Thursday, September 21, 2006

Making a gaming keyboard on the cheap

I don't spend a lot of time on computer games -- hardly any, in fact, compared to most people. Well, let me be more clear: I spend tons of time on games that involve computers, such as pencil-and-paper RPGs that happen to involve computers as game aids, or more prevalently, MUDs. And tons more time using computers in fun ways that aren't games, like chat. But actual computer games, I don't do a lot. And if you take away the idle playing of solitaire games like Sudoku on my Palm, even less.

Some of the games I enjoy on those rare times I play are things like FreeSpace2 and flight simulators, which unfortunately, require a fairly large amount of learning about to play well. You can't readily just jump in and start playing; you have to learn how the controls work, how to operate your craft, and a lot of technical stuff. Perhaps the most annoying part is learning the scores and scores of keyboard combinations necessary to effectively pilot a ship in FreeSpace2, which you really have to know by memory. Having a joystick with a zillion buttons on it helps a little, but too many buttons there and it gets just as bad.

Hardcore gamers are all drooling over the Optimus keyboard, which, if it ever actually becomes available, will provide a fantastic help both for the casual gamer like me, and the hardcore gamer. Though, maybe a kind of expensive solution for the casual gamer. In any case, since it's "coming soon" and has been for at least a year, it's just a pipe dream.

But thinking on this made me come up with an idea. A simple, basic USB keyboard can be had for a few bucks, if you wait for a sale at somewhere like Woot. Most techies probably have a few lying around somewhere not being used. So why not print labels, stick them on the keys, and go ahead with that? If you only play a few games, like I do, you only need a few keyboards. A FS2 keyboard will let me jump into that game when I have some time to kill without feeling like I have to start from scratch. Cool beans.


litlfrog said...

Are USB keyboards really that cheap? I usually see them for $20 or so in the store. It's a good idea. I do a lot of my gaming at night with the lights out, so it's not a solution for me, but I can see why a lot of gamers would want a keyboard with specific marks like that.

HawthornThistleberry said...

$20 as a regular price sounds about right. But if you're in no hurry, you can get them for half that by waiting for specials, getting them with something else, etc.

And if you work in tech, you'll probably find yourself accumulating them anyway; I don't know how many times I've replaced a computer and ended up with its old keyboard, still perfectly functional, being set aside since the new computer came with a new keyboard too.