If you were playing computer games around 2000 and before, you probably remember that some or all games were controlled a bit differently than today. Namely, the games used to utilize arrow keys, instead of W, A, S, and D for movement.
But how and when did it happen exactly? While we don't point first the game with WASD, we have some interesting information.
Why did movement keys move to WASD?
You probably guess why this happened, and that's right, it was probably because the mouse started to be used in FPS games more often. When holding a mouse with your right hand, you just have more keys under your hand, while your left hand has more keys to reach besides WASD keys.
When were the gamers switched to WASD?
This is believed to have started with the 1996 game Quake; however not the game itself exactly. Quake was shipped with arrow keys as movement keys by default, but some experienced gamers decided to configure movement keys on the left-hand side. The game Unreal also used WASD. In multiplayer games, along with using the mouse for looking around, this gave the players some advantage. Game developers saw this as the direction to go, and started shipping their games with WASD as default movement keys.
I had a chance to play some PC games around 1999 like Blood. It was controlled by arrow keys. "Fire" was assigned to Ctrl and alternate fire was the X key. The timing was done with Page Up and Page Down keys, however, I would only use it to look up and down because aiming wasn't so required (or even implemented) in that era. The mouse wasn't used, though it would if you wanted. I can remember I tried it, and the mouse movement wasn't so good then (the mouse would hardly move if you dragged it slowly). Nowadays, there are various remasters and emulations that control the Blood much better with mouse and WASD.
Quake 2 was probably one of the first games I played with WASD. While I don't remember it very well, I can say it didn't feel good to change from arrow keys to WASD and mouse control. Now, surely it'd feel the opposite to change back.
Something I can remember is WASD would also introduce "key rollover" (or ghosting for some) in older keyboards. That means for example if you press W, A, and Ctrl at the same time, they won't register properly; instead, you will hear the computer beep. So probably using WASD properly wasn't even possible in the "older" games at some point.
Why not still use arrow keys, and the mouse?
It's probably because arrow keys are a bit separated from other keys, while W, A, S, D are close to Ctrl, Shift, Space, and other letters. And the W, A, S, D probably is more natural for left-handed people (which lefts out the right-handed people, but that's another subject), because it keeps both hands in a more straight position.
That being said, some people who use the mouse with their right hand can configure the game movement keys as I, J, K, L. However it's not hard to guess this is going to be a bit cumbersome to configure for each game if the user plays lots of FPS games.
Remember that in some keyboards like the French keyboard, WASD is different. On a French "azerty" keyboard, WASD becomes ZQSD because the layout of the letters is a bit different.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of WASD movement control?
Avantages of W, A, S, D:
- Generally, much more control to look around and use things around the same time.
- In FPS games, you can reload (R), crouch (C or Ctrl), and use (E) easily.
Disadvantages of W, A, S, D:
- If you're playing a FPS game first time in your life, and if movement isn't assigned at all to arrow keys, this can confuse you.
- Some left-handed people may not be liking this as the "default" way of control nowadays.