The quest for key-mapping perfection
By Brittney MacDonald, Life & Style Editor
In my previous entries into this series, which offers up advice on making that transition from console to PC gaming, I mentioned something called key mapping, a term many people were confused by. This is mostly only important in games in which your character is imbued with various skills and powers that change and become better as you level them up. If any of those skills and powers are classified as “active,” it means you have to activate them via a command of some sort. This is opposed to “passive” skills, which are either always active, or will activate on their own when certain criteria is met. For example, a common passive skill in a game is that your defence is boosted if you fall below 30 per cent health.
One of the advantages of PC gaming is that the use of a keyboard offers you more buttons to have active powers or skills assigned to. On a console, you are limited by the number of buttons on your controller, unless you want to get into combining buttons, and that can get complicated really fast. The act of choosing where to assign what skills/powers is called key mapping.
In general—and this is for any game—you can go online and get a hot key map that someone has already laid out. This will then tell you what skills, items, or powers to place where in regards to key mapping. My advice is to check these out to get a handle on what abilities might be important, but don’t treat these maps as gospel—there is room for deviation.
Whether you play on a game pad or a regular keyboard, there are a couple things you’ll need to keep in mind. Your most basic attack, and the one with the lowest “cool down”—the time until a skill can be used again after you use it—must always be equipped to your left mouse button, because it is the easiest button to hit. The right mouse button is dependent on your style of play. If you like characters with low defence, then I advise equipping some sort of dodge, jump back, or parry skill here. If you play a character with really high defence, then I advise equipping some sort of buff—a skill or spell that temporarily increases your base stats—or a taunt that will draw enemy aggression if you’re playing in a group. If you’re using a gaming mouse that has extra buttons, I prefer equipping items to these, because then all your item effects will be grouped together and easy to hit with your thumb for when you need them. Some games allow you to use the scroll button as well, which is great for switching between weapons quickly.
As for the other keys, I just have a few simple guidelines. The skills/powers with the lowest cool downs are going to be the ones you will use the most, so keep your favourites within easy reach of your index and pinky finger. These two fingers have the greatest range of motion and generally have the fastest reflex time. Try not to assign anything with the intention of using your thumb, unless it is a dodge, a jump, or a jump back assigned to the space bar. The thumb will usually never move from the space bar, because otherwise it will throw off the other motion keys. Skills/powers with a cool down between 5–10 seconds should be assigned to keys within reach of the middle and ring finger, and anything greater—meaning abilities you will activate only a couple times during a basic battle—can either be assigned below or above your immediate range. Try to limit your use of these long cool down abilities, and focus only on one or two of them. I find it helpful to assign them just out of reach of my index finger because it is the easiest to move and return into my regular position.
Keep in mind that key mapping is not a permanent thing. It can and will be changed as you level and receive new powers and abilities to use. Try out a couple different variations, and tweak it as needed to best suit how you play. Just like with a controller, the key is to use those keys so often that you automatically know what they are and what they’ll do. It’s all a matter or muscle memory.