PC Gamer

Image via defunct gaming site Freakygaming.

WASD feels inevitable today. Once mouselook became standard in 3D games, it made little sense (at least for right-handed players) to hold your left arm across your chest to reach the arrow keys. The WASD keys were more comfortable, and offered easy access to Shift and Space. But even though WASD seems like the obvious choice now, far fewer players used it 20 years ago.

Our favorite four letter word was never a foregone conclusion, and didn't become standard through some gaseous enlightening that spread to every PC gamer simultaneously. The new movement scheme took several years to catch on, and while we can t know whose fingers found their way to WASD first, we do have a good idea of who popularized the style: the greatest Quake player in the universe, Dennis Thresh Fong.

Fong made history when he took home John Carmack's Ferrari 328 after winning the first-ever nationwide Quake tournament in 1997. And when he won that tournament, defeating Tom "Entropy" Kimzey on Castle of the Damned, his right hand was on a mouse, and his left hand was perched over the four keys we now consider synonymous with PC gaming. But even then, not everyone played that way.

His brother was playing with a keyboard and trackball, and he was winning.

In the early days of first-person shooters, Fong says the keymappings were all over the place, and even the great Thresh had only just started to play with a mouse at all. Imagine him just a few years before, sometime around 1993, as a teenager losing a match of Doom against his brother Lyle. Like many Doom players, Fong used only the keyboard. Without the need to look up or down, it was a natural choice so much that using a mouse was even considered weird. His brother, however, was playing with a keyboard and trackball, and he was winning. It wasn t every game both were excellent players but Lyle won enough that one summer Fong decided he had to learn to play with a mouse. After that, he was unbeatable.

Right after I made that switch, my skill improved exponentially, says Fong. Pretty much, from then on, I never lost.

It took some experimentation including a strange attempt to move with WADX but Fong settled on WASD and has been using it since Doom. Did he invent the scheme? No, probably not. Others were also gravitating to the left side of the keyboard for Doom at the same time. But without Fong's influence, the default could have ended up different. It might have been EDSF, or stranger configurations like ZXC to strafe and move backwards, and the right mouse button to move forwards. Some early shooters bound movement to the arrow keys. In 1994, System Shock used ASDX, while Descent used AZ for forward/reverse and QE for banking (if you didn't happen to have a joystick).

Fong tells us he even knew a player who used ZXCV to move.

I m certainly not going to take credit for the creation of [WASD], says Fong. I stumbled across it. I m sure other people started using it as well just based on what was comfortable for them. I definitely think I helped popularize it with a certain set of gamers, particularly the ones that played first person shooters."

Quake wasn't the first game to introduce mouselook (Marathon came before it), but it was the most influential.

It s likely that he did. The very concept of a professional gamer was new at the time, and Fong was well-known on the west coast as the best player around. As Fong s celebrity grew, the one question everyone asked him was: What s your config? His answer could be most readily found in Thresh s Quake Bible, which describes the WASD formation as an inverted T. And his guide carried weight. Even before his success as a Quake player, Fong was a Doom champion, and so people imitated him, just as the kids at the basketball court by my house spend far too much time trying to hit Steph Curry s 30-foot shots.

The evidence can be found on old bulletin board systems. In one thread from 1997, a poster recommends using Q and E to strafe and A and D to turn. Another suggests using the keypad for movement, and someone else says they use A, Shift, Z, X. It wasn't the case that everyone simply gravitated to the 'obvious' choice of WASD or ESDF, and in another thread, we see how Thresh's performance in the Quake tournament spread his style. His play was so impressive, the poster looking for his config speculates that it was impossible for him to turn so fast with a mouse.

Another legend, Quake programmer John Carmack, took note. Even when I was hanging out with Carmack, wherever, at E3, random people would come up and he would hear them asking me what my configuration was, says Fong. So he ended up building a Thresh stock config into Quake 2.

It was a relief. Not only could Fong sit down at any computer with Quake 2 and instantly load his configuration, every time he got the question, all he had to say was type exec thresh.cfg.

Half-Life was one of the first games to bind WASD to movement by default.

Convenient as it was, Fong doesn t think the inclusion of his config was the main factor in the rise of WASD, and I d agree. By the time Quake 2 was out, WASD was starting to feel like common knowledge. I used it, and I don t remember hearing Thresh s name associated with it at the time, though it s possible his configuration entered my consciousness two or three people removed.

And yet games, strangely, took a while to catch up. Carmack may have bundled Thresh s config with Quake 2, but when it released in 1997 the default controls were still arrow keys. A year later, though, that changed. If Thresh's Quake tournament win was WASD's first watershed moment, the second came in 1998 with the release of Half-Life. The Quake and Doom players at Valve perhaps influenced directly or indirectly by Carmack, Thresh, and other top Doom and Quake players included WASD in Half-Life s default keyboard and mouse config, which helped solidify it as the first-person shooter standard.

Valve engineer Yahn Bernier checked Half-Life's original config file for us and confirmed it included WASD. "I remember finalizing this file (maybe with Steve Bond) during the lead up to shipping HL1 but don t recall specifics about when WASD was settled on or really why. We probably carried it forward from Quake1 " he wrote in an email.

The same year, and less than a month after Half-Life, Starsiege Tribes also made WASD default. Quake 3 followed suit in 1999, and WASD's popularity grew even more. It was also the default binding in 2000's Daikatana, but Half-Life, Tribes, and Quake 3 probably had a bit more to do with its popularity.

In a period of a year, Half-Life, Tribes, and Quake 3 set the standard we use today.

I always rebind to ESDF.

Gabe Newell

There were still plenty of heretical control schemes in 1999 like System Shock 2's, which defaulted to WADX (and S for crouch). But WASD had momentum. If it wasn t already ubiquitous by 2004, World of Warcraft defaulting to WASD codified it for millions of PC gamers. Now it s in RPGs and MOBAs and even strategy games, controlling camera movement over maps.

Interestingly, Valve boss Gabe Newell doesn t use WASD. I personally don't like WASD as it takes your hand away from your typing home keys, he wrote in an email to PC Gamer. I always rebind to ESDF. Newell's not alone there. Do a little Googling and you'll find plenty of people arguing that ESDF is the more natural configuration.

More surprisingly, another Half-Life developer, level designer Dario Casali, also rejects WASD. Instead, he prefers ASXC. It feels natural to me, where WASD feels odd, wrote Casali. But lots of people scoff at my config.

What would PC gaming be like had EDSF or ASXC been Half-Life s default? No offense intended to Newell or Casali, but I shudder to think of it. ASXC just sounds bonkers to me. Newell's fairly commonplace ESDF is more palatable, but as Thresh echoes, it feels harder to hit Shift and Control while easier to mispress one of the surrounding keys. For me, Thresh, and millions of PC gamers, it s WASD for life.

You can read more about the history of Quake in our retrospective celebrating Quake's 20th anniversary. We're also celebrating by running a Quake server through the weekend, and Thresh himself will be playing on our US-West server today, Friday, from 3:30 pm - 4:30 pm Pacific time.

Wes Fenlon also contributed to this article.

PC Gamer

When IGN pressed for a status update on the rumoured Half-Life and Portal movies, JJ Abrams responded, "Not yet, but they're in development, and we've got writers, and we're working on both those stories. But nothing that would be an exciting update." Au contraire, Mr Abrams; confirmation of their existence is more exciting than you think.

If the concept of a Half-Life or Portal movie is all news to you, I'm not surprised—there was a brief flurry of activity on the subject in 2013, when Abrams and Gaben got together at the DICE summit to talk about cross-platform storytelling. Newell suggested that "either a Portal movie or a Half-Life movie" could work, while Abrams said he'd like to make a game with Valve.

Even further back, in 2010 Newell lamented the quality of pitches he'd received from a litany of Hollywood production companies for a movie based on the Half-Life franchise.

"Their stories were just so bad. I mean, brutally, the worst. Not understanding what made the game a good game, or what made the property an interesting thing for people to be a fan of."

Evidently he found common ground with Abrams, because it seems the collaboration has the green light.

PC Gamer

Sven Co-op is, as the title suggests (the Co-op part, not the Sven part) a cooperative multiplayer game based on Valve's mega-hit FPS Half-Life. It actually began development as a Half-Life mod more than 15 years ago, but in the summer of 2013 Valve gave the team permission to release it as a standalone game on Steam. And today, it's finally happening

To celebrate the release, the developers are holding a release party on the Gamesurge IRC server—another testament to its aged roots. A guide detailing the capabilities of the new Angelscript plugins is also now available.

Sven Co-op was originally based on Half-Life and retains similar weapons, monsters, and characters, but the difficultly has been ramped up to support cooperative play. Sven Co-op's levels are set as missions and are generally separate from each other. Many missions span several maps and some are collected together in a series," the game description states. "The aim of most levels is to reach the end or to achieve an objective—obtaining a high score is not essential to beat a level, it's just part of the fun.

And it looks like a ton of fun. Sven Co-op is available now—for free, by the way—on Steam.

PC Gamer

We know virtually nothing about Half-Life 3. We don't know if it exists in any kind of incomplete state, or if not, if it will exist at all at any point in the near or distant future. We don't even know if Valve wants to make it exist at this point. But we do know, thanks to Valve's Chet Faliszek, that it will not be a VR game.

As reported by VG247, Faliszek was asked following his talk about VR at EGX if Half-Life 3 would be a virtual reality game. "No," he replied, before moving on to discuss how the bandwidth requirements of VR headsets mean they won't be going wireless anytime soon. But the Half-Life inquisitor wasn't ready to give up quite so easily, so he asked again.

"I said no," Faliszek answered again. And that, apparently, was that.

So, Half-Life 3 isn't being developed for VR? Or Half-Life 3 isn't being developed at all? For such a succinct answer, it sure leaves a lot of room for interpretation. On the other hand, he didn't deny that it's being made. Half-Life 3 not VR confirmed.

PC Gamer
PC Gamer

Less than 24 hours remain on the countdown clock at the Black Mesa Research Facility website, which has switched to a new and rather alarming emergency broadcast. I'm pretty sure it's actually the same message the site began to broadcast over the new year, although some details may have changed. Either way, it's a chilling (and exciting!) notification that something has gone very wrong at Black Mesa.

The teaser website is fun, but practically speaking it's the appearance of the Black Mesa Workshop on Steam that points to all of this hype being somehow related to Black Mesa, the Source engine-based remake of the original Half-Life. It could be that the Xen levels, which aren't currently part of Black Mesa, are ready for release, or it could signal the long-awaited launch of the retail version of the game on Steam.

The Workshop contains seven maps, all for multiplayer battles, as well as an eighth, entitled, "asdf0," which as we all know is computer-speak for, "This is a test." There's no store page link, however, and the home and discussion links lead to either the Steam storefront or the Steam Workshop front pages; trying to "manually" reach a Black Mesa store page by using the app ID number from the Workshop page in a regular Steam URL is also a bust.

Despite the near-certitude that this is all tied into Black Mesa, more resolutely optimistic fans may still maintain hope that it's all a lead-up to the announcement of Half-Life 3. Buried in the code of the BMRF.us website is an ascii image of the mysterious G-Man, above a link to "THREE.WebGLRenderer." It's not exactly "confirmed!" but dare to dream, right?

Whatever it is, the countdown clock will hit zero at 9:47 Mountain Standard Time on May 5. Be ready.

PC Gamer

Doom isn't the only aging shooter than's getting bloodier through modding. Now Half-Life has received a generous dose of gore and gibs with the Brutal Half-Life mod. Inspired by Brutal Doom, the adventures of Gordon Freeman have taken a turn for the gross with dismemberment, decapitations, gallons of blood, and some new moves.

Oh boy. I done made a mess of Barney.

Instead of just shooting monsters and soldiers, now you can chew off their individual limbs with bullets or pop their heads off with a shotgun blast. In fact, if you shoot off all their arms and legs, they'll flop to the ground and writhe around, still alive. You can smash their bodies into splattery glop, too. Those Barneys sure have a lot of blood in them. At least they used to.

Sorry, Vort, but the easiest way to get your collar off is by removing your head.

Not only do your opponents get covered in blood, you do too. After wading through the gooey spray that results from hyper-violent close-up combat, your weapons will become caked in gore. Speaking of weapons, there are a couple new ones. The M249 from Opposing Force has been added so you can really let some lead fly. And, Doom's own BFG can be collected, letting you put the green-glowing smackdown on crowds of enemies.

Not surprising that your own weapons get covered in blood.

There are some new animations, because as you'd expect, when you shoot someone's leg, arm, or head off they tend to move a bit differently. There are also added effects, like different types of explosions and smoke. The mod also comes with its own map, a sort of arena-style monster zoo for you to run around and fight whatever sort of enemies you like, accessible from the main menu.

And, the mod allows you to kick a dude, just like real scientists do. I always felt like Freeman should have been able to kick. He's gotta have strong legs after all the walking, sprinting, and standing in Limbo he's been doing.

Just open the door, Brainiac.

Brutal Half-Life can be found here, and it comes with its own installer which adds it to your Steam games list after a restart. It's only in beta, so I did get a couple crashes and once or twice maps didn't load properly. Otherwise, it's a bloody good time.

PC Gamer
PC Gamer

Something is happening over at BMRF.US, a website associated with the Source-based Half-Life remake Black Mesa: Source. The site is repeating an emergency broadcast warning of "a disaster of unknown type" that has occurred at the Black Mesa Research Facility, and ordering the immediate evacuation of everyone within 75 miles. Half-Life 3 confirmed?

Well, no, I think we can safely say that's not it. But the warning may have something to do with a coming launch of Black Mesa: Source as a stand-alone game on Steam. It was originally released as a free mod in 2012, and in late 2013 was among the first games to get the Greenlight on Steam—a somewhat surprising development, given that it's based entirely on Valve's intellectual property.

It's generally assumed that when the commercial launch rolls around, it will include the Xen levels, which weren't included with the original mod. According to a post on the Black Mesa: Source forums, however, one of the developers said the alert "has nothing to do with the imminent release of Xen," but added that more hints may be in the offing.

It's worth remembering that the BMRF site was actually part of the Black Mesa: Source ARG that launched shortly after the mod was released, and as noted by Reddit, the site is owned by the Black Mesa web developer. It's legit, in other words, but legit what, exactly, remains a mystery.

PC Gamer

Something is happening over at BMRF.US, a website associated with the Source-based Half-Life remake Black Mesa: Source. The site is repeating an emergency broadcast warning of "a disaster of unknown type" that has occurred at the Black Mesa Research Facility, and ordering the immediate evacuation of everyone within 75 miles. Half-Life 3 confirmed?

Well, no, I think we can safely say that's not it. But the warning may have something to do with a coming launch of Black Mesa: Source as a stand-alone game on Steam. It was originally released as a free mod in 2012, and in late 2013 was among the first games to get the Greenlight on Steam—a somewhat surprising development, given that it's based entirely on Valve's intellectual property.

It's generally assumed that when the commercial launch rolls around, it will include the Xen levels, which weren't included with the original mod. According to a post on the Black Mesa: Source forums, however, one of the developers said the alert "has nothing to do with the imminent release of Xen," but added that more hints may be in the offing.

It's worth remembering that the BMRF site was actually part of the Black Mesa: Source ARG that launched shortly after the mod was released, and as noted by Reddit, the site is owned by the Black Mesa web developer. It's legit, in other words, but legit what, exactly, remains a mystery.

...

Search news
Archive
2016
Jun   May   Apr   Mar   Feb   Jan  
Archives By Year
2016   2015   2014   2013   2012  
2011   2010   2009   2008   2007  
2006   2005   2004   2003   2002