Try as they might, peripheral manufacturers have yet to adequately substitute, never mind supercede, the standard keyboard and mouse. Through sheer numbers, the combination has managed to establish itself as the favored gaming tool. So much development has gone into making keyboards and mice work with games, that any alternate control devices have an even larger obstacle to surmount.
Ideazon has taken a new tack on the old problem. Rather than trying to introduce an elaborate, unorthodox device, they’ve simply updated the old design with the ZBoard. A ZBoard is really nothing more than a keyboard base on which a variety of keyboard designs can be placed. Oversized and re-shaped WASD/QE buttons are standard on their MOHAA layout, for example. More conventional designs, like the Microsoft Word or Age of Mythology keyboards have labels on the keys that match default control schemes.
While we might question the use of a Microsoft Word layout for anything but secretary training, the game designs – particularly MOHAA’s – spoke to us. It’s not that we’re dissatisfied with keyboard/mouse controls. Far better that than the traditional alternative – gamepads.
The ZBoard’s appeal is more in improving what we already have. The MOHAA keys are centralized, mapped in a familiar fashion by default and easy to hit. These improvements won’t make anyone a noticeably better player, but they do make movement and other commands more comfortable. At extreme levels of skill – either the truly great or the hopelessly pitiful – one may see improvement. For most of us, it will be a matter of comfort.
Well, relative comfort. As large and user friendly as the main keys are, the remaining ones are small, round and slippery. The numeric keypad is sacrificed and compromises were made in the layout of the standard keys, but they remain easy enough to negotiate for quick bursts of chat. Besides, if you’re using the MOHAA layout, you’re there to play a game, not type a treatise on the long-term cultural effects of Homer’s epics on the Roman mind.
Our Age of Mythology experience was less thrilling. Although AOM hardly lacks keyboard shortcuts, the improvements from the ZBoard design didn’t seem as noticeable. Maybe it is precisely because there are so many commands, there is no way to localize them in one area as there is with a first-person shooter.