Are Tank Controls really so confusing?

I love tank controls. While they aren’t the perfect controls for every kind of game, I’ve never had issue with them in any game that required them and never found them too confusing, unlike a lot of other people. And while a lot of my love for tank controls probably comes from the fact that they are used quite a bit with classic survival horror games and fixed camera angles, two things I love, I still can’t understand why people have such a hard time understanding them!

What exactly are tank controls though? If you grew up outside the PS1 era and haven’t gone back to play games from that era, you may be confused by the term. So I’m going to try my best to explain it here! And hopefully I won’t add to any of the confusion surrounding them…

Tank controls are used mainly with fixed camera angles like this:

Now normally when you press ↑ on the D-Pad or analog stick you’d expect the character, in this case Jill, to turn around and move up towards the top of the screen, but that’s not how things work in tank controls. Instead, pressing ↑ will move the character in the direction they are facing. Using the screen shot above as an example, this would move Jill down towards the bottom of the screen. This is where a lot of people are thrown off when it comes to tank controls.

Most people have the natural instinct that pressing ↑ moves their character towards the top of the screen while pressing ↓ moves them down toward the bottom of the screen. Likewise, people naturally assume pressing ← or → will move their character to the left or right sides of the screen. But again, this isn’t the case. Instead ← and → will make them face those directions, either turning to face left or right. And when you press ↓ your character will step backwards. This is why they are called tank controls actually, as they mimic operating a tank.

I imagine if this is your first time being introduced to tank controls you are probably thinking that they sound needlessly complicated. And I can’t exactly blame you for thinking that. But there’s a very good reason why they are this way and it has to do with the era they were created, like I was saying before. Back in the PS1 era, being able to control the camera of a game was a pretty new idea and not something that was easy to pull off. First you had to have a fully rendered world to look around and second you had to have a way to be able to control the camera at all. A concept that was pretty new at the time. Because of this, often times it was a lot easier to just have a fixed camera angle. That way the developer always knew where the player would be looking so they didn’t have to worry about all that.

Tank controls and fixed camera angles really go hand in hand. There honestly isn’t a better control scheme for those kinds of angles. This is mainly because of the lack of control you have over the camera. Whenever the game switches to a new angle, you won’t know where exactly you are going to be on the screen until you are suddenly there. If you are holding ↑ while transitioning to the next camera angle, you will be moving to the top of that new angle. This could send the player right into a wall, have them go towards an enemy they are trying to avoid, or worse, sometimes send the back to the last camera angle they just walked out from! And this can cause the player and camera angles to jitter back and forth, something that never looks good. This is why tank controls are so important and work so well. By having ↑ make the character on screen walk the way they are facing, they will always move in that direction regardless of the camera angle. It adds some much needed consistency among all the changing angles so you always know how to move your character in a certain way regardless of which way the camera is pointed at them. So, as long as you aren’t facing a wall or enemy, you don’t have to worry about running right in to them just because the camera angle changes on you!

For example, let’s look at this screen again. Moving down from here leads to this screen.
As you can imagine, if you’re holding ↓ while entering into this screen, you’ll be sent walking back into the screen you just came from the moment the camera changes.

I certainly understand how tank controls can be confusing if someone is just learning how to use them. After all, most modern games teach you that ↑ should move you up regardless of where your character is facing. But this is less a problem with tank controls and more of a problem with fixed camera angles and perspective in general. If you simply imagine the camera right behind the character then ↑ moving your forward and ↓ making you step back makes a lot more sense. It’s something people can grasp and understand much more easily. How do I know this? Because when the camera is positioned behind the character at a third person angle, no one seems to notice they are using tank controls! Take Resident Evil 4 for example. It actually has tank controls like the classic Resident Evil games despite not seeming that way at first glance.

It’s all because of the camera angle. The camera is always positioned behind Leon, as you can see. So ↑ moving you forward just makes sense as you’re always facing forward. The only difference between this and how the controls work in the original Resident Evil is literally the camera angle.

See? Jill and Lean move in that exact same way! All that is different is the camera angle.

I understand how it can be a bit hard to get into the mind space to think about it like that with the different camera angles, but when you see both games running side by side, like you can above, hopefully it can help you see what I mean. Regardless of that, it still baffles me that some people refuse to play certain games simply because they have tank controls. While they can be awkward at first, it never takes a long time to get use to them. Most people simply assume tank controls are clunky and confusing without even giving them a shot. Which is a massive shame as there are a ton of great games that use them!

I’m really hoping that this post can help people see that tank controls aren’t really that confusing. While they don’t really work in any other games besides ones with fixed camera angles, they still get such a bad rep for just taking a bit more thought than other control types. So please, if there’s a game with tank controls that you are interested in, at least give it a try! It might take a bit but I promise you’ll get use to the controls in no time. And then you’ll see why they can work so well to begin with!

But those are just my thoughts! What are some of yours? Never tried a game with tank controls before? Did my explanation help make them seem less confusing? I’d love to hear your thoughts so don’t be shy!

And thank you for taking the time to read the post! If you enjoyed it feel free to leave a Like or share the blog with a friend. You can also follow the blog on Twitter too. Also if there’s a topic you’d like me to maybe discuss, go ahead and tell me in the comments! Any interaction is appreciated so thanks again.

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