I am a big time computer gamer. So much so that my entire office is built around making the playing of computer games as fun and effortless on my part as possible. I am going to take this column to share with you my tips and tricks for hardware and arrangement that I have honed and crafted over 10 years of trial and error of playing MMOs and other computer games.
I’m not going to talk computer spec, because that is a moving target. There are plenty of better sites out there for figuring out what is going to be a rad, yet affordable, system for you to play your games with. I’m here to talk about everything else.
First off, and this is a huge one, get a second monitor. Having two monitors will change your life. You can play your game on one screen, and have a web browser up on another, quickly looking up quest hints or have maps for new areas, etc. When I played through Dragon Age: Origins again recently, I used a FAQ to make sure I didn’t miss anything important. This was up on my second monitor the entire time, so I could easily refer to it without alt-tabbing.
You will need to run your game of choice in “windowed mode” or better yet “borderless window” and so you won’t be eeking out every possible frame of framerate goodness that your computer can pump out, but I’ve been willing to take the slight hit in FPS for the convenience of reading Reddit while I fly across zones.
Not Matt's PC... just some dude's who likes Mickey.
A lot of people complain they don’t have space on their desk for a second monitor. I know I didn’t. That’s why when I settled on my office layout I installed two wall mounts for my LCD monitors. These can be had for under $40 on Amazon, and I am pretty sure every flat panel has the mounting holes on the back for attaching to these swing-arm mounts. (You want to match up the VESA mounting holes of the monitor with the ones on the mount). As long as you don’t mind drilling into a stud, you can essentially remove the entirety of your monitor(s) from your desk. Having done this three years ago, I can never go back to a desk with a monitor eating up the real-estate again.
Now, as for keyboards, I am kinda stuck. I have a Microsoft “natural” keyboard, with the angle and the break in the middle. I have used this style of keyboard for as long as I can remember, to the point that I am far slower of a typist (with many many mistakes) when using a normal keyboard. If that wasn’t the case, I’d probably have invested in a mechanical keyboard for the better tactile feel of the thing. If someone made a “natural” style mechanical keyboard I’d be all over it.
My mouse has undergone many metamorphosis over the years, more than any other part of my setup. I’ve tried corded, and cordless, MMO-mice with their keypad of buttons on the thumb, and even the RAT 7 completely customized out to fit the palm of my hand. To me a mouse needs some “heft” to it. Logitech’s ability to add weights to their mice has had me coming back to them again and again. I am currently using a Logitech G700 cordless (but the cord is plugged in), and love the amount of programmable buttons on it. It’s a Goldilocks moment for me, not too many, and not too few. Just right.
For my most hardcore of games, I have a Logitech G-13. This is a hand-sized keyboard and mini joystick that is completely programmable (even has the ability to program macros into it). I have setups programmed into it for all my favorite games, and when the game allows for UI customization, I set up the hotbars to mimic the layout of the G-13 so I can tell at a glance which key on the G-13 does what action in game. I usually leave the bottom three keys for stuff I do all the time like bring up the map, inventory, and “Interact”.
Honestly I can’t play MMOs anymore without the thing. Having that many abilities at my command without needing to reach for the shift, alt, or ctrl keys is amazing. The screen on the thing will also display information like Health and Mana, but I have found I am never in a position to look down at my G-13 vs. looking for the place in my UI where that information is available.
Finally there is my speaker setup. I have a pair of external speakers, but I also use headphones. Because of this I have a headphone jack extension cable snaking out from my computer to a point on my desk that it is taped down. Near here are the cables for my speakers and my headphones, so I can hot-swap between the two quickly and don’t have to mess with any control panels telling anything which ports to output my sound to.
I’d love to hear if any of you have any particular setup tricks that you swear by. I’m always looking to improve my setup and you all have just as much time invested into playing computer games and MMOs as I do, so I am sure you have ideas that I haven’t thought of yet.
Matt Miller / Matt Miller is a 22 year veteran of the computer game industry and columnist for MMORPG.com. He was Lead Designer for City of Heroes over five years, and has "seen it all" when it comes to MMOs (but still learns something new every day). You can always reach him on twitter @MMODesigner.