As part of its ongoing mission to improve how iPad and iPhone apps run on M1 Macs, Apple has added game controller emulation to macOS Big Sur’s current 11.3 beta. Basically, Apple’s trying to make its M1 Macs more like gaming PCs.
According to MacRumors, running an iPad or iPhone app on an M1 Mac adds a new Game Control option when you open up Preferences from within the app. When turned on, the new option maps the buttons on your controller to the keyboard and mouse, so you can play games with those peripherals instead of the controller.
The controller’s left thumbstick gets mapped to the WASD keys, and the right thumbstick to the mouse. (Logical.) The A button becomes the Spacebar, X button becomes the Q key, Y button the E key, and the B button the F key. Finally, L1 is bound to Tab, L2 to Shift, R1 to R, and R2 to the mouse.
But instead of having dedicated key bindings for specific in-game actions, it seems like whatever the A or L2 buttons do will be mapped to specific keys on a Mac keyboard without a way to re-bind them. This could change from game to game, depending on how the developers mapped in-game actions to the controller buttons. From a PC gaming perspective, this could make playing certain games via keyboard and mouse on the Mac uncomfortable and cumbersome — and confusing from one game to the next.
Let’s say the Tab key makes your character crouch in one game, but opens up your inventory in another game. And maybe the A button lets you jump in some games but you use it to pick up items in other games. There are certain key bindings that have become tradition across multiple genres in PC gaming (like spacebar to jump and ctrl to crouch) that Apple isn’t accounting for here. Stardew Valley, for instance, has its own keyboard controls for macOS, so why not let someone use those instead of mapping the controller buttons from the iOS version of the game to different keys?
It also seems like things could get a little confusing if you’re mapping a PlayStation controller to the keyboard and mouse instead of an Xbox controller. Would the Q key be the PlayStation X button or the PlayStation Square button, since it’s in the same position on the controller as the Xbox X button? Seems rather annoying (and confusing) to have to remember which keyboard keys are for which game controller button and which keys do what in every game. Apple would be better off letting users bind their own keys to the games they play instead of forcing them to use one specific layout for every game.
M1 Macs support PS and Xbox controllers, not to mention the Big Sur beta adds PS5 and Xbox One X controller support. So why Apple is choosing to handle PC gaming controls this way instead of letting the app developers map the best key bindings for their games isn’t clear. Right now it seems like sticking with a controller to play iPad or iPhone games on the M1 is the best way to go here.