The games of strategy and resource management they’ve been an almost exclusive fiefdom of PC for years. Many console users dreamed of having installments like Age of Empires and Frostpunk in their libraries, for example, because let’s be honest: playing on console is usually incredibly more comfortable, especially having Nintendo Switch and Steam Deck. But there is a dilemma: what about the controls?
The release of Age of Empires II Definitive Edition for Xbox has made us think about how strategy games available on consoles have evolved to offer their experiences to more players. The idea is not to enter into a debate about what is better, whether to control or mouse and keyboard… that confrontation already smells closed. In this publication we are interested in adaptation of the game to the platform.
Evolve or die: strategy games conquer consoles
Consoles account for a very, very important bulk of video game sales. The current generation has two consoles with different variants: PS5 and Xbox Series X/S, being Xbox Series S a hyper-economical option to play the entire past, present and future catalog with Game Pass. Dark magic. To these are added Nintendo Switch, Steam Deck and the still alive PS4 and Xbox One.
Many companies want this piece of the pie for their strategy games, so they are adapting to colonize them. Other genres have done the same as Diablo III and Diablo IVand the constant (although already silent) rumors of World of Warcraft for consoles.
The question is: how have they adapted to offer a playable experience with a controller? We can use the recent Age of Empires II Definitive Edition as the best example. The adaptation is based on two main pillars: the design of a control system by shortcuts and the hud redesign to accompany the controls.
Controller controls for strategy games (and others that have many commands) are resolved by using the use of shortcuts. The crosshead plays a very important role in the case of Age of Empire. On the other hand, the Y, B, A and X buttons have various functions depending if you press them alone or while holding the RT or LT. Our colleague Frankie MB, who did the analysis, adds:
There is a special addition: the crosshead. I explain. If you move the units one by one you do nothing, so you have to control several at the same time. With the crosshead shortcuts you can select the units that do nothing, all of one type… or whatever you need! Because you can customize the shortcuts! And it is that customization that allows you to function well.
On the other hand, the hud layout plays a decisive role in this whole affair. There’s no use having a control scheme like this if you can’t represent it visually. In the case of Age of Empires, the HUD is different and has more elements to represent all the actions.
In addition, within the design of the HUD an element of vital importance is included: the radial menus, which can be used for specific actions or to indicate general actions. Below you can see an example from Age of Empires. The menu represents the materials and economy system.
And you will think: surely there are very few strategy and resource management games that have achieved it… because obviously it is something difficult to achieve. Surely it is not an easy task, but you are wrong. There’s a large number of them for every taste. Some are: Age of Empires II Definitive Edition, Frostpunk, Cities: Skylines, Sid Meier’s Civilization VI, Jurassic World Evolution 2, They Are Billions and many more.
Despite everything, you have to be realistic: keyboard and mouse will always have many more possibilities than the controller in this field. However, the controller has a comfort factor that does not always have a keyboard and mouse within reach. Everything has its pros and cons. The good thing about all this is that strategy games have managed to reach much more audience after its arrival on consoles… and that only enriches the video game industry.