On Acceleration and Sensitivity

In our universe we have many forces–gravity, magnetism and acceleration. I could go on. No force is as hard to master as mouse acceleration. You see, mouse acceleration is one of those things like wide-screen support–only some developers understand it. It takes a little bit of effort to implement, and makes every one’s lives easier when a developer approaches it properly.

To explain it briefly, mouse acceleration is the nature of the speed at which you move your mouse and the presented distance on screen. The faster you move, the further the cursor moves. If you are really dying for a nice technical explanation of mouse acceleration (or “Pointer Ballistics” as Microsoft calls it) you can read about it all on this page on the Microsoft site.

Mouse acceleration does have its uses in regular computer use–clicking and dragging files and navigating the internet can do with a bit of added movement, however for most gamers mouse acceleration is highly undesirable. In a frantic game you need ninja quick reaction speeds, so when you see that enemy in the corner of the screen and zip your mouse across, you’ll find you have missed them entirely because of mouse acceleration.

Gamers spend big bucks on fancy mice and mousepads and can spend literally hours modifying their mouse settings to suite individual games–they don’t need developers putting a wrench in the works by adding forced mouse acceleration to games.

The responsibility of mouse acceleration begins at your mouse (drivers), then your operating system and then finally is placed in the hands of the game. Mouse acceleration can come from any of these 3 places and can be a bit of a headache to track down and control if not eliminate.

The notorious enhance pointer precision checkbox in Windows

The notorious enhance pointer precision checkbox in Windows; the cause of many a headache.

This slider and checkbox represent the only options within Windows to change mouse acceleration–keep in mind how important this mouse stuff is in relation to RSI and basic comfort… and these are the only options Windows can provide. It seems like a basic enough request – don’t fiddle around with my input – yet Windows XP (yes, the same Windows XP that is used by over 400 million people worldwide) had a fault. If you unticked the infamous “enhance pointer precision” in the mouse control panel it only might have no effect. Some claim that the only way to deactivate mouse acceleration in Windows XP is to set the mouse speed to its lowest setting at which speed mouse usage becomes highly impractical. On the other side of computing, Mac OS X has also been criticized for its approach to mouse acceleration.

If you own a nice, expensive mouse your options will look something like this:

Sensitivity, Acceleration, DPI and refresh rate options for a Logitech G9 mouse

Sensitivity, Acceleration, DPI and refresh rate options for a Logitech G9 mouse

The history of mouse acceleration in games has been a long one and hasn’t exactly resulted in what you might call sound progress; Duke Nukem 3d (1996) was the first game to support mouselook (i.e. mouse to control vertical and horizontal movements) however mouse acceleration settings were unavailable–as the game was not true 3d, mouse acceleration wasn’t really necessary.

Quake (1996) was one of the first games to feature a multitude of mouse options, ranging from sensitivity to acceleration; however all of these options are hidden away to the average user in the form of advanced console commands.

Much like with wide-screen gaming, things didn’t exactly ‘progress’ as one might expect, the Unreal engine (1998) bought users back a generation and forced mouse acceleration upon them when playing titles such as Deus Ex and Unreal. Later Unreal titles such as Unreal Tournament 3 require solutions that amount to over 700 characters of .ini file modifications.

One of the common methods of defeating mouse acceleration is by using DirectInput (an option available in many games), however this isn’t always an exact science; with Deus Ex using the DirectInput options removes the usage of mouse on any in-game menus. It may not sound that bad, but when you consider that Deus Ex is one of the most critically acclaimed games ever made–yet you can’t even access the inventory properly when using this fix, it destroys the game.

Half Life (1998) and Counter Strike (1999) are some of the most popular and well regarded FPS genre games in the entire history of gaming, yet require specific launch options to deactivate mouse acceleration from the games. There are no options available through menus.

Given this history you would think developers have woken up to the fact that mouse acceleration is unacceptable, however it is still a problem; take for instance 2K Games’ Bioshock (2007); the number of pissed off users amounted in the hundreds and a 59 page thread was generated on the official forums. The end solution was a few game file edits. Why wasn’t there a simple option within the menu to disable mouse acceleration?

Even though many developers don’t inhibit the players with mouse acceleration, the number of games that include mouse options beyond sensitivity within the in-game menus are few; the problem has also been complicated by the console demographic who expect a bit of mouse acceleration. Developers give PC users dumbed down interfaces a lot of the time because they think everyone is stupid like console users (e.g. Deus Ex 2: Invisible War) Most if not all games at the very least include mouse acceleration settings via console, however figuring out the commands usually requires a bit of Googling.

Some game developer forums are filled with requests that upcoming games feature proper and adequate mouse acceleration settings; customers want these options and developers aren’t very straight forward about providing them; I believe some of this reluctance to include these options is to try and play happy families and not confuse users–even though the users are the ones that want these options. Even having the most basic option in the menu does provide some reassurance when you are trying to figure out whether the game is applying mouse acceleration, the operating system is applying mouse acceleration or you are just going insane.

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One Response to “On Acceleration and Sensitivity”

  1. Kudo Says:

    It’s true that this is an issue- but mainly an issue of windows, from what I experienced. Windows doesn’t make it possible to disable acceleration, you need to apply the accelfix to make it go away. Unacceptable, but microsoft is known to screw people over like that….

    I only have one game that has unfixable acceleration. But there are more out there. Not that that’s the only issue. There are too many games that lack the support to set your sensitivity properly also. Halo is a brilliant example; idiotic console slider crap. Many developers just can’t get it through their head how to set up and allow people to configure controls properly.

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