To Invert or not to Invert: First Person Shooters (FPS) and Inverted Controls.

I often have this argument with my gaming friends about whether playing with Inverted controls or ‘default’ is the correct decision. I was then introduced by one of them to this video.

As an Inverted man myself it inspired me to write this post. The problem is all of my friends, bar a couple all play with the default controls, and I don’t know when un-inverted became the norm. I swear it never used to be that way round – did I miss some sort of industry wide memo? But the thing that really gets me is how aggressively they defend their control decision and how my inverted ways are something of the devil. From my perspective though they couldn’t be further from the truth – so who is right?

In its most basic form the controls are just buttons and sticks which allow you to interact with a realistic virtual environment, or in short allow you to press R1 and shoot someone in the face with an 1887 rifle with no moral or legal implications.

But the controls themselves are somewhat weak in their relation to the in-game reaction. Some make sense though, like shoulder triggers for gun triggers, left and right on your respective thumbs for strafing and rotating in the obvious directions etc. But others are somewhat tenuous in their link, Square to re-load, Triangle to change weapon, left on d-pad for secondary weapon? They’re all neat solutions and a decent interface, but the point is they are just arbitrary button presses linked to the game via someone’s design. In most cases this design becomes a well known paradigm and the default across the genre of games.

Y-axis rotation though is one of the more questionable links, much like the Circle and Triangle there isn’t much of an intuitive relation between the forward back motion of the right stick and someones view point looking up and down. They are on completely different plains and apart from requiring an opposite and preferably variable rate of movement there is much else of a demand from the stick. Nonetheless my friends will argue that it’s the sensible option for many mystic reasons. But what are these? And at what point did they become good enough to define an industry standard?

So far though aside from personal opinion (and establishing little reason for it to be one way or the other) there has been little argument as to which should be better. What’s to say I’m correct? Well, I do have an argument, and I think its a good one too!

I spent a large amount of my early gaming days playing flight sims and anyone that knows anything about aeroplanes will know that the controls for the ailerons are via a joystick. The ailerons rotate the plane around its Z axis (barrel roll or yaw) and the Y-axis (point the nose up and down, or pitch). The point of interest here though is that pulling the stick towards you raises the nose up, and away will point it down. Aside from hang gliders this is true of all flying vehicles and has been this way since its inception. What this gives us is an already well established design paradigm for the effectively arbitrary relation between movement on the X-plane (the stick) and movement on the Y-plane (the viewpoint of the screen). You watch any film with a plane in it and there will inevitably be that scene where something has distracted them, the pilot’s dead, someone left the auto-pilot on etc, and now they are heading for a cliff face / mountain / load of rocks. “Oh no, some rocks!” they say, “We’re not going to make it!” they incorrectly utter, then someone (the hero) jumps in the pilot’s seat and…. well he doesn’t proceed to plunge the stick into the dash, no he (with great strain and drama) pulls it towards himself. They narrowly miss the rocks and happily live ever after, blah blah blah.

The point is it’s well established and translates perfectly onto the gaming world, specifically FPS which are probably the biggest selling games around, not too mention the games industry as the worlds biggest entertainment industry. Somehow, somewhere along the lines someone got it all the wrong way round, and now thanks to that there is a whole nation of people that play to the opposite way of a century old design. In fact the Wright brothers patented the 3-axis design that is used in all fixed wing aircraft over 100 hundred years ago now.

It’s now so prolific that the correct way round is referred to as ‘inverted’! So as a homage to the wright brothers, over 100 hundred years of aviation, and well established design paradigms I will continue to pause all games from the start, trawl the option menu, and annoy all my mates when swapping the controller. And most of all will not give in!

To my un-inverted friends,

PJ Belcher.

About PJ Belcher

Game Audio Producer. https://pjbelcher.com/ pjb@pjbelcher.com
This entry was posted in Games Design. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to To Invert or not to Invert: First Person Shooters (FPS) and Inverted Controls.

  1. gaviteros says:

    The best description I can explain for why I believe inverted to be more… natural… is that if you take a moment and think of the joystick as a neck and head it makes much more sense.

    Most people play with the controller parallel to the ground, at least most of the time. So imagine that the thumbpart of thumbstick is the head of your character on the screen, the front part of that pad is the face, and the stick is the character’s neck.

    Now pull that thumbstick towards yourself, the neck leans back, and the face leans upwards.

    Push the thumbstick forward, the neck leans forward, and the face looks down. The airplanes could have made the controls work the other way, but that would make little sense to how the plane works…

    In this case, the main problem in my mind is that people think of the controller as being perpendicular to the ground (as it is shown in diagrams on screen) and play with it parallel. If you play with the controller perpendicular to the ground, default makes the most since, and pressing forward now means up, and pressing back now means down. It is really an orientation thing.

    Of course I could just be overly pleased with my neck and head metaphor.

    • Dilk Muds says:

      I agree with the neck and head thing. That’s basically how I put it. But I think inverted is still more intuitive even if you ARE holding the controller perpendicular to the ground. It’s like the stick is your torso.

  2. Quartrez says:

    The way I see it, is that the thumbstick is parallel to the screen, and the direction in which you move the stick controls the direction in which the camera moves (You push the stick up, the camera goes up)

    Maybe it’s just because of the way I “see” games, though. When I play a FPS, I don’t feel like I’m a soldier, I feel like I’m a camera with a gun. It might sounds silly, but in my mind, that’s how I see it.

    It’s worth noting that this however does not apply to when I’m playing a flight game. When I’m playing a flight game, I like invert controls better. The only exception is Panzer Dragoon Ortza. I cannot get used to either control schemes, because I’m better used to controlling aiming reticules with non-inverted controls, but I’m used to controlling the craft (or in this case, the dragon) with inverted controls. Or maybe the reason I can’t seem to get used to it is because the Y-axis is inverted, but the X-axis isn’t.

  3. kcshawman says:

    Normal i.e. Backwards and Inverted the industry standard for almost everything except games.
    Xbox 360 can default to inverted (the normal way of doing things). All parents with young children just starting out playing games should make sure they are playing inverted. All forklifts, backhoes, hydraulic equipment, security cameras etc. all work this way. I see where some folks say pushing the stick away is up and back is down. That is incorrect everything works via rotation you are rotating forward or rotation back and whatever you are operating mimics this rotation in real life and it should also in games. The mouse is different you are not rotating the mouse your are moving a cursor on the screen away is up in this case and feels normal. If you have a joy stick on the PC then go with the rotation idea. You don’t want your child killing someone the first day on the job running some hydraulic equipment. OOPS I thought away from me was up MY BAD!

  4. kcshawman says:

    You ask why a lot of folks are playing games in the backward normal way. That’s because most games are defaulted that way. As I said before everyone should try there best to make sure games are played inverted. All parents should be are of this.

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