How to Improve Controller Button Layouts

Many developers assign “jump” to the wrong button. We jump with the B/A/X button not because it makes sense, but because Nintendo trained us on the NES. For 2D platformers like Mario, jumping with the B button feels simple. For other games, it limits your skill.

By remapping actions to other buttons, games can improve in overall feel and control. In competitive games, you want to fight your opponent, not your tool.

I’ll refer to the buttons on the Xbox controller for my control schemes. All three main controllers use the same button placement, so my suggestions apply to all three. Regardless of the genre, if we imagine a game with a controllable character, my generic layout fits.

Xbox Controller Button Layout

Triggers and bumpers (LB, LT, RB, RT)

Instead of using the face buttons for common actions, we should use the triggers and bumpers. This layout assigns the thumbs to the analog sticks, while your fingers work other buttons.

With my control scheme, imagine the left trigger and bumper as defence, and the right trigger and bumper as offence.

LB (left bumper) – Jump/Take Cover

I converted to using LB for jumping around the launch of Halo 3. I started playing with the “Bumper Jumper” control scheme because it let me jump while leaving my thumb on the right analog stick. I could aim, shoot and jump at the same time.

Some Halo pros played with the “claw method,” which followed the same principle. They curled their right index finger on top of the face buttons to press A to jump. With the right thumb on the stick, they used their middle finger to shoot. LB as jump eliminates the “claw” pain and still enables me to strafe and jump while aiming.

Gears of War’s “Tournament” control scheme puts sprint, cover and vault all on LB. The LB mapping doesn’t require the player to move their right thumb off the aim. Gears started with the cover and sprint actions on A, which again saw players adopting the “claw.”

Xbox Claw Method

Mirror’s Edge also used LB to jump and climb. Since this parkour game required constant camera movement while jumping, you’d struggle using the A button. If jumping with A, you need to move your thumb down to turn the camera, then back up. Think of LB like the spacebar on your computer keyboard. You use one hand to jump and the other hand to move the camera.

LB to jump works for action games too. With your attacks assigned to the triggers and bumpers, you can pan the camera to find your targets. Instead of auto positioning cameras in games like Bayonetta, you control the camera. Your light attack is assigned to RT (right trigger) and heavy attack to RB (right bumper) instead of the face buttons.

LT (left trigger) – Aim/Attack/Block/Dodge

Shooters feel perfect with LT aiming. You roll your index finger up to reach LB to jump and aim.

Grenades on the bumpers also work well.

Most action games use one or two main attacks. For games with a third attack like guns or a special move, LT replaces a face button. Again, attacking while moving the camera presents obvious advantages and eliminates awkward camera positioning. If you use your right thumb to attack with face buttons, you can’t move the camera.

If games use a dodge or block mechanic, LT provides the same benefits.

RB (right bumper) – Grenade/Heavy Attack

Like LB, RB lets you throw grenades while moving the camera to aim their arc. It feels natural, much like the older Halo games using LT to throw grenades.

Doom (2016) used a familiar default button layout but offered better alternatives in the menus. The “Strafe” layout put jump on LB and grenades on RB. It’s the best way to play.

Games want players to use heavy attacks less often in action games, so RB fits that description. RB provides easy, uninterrupted access while moving the camera.

Halo 5: Guardians Helljumper Controls

RT (right trigger) – Shoot/Light Attack

Developers should map the most used player action to RT. Shoot, attack, punch, kick and whatever action, ensures the best control if mapped to RT. Camera control stays consistent and the player uses multiple free fingers to perform actions

God of War (2018) puts your attacks on the triggers and bumpers, as does the Dark Souls franchise.

With my control methods, players learn to associate the triggers and bumpers as main gameplay actions.

Face buttons (A, B, X, Y)

With main actions assigned to the triggers, think of face buttons as secondary actions. The face buttons work best for activating modes, using heals or swapping items. Any secondary action on any face button feels the same. It then comes down to familiarity for the player.

X – Reload

X to reload won’t change. People reload guns during down time, so you don’t need access to camera control.

Y – Swap Weapons

While I do think the d-pad allows for better control when swapping weapons, the Y button works too.

Doom lets you press and hold Y to bring up a radial menu for all your weapons. You press Y once to swap between the two most recent weapons.

Doom (2016) Strafe Controls

B – Crouch/Consumable Items

In Battlefield, crouch/prone on B helps dodge incoming fire. In Halo, crouching during a gun fight can throw off your opponent, so crouch on B fails. It depends on the game.

Consumable items, like healing potions, provide quick access when needed if mapped to B. Many games mapped consumables to the bumpers, so my control scheme swaps their placement.

A – Specials/Consumable

Powerful weapons or limited items mapped to A brings importance to the button. Since players already use the A button more than others, it’s easiest to find.

God of War (2018) Controls

Other Buttons

Left Analog Stick – Run/Crouch

The analog stick click feels awkward, so avoid actions that disrupt gameplay. Repeatable actions like sprint feel natural on the left analog stick, especially since Call of Duty trained players.

Something like crouch also works on the left stick click, but that means mapping sprint elsewhere. In Halo 5: Guardians I sprint with the A button. It’s a compromise, but it feels best considering modern controller layouts.

Right Analog Stick – Melee

The right analog stick click should stay empty if possible. Accidental clicks while aiming or moving the camera happen all the time. Because of the controller, the click is a compromise. Actions like melee work best because of their fast animations.

Directional Pad – Weapon Switching/Mode Options

D-pad usage forces the player to stop moving. For game features like healing items, weapon switching and firing modes, the d-pad fulfills its purpose. Although I dislike stopping in place to press the d-pad buttons, controller limitations force it. I reach over with my right hand so I can keep moving my character.

For the d-pad, quick actions work best. In Gears of War, the d-pad allows for choosing a specific weapon. Press up for grenades, down for the pistol and left for the shotgun. In a multiplayer match, it works faster than a radial menu.

Xbox One Elite Controller

What about menus or menu-based games?

Not all games or features benefit from my control schemes. Menu navigation still works best with the analog sticks and confirming selections with the A button.

In strategy games, turn based games or fighting games, the face buttons still provide the best input and comfort. Without a need for camera control and attacking at the same time, using the face buttons feels better.

The future of controllers already exists. Both Scuf and Microsoft produce controllers with remappable buttons and paddles. The paddles rest under your fingers at the bottom of the controller for easy access. Pro players remap the face buttons to the paddles to keep their right thumb on the analog stick.

Although the controllers feature paddles, they don’t operate as individual buttons. I think future controllers need to implement paddles as additional buttons rather than replacements. Microsoft sells the Xbox One Elite Controller for a premium price, yet it should become the standard controller. Until controllers change, every control scheme compromises somewhere.