When you buy a new game, or play a game at a LAN game for the first time, you're usually not quite as good at it as you could be for a while. One of the ways you can minimise this is to always use the same, or very similar, controls. This enables you to concentrate on learning the weapons and techniques.

Obviously, changing and re-learning your control set is also annoying, so it's a good idea to set up one you like. Here's my advice on controlling Quake-style first person shooters.

Basic controls

The most basic controls are obviously aiming and movement, so get these set up first. Some strange people still use a joystick as their primary control method, but the vast majority of FPS players find this imprecise and lacking in extra controls.

By far the most popular system is mouse-aim. With this control method, the mouse is used to pitch (look up and down) and yaw (spin left and right), while the keyboard is used to walk forwards and backwards, and sidestep. The mouse is usually set so that moving your hand forward looks up, but some players (including me) find it easier to set Invert Mouse so moving the mouse forward looks down.

Most players use the mouse with their right hand and the W, A, S and D keys with their left hand (left-handers may wish to find an alternative to WASD, such as the numeric keypad). A common mistake is to use the cursor keys, but this makes it harder to set keys for jump, duck and other actions, as there are no other keys immediately under your fingers.

After deciding where your movement keys are, fill in other commonly-used controls around them. Whatever you're playing, you'll usually need these:

  • Primary fire: Primary (usually left) mouse button.
  • Secondary fire or zoom: I use the secondary mouse button, but many players prefer to use a key for this, often Q.
  • Weapon selection: I use the mouse wheel to scroll through weapons. 1-9 and 0 should also almost always be reserved for weapons, as some games require this (Unreal Tournament won't let you remap these, and Half-Life's TFC and Counterstrike modifications require them bound for menu use).
  • Reload: I use the middle mouse button and/or R, if playing a game which requires reloading.
  • Jump: Many players use the right mouse button or spacebar (I use X, because it's what Jedi Knight defaulted to - this is probably not the best key, but I've got so used to it, changing it would be more trouble than it's worth).
  • Crouch: Generally Space or Ctrl. I use C (same reason as Jump).
  • Show scoreboard (preferably accessible while running around, I use Tab)
  • Chat and team chat (I use T and Y)
  • Hotkeys for your favourite weapons
  • Console. Some games don't let you remap the console and insist on using the tilde (~) key (or the ` key if you're on a UK keyboard like me), and I generally set any other games to this key as well. Unreal Tournament sets keys based on what they actually do rather than their location (unlike Half-Life, which assumes a US keyboard) so it calls the ` key Unknown5B.

Additional controls

Additional controls you need include:

  • Half-Life and any game with usable objects: Activate (I use Space)
  • Games with an inventory (e.g. Jedi Knight, Unreal): Next Item, Prev. Item, Use Item (I usually use [, ], Enter)
  • Unreal Tournament: Voice orders menu (especially important in teamgames with bots, or teamgames with human players not in the same room as you)

Keys to avoid

Caps Lock, Print Screen, ~, Scroll Lock, Pause/Break and Num Lock are often reserved and should be avoided.