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Can New Game Control Schemes Hope To Match the PC Keyboard? 202

Posted by Soulskill
from the precision-and-complexity dept.
An opinion piece on Gamasutra discusses how, in spite of the fancy new motion control systems that have come to console gaming, the PC's keyboard and mouse setup is still unreplaceable for many titles and genres. Quoting: "With over 100 keys to choose from (back of the box quotation right there), the possibilities are near endless, if you start to think of shift and control functions altering the purpose of keys. It means that, when the developers start to make their game, they don't have to worry about the limitations of the interface, knowing that, if all else fails, they can always assign the compass to K, even if that's a bit of a stretch to all but the pianists. The keyboard is the friend of ambition, and ArmA 2 is the testament to that, in all its surrealist, broken glory. ... It's the same reason RTS games have found a home on the PC for so long, able to use the skills people accumulate moving around windows and clicking on icons to command troops and manipulate their battle lines. Developers taking advantage of what we already know to teach us something we don't is what gaming is all about."
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Can New Game Control Schemes Hope To Match the PC Keyboard?

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  • by Shadow of Eternity (795165) on Sunday July 19, 2009 @02:56AM (#28746107)

    Control shape is arbitrary, just like the number of possible bindings. Many people use WASD with space for jumping, I use Q and E instead of A and D because it's more comfortable.

    What position my hand rests in is entirely up to me, the controls are never too large or too small. And when you consider that the signals are what counts you've got keyboards in all sorts of shapes and sizes, even balls up wierd "gamepads" and the like.

    I wouldn't be surprised if pretty soon keyboards start shipping with the CTRL ALT and Shift keys moved to the space between the numbers and the F# keys.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by ragethehotey (1304253)
      When you design games completely open ended and based on the keyboard for RTS games, more often than not it becomes a game of who can master the controls, not who can actually master the game itself. (If you disagree, find me someone over the age of 40 that can play a clickfest game like starcraft well)
      • by khellendros1984 (792761) on Sunday July 19, 2009 @03:43AM (#28746241) Journal
        Learning to input your commands into a game is *part* of the game. It's one of the skill-dependent aspects, just like understanding the strategies is. A different game would have different requirements (for instance, some sort of turn-based Starcraft would rely far less on speed of the player). It's like many other good games; The challenge exists on multiple levels.
        • I would not call poor controls "part of challenge". I would call it excuse for bad ui design and attempt to hide fact that game lacks depth or reall challenge.

          It is true that effective usage of controls takes skill and expertize, but that does not mean that controls have to be hard to operate to begin or to require some sort of learning: fps controls, for example, are quite standardized by now. Only learning happening usually only concerns game specific features.

          Take starcaft for example. Any player can eas

        • by sgt scrub (869860)

          And don't forget aiming. I have table shaped indents in my forehead from playing FPS's on a console without a mouse and keyboard. Auto aim? WTF! I think they mean Auto Aim sometimes. Give me a mouse so I can point. Then I'll shoot the f'n thing dag'nabit.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by pantherace (165052)

        Solution: Don't play Starcraft.

        I know 40+ year olds who are good at games like Supreme Commander. (I speak as someone who was in the top 100 of FA, in the months after it launched.) Reason being, not because they click like crazy, but because they are devious. (Old age & Trickery, etc) Where Supreme Commander is slow enough people can use thought, and not have to fight the interface, as with Starcraft.

        There are games where you are fighting the interface. It shouldn't be that way, games should have a goo

      • I agree with the other replies to this comment; skill is only part of the package. When I used to play competitively at my university I was up against kids who had far superior point-and-shoot reflexes than me. However, I knew the maps better, I anticipated their movements better and ultimately I won the tournament. It's alright to be able to put the rocket exactly where you want it to go, but it's another thing entirely to -know- where to put it. My best move: launch a rocket from one end of a map, ant
      • by sgt scrub (869860)

        +1 Bring it on youngstuff! Most of the people that played StarCraft played WarCraft and WarCraftII and are now over 40. Find me someone under the age of 40 that can play WarCraftII and I'll show you 10 40 year olds that will beat them into the ground. Now get off my lawn you little twit!

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          That brings up a good issue. Warcraft 2 was arguably harder on the controls than Starcraft. You couldn't queue up unit production, among other things. Then from Starcraft to Warcraft 3 they made spellcasting smarter so you could, for example, select a group of priestesses and cast slow on a unit and let the game figure out which priestess will actually cast the spell. So games are clearly getting smarter about controls and making them get in the way less. Intuitive controls that don't get in the way are par

    • by Bert64 (520050)

      Second that, i used Q/A for up/down and C/B for left/right, i remember that being the default binding for some game i had on the sinclair spectrum.
      Most games with keyboard control would let you customize the keys, and i never had a joystick for my sinclair so keyboard control was my only option. In fact, the sinclair didn't even have joystick ports by default, you required a third party interface card and there were several different types of such card so virtually every game had a keyboard option and possi

      • i used Q/A for up/down...

        As an emacs user, I prefer to write movements as elisp expressions which I then evaluate with Ctrl-x Ctrl-e.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Martin Blank (154261)

      Control shape is arbitrary, just like the number of possible bindings. Many people use WASD with space for jumping, I use Q and E instead of A and D because it's more comfortable.

      What position my hand rests in is entirely up to me, the controls are never too large or too small.

      Absolutely. I'm always a little confused at first by people that claim things about a key being "a bit of a stretch to all but the pianists" because my primary control keys are in the middle of the keyboard (TFHV), and not off to the

      • I think that's more to do with "touch typing" than anything else. With WASD your left hand is pretty much already in position for typing once you bring your right hand over from the mouse.

        • by Splab (574204)

          If that was true why the **** would they choose wasd? Touch typing default position is with the index finger on the F making esdf much more "normal" (incidentally, I use esdf) - also esdf has the added bonus of more keys surrounding your hand giving you more buttons to panic with.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Moryath (553296)

            WASD also keeps you nearby to the traditional "alter function" keys - Shift for running/walking, ctrl/alt for strafing or "sneaking", tab for weapon or preassigned group cycling, etc.

            • by TheLink (130905)
              Most people should be able to hit the shift, caps and control from ESDF. Touch typists already use SDF as "home position", and as far as I know the shift key is plenty reachable for them - the ctrl key is stupid, it should be where the capslock currently is, but maybe the lawyers threatened to sue anyone who tried to revert it to the original position for the rest of us who only use capslock by mistake ;)...

              And the bonus is you can _additionally_ use A, Q, W, Z, C for other stuff on the left (while having t
          • by WCLPeter (202497)

            If that was true why the **** would they choose wasd?

            Because few people have really flexible hands. Using WASD allows the pinky to hit the control and shift keys, which are the "sprint" and "crouch" commands in many games, without taking your fingers off of the movement keys.

            Touch typing default position is with the index finger on the F making esdf much more "normal" (incidentally, I use esdf)

            Congratulations on having flexible hands. However if I, and many people I know, were to use ESDF, everytime we wanted to sprint or crouch our fingers would come off the movement keys; kind of defeats the purpose of using ESDF.

            • I use a 5-button mouse for just this purpose. Ever since Half-Life, I've mapped crouching to Mouse 2. Weapon special functions like zoom or firing mode changes get mapped to Mouse 4 and 5. I'm not opposed to throwing in a few other mouse buttons as well, with perhaps Mouse 6 going below Mouse 5 (relative to a Logitech 500 series), and maybe Mouse 7 under the little finger.

              Back on the keyboard, moving the control keys to the right makes for many more usable keys to the left of the control keys. Using WAS

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        It's more natural to stretch out a finger than to curl one back and press a key with the end of it. WASD is more based on the home keys. W and E both require that you move your finger to the side, though, which is not good for it. The arrow keys should have been on the left side of the keyboard, and would have been if we had imagined the mouse sooner.

      • by Rockoon (1252108)
        WASD was chosen because the first games which used it were before the mouse was popular. Think AppleII and so forth.

        Add in multi-player support on a single keyboard, and there you go.
        • by TheLink (130905)
          I don't really recall an Apple II game using WASD for "up left down right".

          While I doubt there was much of a standard in those days, controls like IJKM and IJKL (lode runner) were more common. Many also had AZ and "left arrow" "right arrow".

          And some like Castle Wolfenstein had QWEASDZXC IOPKL;,./ (and other keys), so that you could control movement and the gun direction independently...
      • by vux984 (928602)

        I never did understand why those keys [wasd] were used

        I strongly suspect its a hold over convention from the earliest PC games. Back when you had 2 player multiplayer on one keyboard. The 2 player control schemes were separated as much as possible.

        P1 controls were ALWAYS "WASD", specifically because it was as far left as you could go. P2 was on the far right of the keyboard, originally, around "OKL;" (take a look at a "Tandy TRS-80 CoCo2" or "Apple II" for example) and then P2 moved to the number pad when i

      • I'm not as drastic as you, but I still go with a more centralized movement setup: SDFC. Since I rarely run backwards in a FPS, and find it more comfortable to have my main movement keys on the home row, SDF makes the most sense. This setup makes it a bit hard to run backwards and turn, but really, how often do you need to do that?

        Back on topic, "a bit of a stretch to all but the pianists" is stupid, and means you aren't letting your users map their own keys. The most successful and comfortable game

    • by TheLink (130905)
      Yeah I've gone to WASD but I wished game makers standardized on ESDF instead since it means there are more keys around the "triangle" you can use.
      • Not to mention the F key on most keyboards has the little touch-type bump to help you make sure you're on it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 19, 2009 @03:00AM (#28746129)

    I just wish it were taken seriously. Nowadays games are developed for console first, then ported to PC after many months, sometimes never. Even then, the ported games often have incredibly poor controls for moving, camera, and other things. PC gaming should be given the respect it deserves across all genres, not just RTS.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by clarkkent09 (1104833) *
      I'm not a gamer so maybe I'm missing something here, but why couldn't game consoles support the regular keyboard and mouse in addition to the controller? It sure would make porting PC games to consoles easier, or the player could be given both options. Seems like the best of both worlds, no?
      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 19, 2009 @04:34AM (#28746385)

        I'm not a gamer so maybe I'm missing something here, but why couldn't game consoles support the regular keyboard and mouse in addition to the controller? It sure would make porting PC games to consoles easier, or the player could be given both options. Seems like the best of both worlds, no?

        Most console developers have waged a war to disassociate the fact that a console is basically a glorified, locked down personal computer. The current generation support keyboards (for text input), but go out of their way to ensure that they serve no other function in games.

      • As a rule, they do, they just almost never get used. Similarly, console controllers generally work with PCs, you just rarely find a game taking advantage of them.

        • Almost any modern game that is cross platform with the consoles usually includes the ability to use a gamepad, mapped out exactly how it is on a console.
          • by tepples (727027)

            Almost any modern game that is cross platform with the consoles usually includes the ability to use a gamepad

            As I understand SanityInAnarchy's complaint it's that not enough games are "cross platform with the consoles". Either they're PC games designed for the keyboard or they're console games released on one, two, or three consoles and no PC. For example, what's the closest thing to Mario Party or Super Smash Bros. on a PC?

            • With increased presence of gamepad use on PC, you will see more games that support that style of gameplay control. Also, those are both 'social' type games, which isnt PC's strength. Its called 'personal' for a reason. I get what you are saying, i just think you used bad examples.
              • Also, those are both 'social' type games, which isnt PC's strength. Its called 'personal' for a reason.

                Your comment implies the existence of a "social computer". What kind of "social computer" were you thinking about, and how can indie developers make games for it?

                • Also, those are both 'social' type games, which isnt PC's strength. Its called 'personal' for a reason.

                  Your comment implies the existence of a "social computer". What kind of "social computer" were you thinking about, and how can indie developers make games for it?

                  I was merely implying that PCs are generally designed with one user at time in mind, its a 'personal' experience. Game consoles are the 'social' computer.

                  • by tepples (727027)

                    What kind of "social computer" were you thinking about

                    Game consoles are the 'social' computer.

                    and how can indie developers make games for it?

                    Thanks for answering my first question. So now I'll put my second question another way: If an indie developer has a nearly completed social game for the Windows platform, what's the best way to go about getting it ported to a console? Sony and especially Nintendo tend not to give indies the time of day.

                    • by Kelbear (870538)

                      Xbox Live Arcade of course, but I heard rumors that they're trying to push indie developers away recently. Haven't looked into it.

                      There's been a lot of successful indie releases through it, and Xbox 360 has the most developed multiplayer system among the 3 consoles.

                      Bridging the gap between a PC and the Xbox360 was made to be considerably easier than PC to the PS3 or Wii.

      • THe momentum is swinging the OTHER way. ALOT of PC games come with gamepad support now, especially the Xbox360 controller. I have the $20 MS wireless receiver that lets you use your Xbox wireless peripherals on PC. Its nice sometimes to lean back in the chair and chill. I played Ghostbusters on PC with it, Battlestations:Pacific too. I would never dream of using it in TF2 though, even though it fully supports it.
        • The keyboard and mouse do just seem to work better than a gamepad. At a LAN one of my friends who has a 360 (and thrashes everybody else when playing on it) tried using a 360 controller to play halo 1 on the PC. It did not take long for him to go back to the mouse because it was significantly inferior and this is with a player who spent most of his time playing with a 360. I am surprised that they have not been able to make a controller which works better. If you think about a mouse it was never designe

          • by tepples (727027)

            The keyboard and mouse do just seem to work better than a gamepad. At a LAN

            But what if you only have one gaming PC or one copy of a game available? Then you had better hope that the game supports gamepads and split-screen; unfortunately, few PC games do.

      • but why couldn't game consoles support the regular keyboard and mouse in addition to the controller?

        For two reasons:

        • The control APIs on consoles allow players to plug in four distinct gamepads. I don't believe they allow players to plug in four distinct keyboards and four distinct mice through USB hubs.
        • Microsoft declines to digitally sign any game that uses the keyboard for anything but text entry.
      • No console is developed with mouse and keyboard support in mind first. It's developed with a controller (gamepad or whatever you want to call it). All consoles usually come with at least one of these controllers.

        So now imagine you're developing a game for the console. What control scheme will you develop for primarily? One that's standard with that console, or one that usable, but not everyone will have? In the end, it does boil down to trying to cater to the larger market share. Yes, some people do have a

        • by Kneo24 (688412)

          Oh, I forgot to add that if you have online components to your game and people are playing competitively let's say... for an FPS, the guy having the keyboard and mouse setup will probably dominate easily.

    • by Fumus (1258966)
      Try Sangband or any other roguelike. 90% of the keyboard has some function assigned to it :p
  • The reason... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MonkeyINAbaG (705327) <slashdot@da-bom.ELIOTcom minus poet> on Sunday July 19, 2009 @03:33AM (#28746211)
    that the keyboard is so hard to match is that it has been used and refined by humanity for such a very long time, compared to other interfaces. Think about it, the alphanumeric keyboard even predates the steering wheel by about 20 years!
    • by fbjon (692006)
      ..Unless you take into account the ship's wheel, an invention going back to around 1700, 170 years before the typewriter.
      • by westlake (615356)

        ..Unless you take into account the ship's wheel, an invention going back to around 1700, 170 years before the typewriter.

        But keyboard instruments can trace their roots back to the 3d century BC. Keyboard instrument [wikipedia.org]

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Think about it, the alphanumeric keyboard even predates the steering wheel by about 20 years!

      I think not. [google.com]

    • by drsquare (530038)

      The keyboard hasn't really been refined, it's largely the same as it's always been. It's designed for typing, not gaming. This maybe helps explain the decline of PC gaming in favour of consoles: to most people, controllers are easy to use whilst WASD is awkward as fuck to anyone who doesn't have spidery fingers.

    • by Jim Hall (2985)

      Think about it, the alphanumeric keyboard even predates the steering wheel by about 20 years!

      Yes, but the "steering wheel" is a limited analog controller. It works only in 1 dimension (left-right.)

      I think over time we'll see the steering wheel controller evolve, especially as game controllers become more advanced. Consider the influence the Wiimote controller has had on gaming. To think that in 5 years we may all laugh that we ever used a "steering wheel" to drive to work, instead of flapping our arms to turn, making motorboat noises to accelerate, etc.

      We live in amazing times. The future of tomorr

  • We seriously need to find a middle ground for this issue. And by middle-ground, of course, I mean improving the keyboard and leaving controllers in the dust!
    Touch sensitivity is such a great feature that gaming keyboards should include it.

  • unreplaceable? (Score:5, Informative)

    by 1u3hr (530656) on Sunday July 19, 2009 @03:46AM (#28746255)
    "keyboard and mouse setup is still unreplaceable"

    Is "unreplaceable" even a word? Try "irreplaceable".

    • by Kawahee (901497) on Sunday July 19, 2009 @03:52AM (#28746275) Homepage Journal

      "keyboard and mouse setup is still unreplaceable"

      Is "unreplaceable" even a word? Try "irreplaceable".

      Of course it's a word, Slashdot's editors would have changed it when they proofread the article otherwise. Duh.

    • by binkzz (779594)

      unreplaceable

      adjective
      impossible to replace; "irreplaceable antiques" [syn: irreplaceable] [ant: replaceable]

      http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/unreplaceable [reference.com]

      • I'd suggest limiting yourself to more established dictionaries (e.g. Merriam Webster, OED, etc.). dictionary.reference.com is multi-source and pulls in every neologism, no matter how inane, from every two bit dictionary on the planet.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      "unreplaceable" is a perfectly cromulent word.
  • by Valdrax (32670) on Sunday July 19, 2009 @03:48AM (#28746263)

    There are genres for which the PC keyboard will always be stronger -- those that require a massive variety of command input, such as RTS games.

    But for many simple console games, like platformers, will a keyboard ever catch up to the simple elegance of a game controller? I mean, anyone who has played console games on emulators should know that no keyboard mapping is going to feel as comfortable as something like a good old dual-shock controller for quick, repetitive presses of a few buttons. (My knuckle joints kill me after some games on an emulator.)

    So why this idea that any one solution is always better? Different games have different control requirements, and different input devices shape different kinds of gameplay. None is "superior" to the other, and you'll never get a keyboard to give you the same kind of game play as a DDR machine or Wii Tennis.

    So why the e-penis contest?

    • Well, for me Keyboard + Mouse is superior.

      I used to play lots of console games - back in the SNES/Genesis/PS1/N64 era. Then I took a hiatus and became a PC gamer, because I discovered I loved RTS's like TA. Now that I've been using my keyboard and mouse for so long, I find the new controllers quite awkward. I'm not bad with them, but I'm way better with my Keyboard and Mouse. Even games where you'd shudder to use a keyboard (ResEvil 4? Most emus?), I do better with my keyboard and mouse.

      I've been making a p

      • by tepples (727027)

        Even games where you'd shudder to use a keyboard (ResEvil 4? Most emus?), I do better with my keyboard and mouse.

        If you use a keyboard, what does player 2 use? A whole another computer?

        • If you use a keyboard, what does player 2 use? A whole another computer?

          Sure. Or another keyboard + mouse. :P

          Or are controller. ;)

          Overlord supports split-screen with one person having a controller, and the other a keyboard + mouse. I personally prefer LAN parties, though.

    • by Opportunist (166417) on Sunday July 19, 2009 @06:09AM (#28746619)

      Quite dead on.

      There are games that are unplayable with a keyboard. Likewise, there are games that are unplayable without. But it's even less the keyboard, more the mouse, that I miss in console games. Keyboard/mouse input is, at least in my opinion, superior in games where pointing and clicking is a sizable part of the game. Whether you point and click on an interface, as in a RTS, or whether you "point" your crosshair and "click" to fire as in a FPS. I just can't get into controling a FPS game with a console controller.

      Likewise, playing a platformer or a racing game with mouse/keyboard is a nightmare to say the least. Use the right input device for the right game, why bother asking what input is superior? None is in every aspect and for every game.

  • I would argue the opposite, that perhaps the NES (or, to stretch it, perhaps the SNES) is the best "control scheme" for MOST games. Any action you want to do is confined to only a few buttons. Compare this to Fable on the Xbox, which in my opinion the controls were a complete mess due to the complexity. Having a hundred functions tied to a hundred keys is useless because only the extremely hard-core will remember them. However, I will agree that for RTS there is no substitute for a mouse and keyboard.

    • You are calling a game with one button combat COMPLEX?
      • You are calling a game with one button combat COMPLEX?

        One Button + Auto-Fire = Win

        I will always like having my third party controllers for NES, SNES, N64, and PS2

      • IIRC the spells required you to hold down one of the trigger buttons while trying to remember which spell you have mapped to which button.

  • Keyboard/Mouse (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Bert64 (520050) <bertNO@SPAMslashdot.firenzee.com> on Sunday July 19, 2009 @05:52AM (#28746559) Homepage

    Yes, keyboard/mouse are far better for some kinds of games... I tried C&C on the xbox and found it virtually unplayable with the control pad, and FPS games really need the immediacy of a mouse rather than the slow gradual (by comparison) movement of a control pad.

    But for everything else a console is so much more convenient, you have fixed hardware and a guarantee that a game you purchase will run with no fuss...

    All the modern consoles support USB, and most new keyboards and mice are also USB... So why don't more games support this as a possible control method? Most console games also have PC versions, or are direct ports of PC games so adding keyboard/mouse support wouldn't even be much of a burden.

    • FPS games really need the immediacy of a mouse rather than the slow gradual (by comparison) movement of a control pad.

      Casual shooters like Wii Play take advantage of the immediacy of a Wii Remote's pointer. They also take advantage of the multiplayer capability of the Wii Remote rather than the lonely (by comparison) connection of a mouse. If you have two USB mice connected to a PC, and players 1 and 2 move them in opposite directions, what does a game see?

      you have fixed hardware and a guarantee that a game you purchase will run with no fuss...

      You also have no way to mod console games, except possibly through a built-in map editor (e.g. Tony Hawk series, Super Smash Bros. Brawl).

      All the modern consoles support USB, and most new keyboards and mice are also USB... So why don't more games support this as a possible control method?

      Someone else asked the same que

  • by Toonol (1057698) on Sunday July 19, 2009 @06:55AM (#28746767)
    If the keyboard is better than a controller because it has a hundred keys, then would a new device with 200 keys be even better? Of course not.

    The keyboard and controller serve two different, but related purposes. The keyboard is an immobile device that is placed on a surface. It is worked on. A controller is held. Both have different optimal configurations, a reflection of their different purposes. Certainly, some games benefit from keyboard control, just as some games benefit from controller control. Comparing the two, as if they were competing entries for the same role, is silly.
  • Modern controllers can now have 20 or more "buttons" if you count each joystick direction as a button (think WASD). While less than 100, it is still a lot. What the controller can't duplicate for me is what I can do with a mouse in a FPS or RTS game. A joystick or WASD takes way to long to move/aim in a First-Person Shooter, and nothing can compare with the ability to select multiple units in a Real-Time Strategy by simply clicking and dragging with a mouse.Sure there are shortcuts to select all on the scre
  • Touch like multi-touch on a screen that's placed to be most ergonomic (I'm thinking slanted at a 30-50 degree angle, a bit in front and above my lap would be great for me), would be FANTASTIC for an RTS - I can very easily imagine how the interface would work and be very powerful.

    Motion - as in "motion at the level of the almost certainly fake Natal promo videos" where it captures and maps your body with great fidelity to movement and minimal lag - would be great for lots of current kinds of games (sports,

  • Personally, I prefer the simplicity and elegance of the MacBook Wheel. No keyboard, just a scroll wheel and a mouse.

  • Well, let's think about this.
    The unique point-and-click abilities of the Wii are as simple as the point-and-click of the mouse.
    The waggle of the Wiimote could be emulated by waggling your mouse, but who the hell would want to.
    Those newfangled camera input systems that the 360 and PS3 were using at E3 would basically amount to dance or sports games; i.e. games I don't play and would less likely be caught playing by dancing around in my living room.

    Mouse and keyboard has always been intuitive and comfortable.

  • I use the number pad, a nicely laid out grid with a couple double-sized buttons to give you position context.. I don't understand how you guys can use WSAD and not hit the wrong thing occasionally. I guess you just get used to it.

  • The best replacement for the keyboard would be a keyboard without key lock. I hate it when key lock happens. It makes me wonder why my MSX computer could have no key lock whatsoever and current PC keyboards still have trouble getting this done. I don't have the desk space nor the money to buy a keypad specifically for games, but I would happily pay 10$ extra for a keyboard without key lock.

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