Noted hacker and maker Ben 'Heck' Heckendorn has published details of his latest creation under Element14's auspice: footpedals designed to 'replace' WASD gaming controls after their 32 year run.
The WASD control system, which uses the aforementioned letter keys in place of the traditional cursor keys, was first seen in the 1982 game Mazogs where it served to make up for the Sinclair ZX81's lack of sensible keyboard layout. It caught on in the era of first-person shooters when mouse-look became the norm, allowing the left hand to sit at a more comfortable distance from the mouse-controlling right - unless you're a sinister lefty, of course - while also providing easy reach to other keys that could be mapped to weapon changes, jumping, object usage or leaning.
WASD as a control layout has become so normalised that gaming keyboards typically come with replacement keycaps for those specific letters in eye-catching colours or with a deeply scooped design. Now, though, its days may be numbered - at least, if Ben Heck has his way.
Known for his innovative controller designs and homebrew laptops, including one based on a Commodore 64
and another on an Xbox 360
, Heck is now the resident hacker at electronics giant Farnell/Element14 where he has created one possible successor to the WASD layout: footpedals.
A viewer of the Ben Heck Show
, dissatisfied with the 'finger-twister' training required to excel at modern games, suggested the creation and Heck obliged. A pair of foot pedals provide mapping to four keys by responding to two levels of motion: a partial press activates one mode, while a heavier press activates the second. The result, Heck claims, is a natural-feeling control system. It allows for forward, backward and strafing motion without the need to lock the left hand to the WASD cluster, although Heck states that he sees it as being of more use mapped to other in-game functions.
The entire project has been created from scratch, using a 3D printer for the pedal parts and the popular Teensy microcontroller - chosen for the ease at which it can be turned into a joystick, keyboard or mouse Human Interface Device controller - for interfacing with the PC.
If you're curious how it was made, or how it works, Heck's video on the project is reproduced below.