I love when I find something I want to write about by accident, something that I stumble across by pure luck, with nary a pitch to be heard. It’s like finding an Easter Egg in the middle of September.
Such is the case with OKeez, a brilliant project out of Belgium. OKeez wants to turn your iPad into a totally customizable, community-driven controller for your PC games.
Anyone who plays anything more complicated than, say, Bejeweled probably gets the concept pretty quickly.
You see, the further you get into a game (especially if that game is an MMORPG), the more ridiculous the controls get. What begins as three or four buttons suddenly jumps up to eight…then nine…then twenty. By the time you’ve reached the endgame, you’re shouting commands into a headset while trying to find the right attack button, swimming in a sea of keys.
Wait — was your team’s healing spell mapped to the 8 key, or the 9 key? 8 or 9? Quick! OH GOD WHAT DO WE DO? Screw it, try 9! Nope, it was 8. Everyone’s dead. Way to go…
The problem: Keyboards weren’t really made for this. From a usability standpoint, mapping dozens of controls to arbitrary, label-less keys is about as terrible as it gets. Sadly, we don’t really have anything better.
Enter OKeez, which turns the iPad, Galaxy Tab, or any other HTML5-friendly tablet into a custom-tailored gaming keyboard.
You pair your tablet with a companion app running on your PC, and bam — you’ve got a full array of customizable keys at your finger tips. You arrange your commands, attacks, and spells as you see fit, with relevant graphic labels marking each and every command. You can swap between multiple keyboard layouts quickly, letting you switch things up based on how you’re playing at any given time. Key layouts can be shared with the community, allowing everyone to work together to find the perfect setup. Oh! And it’s free.
One catch: Because it’s rather early in its development and things need to be tweaked for each game, support is rolling out on a game-by-game basis. The first game they’re aiming to support is “Star Wars: The Old Republic” (SWTOR), though they say an SDK is on the way to let people add support for other games.
OKeez pitches this as a keyboard replacement, which I don’t think is quite the case. The lack of tactility and physical keys prevents that, to some extent. I see it as more of an extension, something to run alongside your keyboard, providing at-a-glance access to all the things that you’d usually forget 10 seconds after you’ve mapped it to a key.
It’s running in closed beta now.