Do you see the difference between these two
It’s not just the quality of the graphics.
Look at the ways you can look around.
Side to side.
Side to side and up and down.
The advent of 3D games that utilize all the
dimensions didn’t just require better graphics
It required a way to control movement and
vision quickly and easily.
When you look at the manual for Quake, one
of the first games to really utilize what’s
called “freelook,” you see that the developers
didn’t really know how to do it either.
Some people still used the keyboard to look
up and down.
And to move forward and backward? Arrow keys.
But on computers today, a game as popular
as Fortnite— a game so mainstream that journalists
trying to seem hip add Fortnite to their videos—
even Fortnite defaults movement controls to
the same four keys.
Not the arrow keys, but
The answer involves gaming’s first superstar
and it shows how a legend can actually
change the mechanics of play.
On Monday August 26th, 1996, the Wall Street
Journal featured an article about a presidential
campaign and the first professional gamer,
Dennis “Thresh” Fong.
“They ended up doing that little stencil
drawing of me.
I think it was me and I think
it was Bill Clinton.
What got me into gaming initially were called
MUDS — Multi-user dungeons —
think of it like World of Warcraft, but text-based
World of Warcraft.
So like, if you wanted to walk in this game
you would have to literally
write like “Walk north. Walk south.”
But Thresh didn’t build his reputation on
It was playing the 3D game
Quake — released in 1996.
He never lost a tournament. But the game did
present some new control challenges for all
“When most people started playing games
back in those days, you just used a keyboard.
And then over time, people realized the keyboard
had a fixed rate of turn.
So if you wanted
to turn left, it would kinda go like that
– so you wouldn’t be able to flick. I eventually
switched to a mouse.”
A keyboard and mouse combo were necessary
by the late 90s, so it was crucial to find
a way to use the mouse to look and the keyboard
to move the player.
But the programmers didn’t figure out the
best way to do it. The players did.
“Some people used arrow keys, which were
on the right hand side of the keyboard, and
the mouse, some people would only use a keyboard,
some people would use a horizontal row, like
There were literally probably hundreds of
different combinations that people used.
I found WASD on my left hand, and then using the
mouse on my right hand to be the most comfortable.
By default, the weapons, you have to hit the
numbers to switch weapons.”
The arrow keys were far from weapons switching
numbers and other important keys like control
To strafe- or step sideways – you often needed
to hit a side directional key and shift at
the same time.
That was easier with WASD than arrows.
But ESDF, or RDFG might have accomplished
the same thing. It was Thresh’s influence
that made WASD a standard.
“People started copying and using WASD and
the mouse as their standard key configuration.
I think enough people started using it, it became
really popular, where the games just started making
that the default key combination and configuration
for a lot of games like Quake.”
Programmer John Carmack built Thresh’s
configuration into a special command in the
sequel, Quake II.
Anybody could use the same controls as Thresh.
That included sensitivity and speed, but also
W, A, S, and D.
That layout spread from the leading game and
player in just a couple of years.
It quickly showed up in the manuals as defaults
for an early multiplayer shooter, Starsiege
Tribes, and the once-in-a-generation hit,
which assumed players would use
a keyboard, mouse, and WASD.
“I can’t say that I, like, invented it
— it was just what was comfortable for me,
and as the top player in my generation, people
just wanted to use what I used. It’s kinda
cool that it’s the standard today.
If you wanna see more of Thresh, check out
the eSports episode of Explained on Netflix.
There’s a lot of League of Legends in the
episode — if you play, you might recognize
the champion Thresh.
That champion was actually
named for the Thresh that you just saw.