Felix Jones

I am once again here to make the case that the thing everyone says is bad, is actually good.

Screenshot of Resident Evil. A zombie is biting Jill.

The problem.

Take a look at the original PlayStation controller:

The PSX Gamepad
(Image by the awesome Evan Amos)

Notice that this controller does not have analogue inputs. The player is forced to move only in the 8 directions allowed by the directional-pad on the left.

How does the player move at angles between those 8 directions? Tank controls to the rescue: By instead using left/right buttons to spin the player, the player can now walk forwards/backwards at all those angles within the 8 directions.

The other problem.

The Resident Evil HD Remaster has an option to remove tank controls, in favour of the finer analogue input that can reach all those angles between the 8-directions. This is great for the modern gamer, who is trained to expect “up” to mean “somewhere in the direction towards the top of the screen”, but it immediately exposed the 2nd problem that tank controls solved.

Resident Evil has multiple fixed camera angles of the same room, and as the player reaches the edge of one angle the other camera angle is swapped in.

If you were holding “left” to run towards the “left” edge of the screen, but the new camera angle swaps to the other side of the player, then within the world the “left” edge of the screen is now on the “right”, so if you were still holding “left” you’d now be walking the other direction, back towards the edge of the screen you came from. This results in the player accidentally flipping between two screens if they weren’t quick enough to release the movement button.

The Final Fantasy solution

The PSX era Final Fantasy games (which also use fixed camera angles in a 3D world) solves this by:

  1. Making the location the player loads into be a little ways away from the edge of the screen
  2. Having larger screens that pan, instead of changing camera angle, requiring a loading screen between areas

Both of these give the player plenty of time to let go of the movement key and re-orient themselves.

The Resident Evil HD Remaster solution

When you use the option to remove tank controls, the HD Remaster will detect when the player is holding the analogue stick between camera angle changes, if this is the case then on the new camera angle instead of resetting where “up” means relative to the new camera angle, the previous camera angle’s “up” is kept relative to the world.

I’ll try to explain that better: When you press “up” you define a new “north” within the world, this “north” is kept between camera angle changes until you let go of the analogue stick.

Okay so tank controls were necessary, but they still suck


I see a few comments every now and then from players who say the tank controls added tension to the horror. I do think they are assigning too much design thought behind the tank controls (IMO they are the solution for fine movement with digital inputs), but I do get what they’re saying, it was an emergent part of the Resident Evil experience, attempting to back up from a zombie that got too close, only to trigger a jump scare behind you that you now need to sprint forward to avoid, running around the first zombie.

This is probably felt best in Resident Evil 4, which is a third-person “over the shoulder” game. It was the last Resident Evil game before Capcom went down the weird path of making them action games. I feel the availability of strafing is what contributed to the move away from survival horror, and towards action games.

With that player sentiment towards tank controls, I feel there is something to tank controls that’s worth looking into.

Other games with tank controls

Indeed, there are games that have tank controls that people seem to forget. The id games Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake use tank controls, with the modifier key to convert the turn directions to strafe directions. I wouldn’t be surprised if the id game Hovertank 3D used tank controls because it’s a literal tank (and that it was made a “hover” tank because of the strafe modifier). These games were released for DOS, where the mouse was optional, and all player input was through the digital keys of a computer keyboard.

Continuing the FPS trend, GoldenEye 64 uses tank controls. I don’t think any of us complained whilst playing 4 player split-screen back in the day - but then again, we didn’t have anything better to compare against (other than mouse & keyboard FPS games).

A special FPS game

Resident Evil Survivor. It’s a game I feel I need to defend by itself, but I’ll leave that for another rambly blog post.

Screenshot of Resident Evil Survivor. It is a first person game, the player is shooting a zombie.

As with all PSX games, the game assumes the bareminum controls of the original PlayStation controller, with its digital old directions.

This game uses an FPS control scheme similar to what GoldenEye 64 uses, with tank controls and a dedicate “aim” button for moving the reticule, only with RE Survivor the only way to shoot the gun is to first aim.

After re-playing this game a number of times over the many years (it is very replayable) I had the epiphamy: The controls of this game are the same as the mainline Resident Evil games! Tank controls, hold button to aim/activate shooting, direction pad is used to adjust aiming (turning and aiming up/down).

An extra rant about PSX vs PS1:

Yes Sony made a console called the PSX which was a PS2. But we all called the PS1 the PSX back in the day. I have a theory that this comes from the codename for the original Nintendo PlayStation, which has a chip with the markings “SFX” (not to be confused with the Super FX chip). When Sony moved onto the PlayStation they probably just replaced the Super Famicom with PlayStation to make PSX. Maybe the X means CD ROM eXpansion???.

Alright, that’s the end of my ranting for today.