Daily Archives: December 11, 2007

EverQuest and the Keyboard Question

One of the nice things about moving to a new machine is that you get to install some of your software from scratch.

Okay, maybe that isn’t such a nice thing most of the time, but it can be illuminating.

The last time I did a full, from scratch install of EverQuest II, for example, was back in November of 2004. So three years later, it was a bit of a refresher, being able to see the default UI and configuration for EQ2. My old system was so full of UI modifications that I was even a bit surprised.

One of the things I had forgotten about from the install is that when starting up the application for the first time, you are presented with an option for keyboard layouts. You can choose either the EverQuest II layout or the EverQuest layout.

The EverQuest layout? Ouch.

As I mentioned in the post on my new machine, I also installed EverQuest from scratch, since it was totally hosed on my old machine. And so I got to try and use the EverQuest layout again.

If Clint Worley and the EverQuest team are really worried about accessibility, as I noted while back, then here is a place ripe for improvement.

What is wrong with the default EverQuest keyboard layout? No WASD.

The EverQuest key plan has you move by using either the keys on the 10-key pad or the arrow keys on the keyboard. Unless you use the mouse with your left hand, this is at a minimum a mildly awkward configuration.

The funny thing is, I know exactly why it is laid out as such.

Some might speculate that EverQuest is so old that it pre-dates the WASD movement key layout.

I might be that old, but EverQuest is not.

I first used the WASD keyboard layout for character movement back with the game Lode Runner on my Apple ][+. And I played a first person shooter with that key configuration in 1994 with Marathon on the Mac.

No, the keyboard layout is directly related to the background of the people who developed EverQuest in the first place.

And that background is MUDs. If you want evidence for the Diku influence on EverQuest, here is a big clue.

As I have mentioned before, in an attempt to associate myself with fame, Brad McQuaid, Jeff Butler, and others on the team used to even play one of the same MUDs I used to play, Toril MUD.

When you are playing a MUD, the primary input tool is the keyboard. Even with later versions of ZMud, where you could make elaborate UIs with lots of buttons and such, typing was still king. And when you are mostly typing, the mouse is an incidental input tool.

That was translated over to EverQuest.

Unfortunately, what was something of a quirk back then is pretty big oversight these days. The pool of new users for EverQuest is more likely to be people who have played World of Warcraft and are looking for something of a retro experience. EverQuest can offer that, but it would help if the game could be made manageable by such a new user, especially the controls.

Yes, of course, you can remap they keys to create a WASD set of movement keys, but if the EverQuest team is serious about accessibility, if they are not just giving that term lip service, there ought to be a standard, starting keyboard layout that has these keys set for movement.

They should again take a page from the EQ2 play book.

When you run EverQuest for the first time, it should offer up two options for keyboard layout:

EverQuest II (recommended for new players)
EverQuest Classic

I resisted the temptation to make the first entry “World of Warcraft.” SOE is unlikely to use that name and there could be other implications if they claim to be using the WoW keyboard layout.

But the EQ2 keyboard layout is close enough, primarily because it uses the WASD standard movement controls. And, that also ties the games closer together and allows for some comfort from players who may have started with EQ2 and who want to see pre-cataclysm Norrath.

For the cause of accessibility, I think this is one small thing the EverQuest team can do to make their product better.

And yes, it is raining again.