Read This Before You Buy a Gamepad for Your PC

PC gaming is an indescribable experience. For some, it’s the pinnacle of performance. For others, it’s just another way to play. One of the most universal reasons that people stick to PC gaming despite the choice of consoles out there is because of the way that the added hardware boost can create a rich graphical experience. But what if you wanted to play on the PC using console gaming accessories such as the ubiquitous game pad/controller? Well, you could always buy a game controller yourself (or use one from a console system), but there are a couple of things you have to bear in mind before you do so.

To give you an idea of what I’m talking about here, take the Razer Sabertooth as an example. It clearly looks like an Xbox controller, and that’s because it is one. You can buy this to have a more ergonomic experience on your console, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a piece of Xbox-only gear. The Razer Sabertooth also functions on the PC!

gamepad-sabertooth

The Xbox 360 stock controller is another example of this, with the added benefit of being wireless (if you have that version). If you want a controller that can play on both your console and your PC, you don’t have to look very far.

Of course, there are controllers exclusively for PC gaming, such as the Logitech F310/510/710 gamepads. Modeled after Sony’s PS3 controller, these gamepads will not work on anything other than what they were designed to play in.

Believe it or not, there’s an advantage to having a PC-only controller, the most obvious one being the fact that you don’t have buttons that will sit there without the ability to customize them. Having extra buttons that don’t do anything will impede your gameplay by presenting obstacles you might accidentally hit while reaching for something else. It can be disastrous in fast-paced games.

You can use a gamepad on a first-person shooter (FPS), but would you want to? The keyboard and mouse offer an unprecedented amount of precision. Because of this, game developers have made their PC releases without any aim assistance, a feature commonly seen in console shooters. Aim assist compensates for the lack of accuracy and control you get when using a gamepad’s analog sticks.

Don’t expect your gamepad to work miracles when playing games like Call of Duty: Black Ops or Mass Effect. It just won’t happen. Your best bet is to use a mouse and keyboard in these instances.

Gamepads for the PC work well with almost any other type of genre, from RPGs to sports games like the FIFA series.

There are two kinds of controller input formats that games use to interpret the commands you’re sending them. The oldest of the two is “DInput” (also known as “DirectInput”), which is a specific library with a specific set of rules that unifies all PC controllers under one banner. Older games (pre-2005) will use this format for gamepads very often.

Then there is “XInput”, which has been created to correct some of the programming issues encountered when creating games for DInput. It was specifically built by Microsoft as an update for the Xbox 360 controller and has since became a standard for PC games that are compatible with gamepads.

The difference between the two may be noticeable in these respects:

  • You won’t be able to play newer games with older DInput controllers.
  • You can play with a maximum of four controllers at any given time, which perfectly replicates the Xbox limit.
  • XInput places further limitations on how controllers are designed, with a maximum of four axes, two triggers, eight directions on the D-pad, and ten buttons. DirectInput allowed for much more, but it wasn’t feasible for gamepads, which are simpler devices.

Games using XInput will assume you’re using an Xbox 360 controller. If you plan to buy these games, make sure you have something with a similar button scheme so you don’t get confused with the mappings presented. DirectInput is still used very often for games requiring other types of controllers, such as joysticks and racing wheels.

When purchasing a gamepad, make sure it’s compatible with both. My F710 has a little switch that lets me alternate between XInput and DInput.

gamepad-f710xinput

If you don’t feel intimidated by all this literature on gamepads, go ahead and buy one! I highly recommend getting something that’s over the $50 range, since cheaper controllers might have accuracy issues on the analog stick axes. Read reviews carefully and make sure that what you’re getting is really right for you. Good controllers will feel light in your hand but sturdy enough for firm control. That said, if you feel like you need to ask something, go ahead and post a comment below!