Gaming Keypads and Retro Gaming

Video Games - AtariNote: This is not sponsored by any company nor is this a review of any specific product. While I do mention my specific device, this should apply any and all programmable gaming keypads.

As a programmer and a PC gamer, I have an affinity towards programmable gaming keyboards. The ability to create macros on the fly is invaluable both in a game and in an IDE. While I always liked the idea of a gaming keypad, I never really could justify the high price since I already use a programmable gaming keyboard. However, when I found one on sale I bought it without hesitation. I figured, even if I don’t like it for gaming, I could always take it to work and use it with my laptop for programming.

I don’t quite consider myself a “retro gamer,” however I am very tolerant of older games or, more specifically, dated graphics. I feel that a game that was great 20 years ago should still be great today. This is one of the reasons I frequent services like GOG.

Going through my massive back catalog, I decided to try out 1997’s Jedi Knight: Dark Forces 2, a first person shooter with many of the design flaws of 90’s PC games. Without going into a review of the game, (It was OK but I really hated the unintuitive labyrinthine level design) one of the worst design tropes of these old games is how keyboard-centric they are. Without heavy customization of the inputs, it frequently requires you to take your hands off either the mouse or WASD in order to press a hotkey on the other side of the keyboard. This kind of design can break immersion and make gaming more difficult by having to remember so many esoteric hotkeys. This is where the programmable keypad comes in.

g13-gaming-gameboard-imagesAfter a few levels and not liking the controls (among other things), I pulled out my new Logitech G13 to finally give it a spin. The worst part is programming the device. While it is by no means difficult, finding a list of keyboard controls and taking a half-hour to actually program them in is still a hassle. What was great was also being able to assign keys to cheat codes (remember when games had those?). Once the commands were programmed and assigned to keys, it was time to play.

While I can say, it did take some time to get used to it, especially using the thumbstick for movement instead of WASD, after about 30 minutes it was fine. I use a dual-monitor setup so I can keep the keypad configuration up for reference and tweaking.  While 20-some keys isn’t enough to program every shortcut (which would take most of an entire keyboard), it is more than enough to program the functions that I actually use. Having all the important functions within finger’s reach is so much better than getting pulled out of the game to hunt for a key on the other side of the keyboard.

Going forward, I can’t wait to try this with other older games. One of my first loves was flight sims like Starfleet Academy and Wing Commander but back in the day I had to have the huge reference cards that I have long since lost. Thanks to the new Zelda, I have been on a RPG kick so this would probably be great for Baldurs Gate or Neverwinter Nights. If I can also get it working with MacOS and DOSBox, I will be in gaming heaven!

JK Keypad

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