work with one. Just have fun and experiment.

Now, the question is... has it helped with my wrist and elbow pain? Yes and no. If I play too long, no matter how I do it, I get pain. That's just the way it will have to be. But some games do feel much better to me when I play them with a controller. Milmo is one of them. I have been having a blast finding games that work with a controller!

So have you ever played with a controller? If so, do you have any preferences?

Each week, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, and import games -- a world that is often overlooked by gamers. Leave it to Beau Hindman to talk about the games you didn't know you wanted! Have an idea for a subject or a killer new game that no one has heard of? Send it to!

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