2    Action Mapping

For each input device your game supports, some or all of the inputs will each perform different actions. Allowing players to configure the specific input that’s mapped to each action, lets them use the inputs that are the most accessible to them.

Watch Time: 15 Minutes
Gameplay: PEGI 3 - 18
Show Transcript

2    Action Mapping

This video looks at how developers can help players to access a game, over 8 modules:

2.1    Introduction to Action Mapping

Every game contains actions such as jump or shoot that the player can perform using various inputs, such as the buttons on a controller. In most cases the developers will decide which input the player will use for each action, when making a game.

Some players may struggle to physically reach or have accurate control over certain inputs so may prefer to use other inputs instead. By allowing players to change which inputs control which actions, you allow them to create a layout that suits them. And while providing the option to choose from pre-made layouts can be good, it’s best to also let players map actions individually to inputs of their choice, for each platform and input device your game supports.

2.2    Remapping

Ideally, let players remap any action to any input, at any point in the game.

In Super Smash Bros. Ultimate pressing the X button would typically make your character jump. But remapping the X input to the Grab action instead means pressing X will make your character grab instead of jump.

Players may want to map the actions they consider most important to the inputs they find most easily accessible.

In Gran Turismo Sport you could remap the Square button from Handbrake to Reverse if you thought you would need to reverse more than handbrake, and Square was a more comfortable input. And to ensure you still have access to all of the actions in the game you could then map the Triangle button to Handbrake.

In some cases developers may decide to automate the process of mapping missing actions for the player, but often it is best to just advise the player that they are missing access to an action so they are fully aware of what has been changed, and in some cases the player may decide that action is not essential for them to play a game.

You can present remapping as changing the action that an input performs. For example, letting the player decide what the X button does. Or you can present remapping as changing the input that performs an action. For example, letting the player decide how to attack. This method of remapping might be easier for the player to understand.

This typically works by the player selecting an action and the game then prompting the player for an input. The player presses a button, or activates any valid input, and this is recorded and mapped to the selected action.

Remapping in Hollow Knight works in this way, so if you select an action such as Dash and then press A, Dash will now be mapped to the A button.

In Forza Horizon 4 you’re able to choose from a number of developer made layouts, but from those you’re then able to create your own configurations, using them as a starting point. So if you create your own layout and select the Accelerate action you will then be prompted for an input. The next input pressed will be mapped to Accelerate.

2.3    Input Stacking

Allowing players to map multiple inputs to the same action can be useful.

Often a game will overwrite the default input when remapping in order to conserve inputs, but in games where spare inputs are available, players may want to use multiple different inputs to perform the same action.

The reason for this could be that while the player will usually prefer to use a particular input to perform an action, there may be instances where a game requires multiple actions to be performed at the same time or in quick succession, and in these situations only the player may want to use a different input instead.

For example In Celeste someone might typically jump using the A button in the majority of situations, but when they’re climbing a wall, they will already be holding down right trigger, so a different input for Jump may be easier for them, perhaps one that is closer to the right trigger, such as the right bumper.

2.4    Simultaneous Inputs

If players are required to access multiple inputs at the same time, let them remap each of those inputs.

In God of War it’s possible to enter Rage mode by pressing L3 and R3 simultaneously. This can be remapped to Cross and Circle, two inputs which could be more accessible to some people.

Pressing any two inputs simultaneously can still be difficult for some, so ideally allow players to map each action to a single input. Entering Camera Mode in Ghost Recon Breakpoint also requires pressing L3 and R3 at the same time, but can be mapped to a single input instead. Here it is set to Up on the D-Pad.

2.5    Interchanging Analog with Digital

Let players remap digital and analog inputs, and swap between the two.

As well as remapping digital inputs, such as the A and the Y button, allow players to remap analog inputs such as triggers and analog sticks.

Southpaw mode is an option found in some first-person games, that allows you to swap the functions of the left and right sticks. So the camera would now be controlled by the left stick instead, which some players may prefer.

Often it is best to include interchangeability between analog and digital inputs where appropriate. This might be useful for players who prefer pressing a button to moving a stick in certain directions, or vice versa.

A button might act as a direction on an analog stick, for example. As is the case in Dirt Rally 2, which lets you remap steering left and right from the horizontal axis of the left stick to two different digital inputs. Here Square will now steer the car left, and Cross is steering right.

Equally, an analog input, like a trigger or a direction on an analog stick, might act as a button. Untitled Goose Game allows mapping digital actions like Crouch and Grab to analog inputs instead. Here we’re changing Grab from A to Right on the right stick.

Multiple actions controlled by a single analog input may need to be separated to allow mapping to individual axes and directions. For example, separating out movement into each individual direction.

In Cuphead each direction of movement would normally be mapped to a direction of the left stick, but it is possible to map one or more of these directions to digital inputs instead. So here instead of pressing down on the left stick, we now press Y.

2.6    Input Methods

Allow players to use alternative input methods for each action where possible.

Some games may offer players additional input methods for certain actions, like using motion control to steer in a driving game. Some input methods may be inaccessible to some players so it’s important to allow these actions to be mapped to inputs that use a different input method.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe gives each player the choice to map steering to either motion or the left stick or D-Pad before starting a race. The game has made adjustments to the steering so that it functions in a similar way regardless of which input method is used.

A common use for motion is to aim the camera in a game, so Gravity Rush 2 on PlayStation 4 gives you the option to control the camera using either the motion and rotation of the Dualshock 4 controller, or the analog stick instead.

Both Splatoon 2 and Superhot on Nintendo Switch let players choose whether they use motion controls, or the right stick to aim and look.

And the same should apply to touch. Days Gone uses the touchpad on the DualShock 4 to navigate menus, but also allows you to use the left and right bumper as an alternative.

2.7    Contextual Mapping

Allow players to remap for each context in a game where possible.

During a game, the set of actions available to a player may change depending on the context the player is in. These contexts can be anything like driving a vehicle, attacking or defending in a sports game, or even being in a menu.

So for example in Overwatch, while playing as Reinhardt you’re able to hold up a shield with one input, or charge forward with another. But if you then switch to a different character, although some actions like Jump will still be available, the overall set of available actions, and therefore the context, has changed.

You could have global mappings for actions that are shared between contexts, but then allow players to remap for each context as well. So in Overwatch it’s possible to assign actions globally, but then also override these by changing the action mappings for each character individually.

Ghost Recon Breakpoint allows players to remap based on the contexts they find themselves in, such as being on foot or in a vehicle.

Menus should also be considered a context. Dark Souls Remastered allows you to remap many of the actions available while navigating the menu.

Slay the Spire does the same while also allowing you to remap Confirm and Cancel to any input.

2.8    Reducing the Total Number of Inputs

Help players by reducing the number of inputs required to play your game.

Remapping allows players to use the inputs they prefer and have greater access to. Remapping can also help players by reducing the total number of inputs needed to play a game.

Simply adding the ability to remap controls could help players reduce the number of inputs they use, as some players might remap inputs mid-game to perform some of the less commonly required actions, though this may not be ideal.

A better way to let players do this is through contextual remapping. Allow players to use the same input for different actions, if the actions they are bound to are mutually exclusive and you could never perform them at the same time.

When rowing a boat in Sea of Thieves you aren’t able to jump or reload, so you could remap A and X to the left and right oar stroke, so that you no longer need to use the triggers.

In general, the more contexts there are the greater the chance that the player can reduce the total number of controls.

Any instance where the set of actions available to the player changes should be considered a different context, even if the contexts only differ by a single action. Even something like looking at or being near an interactable object, such as a door, or your character being in mid-air could be considered a different context.

Let the player remap the same input to more than one action, if those actions could be performed at the same time without affecting the core of the game. And if the core of the game might be affected, let players decide for themselves where to make compromises.

Battlefield V allows you to do this, so you might map both move forward and Vault, to Up on the left stick, so both actions will be performed at the same time when pushing up on the left stick, meaning you no longer need an additional button to vault.

While allowing players to configure this themselves can be useful, options or defaults that reduce the total number of inputs required can show players different ways they could play.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has the option to jump using Up on the left stick so you no longer need a button to jump.

NHL offers an NHL ’94 scheme which uses a reduced number of inputs to play.

Some games have added options that make it possible to play with a single stick where normally two would be required. Often one for movement and one for the camera or aiming.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider has a single stick mode, which is made possible by considering aiming as a different context. While aiming, control of the analog stick will change from movement to controlling the camera, so a second stick is no longer required for this.

GEARS 5 also has the option of single stick aiming, but extends this by having a single stick mode as a separate choice that allows you to move around and control the camera with a single stick even when not aiming.

When evaluating the controls that players will use, consider how your game could include a way to play with access to fewer inputs. You might have options that go beyond changing the way input is handled and actually alter the gameplay as well, assisting the player and reducing the total number of inputs.

This video looked at Action Mapping. Review the different modules in this topic, and discover other topics, on the SpecialEffect DevKit website at specialeffectdevkit.info.


  1. 2.1    Introduction to Action Mapping
  2. 2.2    Remapping
  3. 2.3    Input Stacking
  4. 2.4    Simultaneous Inputs
  5. 2.5    Interchanging Analog with Digital
  6. 2.6    Input Methods
  7. 2.7    Contextual Mapping
  8. 2.8    Reducing the Total Number of Inputs

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