We’ve previously covered a number of ways in which you can play games on your Mac but if, like me, you prefer to use a controller than the keyboard and mouse, help is at hand. In this tutorial we show you how you can set up and use a game controller with your Mac.
Why Use a Game Controller?
Many of us will, no doub,t have a games console at home - be that an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. They’re comfortable to use and usually very easy to get to grips with. Whilst PC gamers will argue that nothing beats the precision of a keyboard and mouse (which is true), there are a lot of people who just like to use a game controller - and I’m one of them!
There’s a few things that we’ll need before we can start playing games on our Mac using a controller.
- A game controller
- A game
- Software to set up our game controller
All game controllers are not created equal so it makes it much easier in the long run to do some research about the best game controller to purchase. However, I’m going to save you the hassle of this and recommend two different controller types, the PS3 and the Xbox 360.
The PS3 controller works via both Bluetooth and USB. Amazingly, it requires no installation due to the standards it uses for both of these. Simply plug the controller into your Mac’s USB port or pair it via Bluetooth and it’s ready to customise.
If you’re wanting to use the controller via USB then there’s nothing further you need to do. However, pairing it via Bluetooth is a little more involved but only takes a few moments.
Unlike the PS3 controller, the Xbox 360 controllers don’t operate over Bluetooth and instead use their own proprietary radio communication. However, Microsoft (and officially licensed 3rd party companies) sell a wide range of USB wired controllers for the Xbox 360.
Setting up an Xbox 360 wired controller with your Mac isn’t as straightforward as the PS3 controller but is still very easy to do. You will require an additional driver developed by Colin Munro at Tattiebogle.net that, although not officially licensed, works very well and even allows support for the built-in force feedback on compatible games.
Microsoft does manufacture a wireless receiver that can also work to allow a wireless controller be connected but the cost of this tends to be more than the cost of a new, wired controller so I wouldn’t recommend it for anything other than serious gaming!
For the purposes of this tutorial I’ll be using a USB PlayStation 3 controller but I will also explain how to install an Xbox 360 controller too.
Tip: Whilst I recommend the officially licensed PS3 or Xbox 360 controllers, you can also use controllers manufactured by 3rd parties as long as they’re certified for use with either console. This means that since they have to work with a PS3 or Xbox 360, they’ll work for the purposes of this tutorial.
Software to Set Up Our Game Controller
Although we’d expect games to have controller support built-in, this isn’t the case with most titles. There are, however, a number of applications available that allows us to customise our controller to “mimic” a keyboard and mouse using some clever trickery. The best part of software, like this, is that it tends to work with pretty much any game you’d want to play.
The software I’ll be guiding you through is called Joystick Mapper by Chibata Creations and it’s just $4.99 (£2.99)on the Mac App Store.
Learn more about Joystick Mapper.
Setting Up Your USB Controller
Plug in the controller to your Mac’s USB port, ensuring the power light on the controller illuminates. If you’re using a PS3 compatible controller then you can skip the next step and jump immediately to the next section.
Installing the Xbox 360 USB Controller Drivers
The Xbox 360 Controller driver is available for free by visiting Tattiebogle.net. Download the drivers and we can begin.
Once you’ve downloaded the drivers, open the DMG file and run the installation. Be sure to save any open documents as your Mac will need to restart to complete the installation.
Once you’ve installed the software then connect an Xbox 360 controller. Open System Preferences and select the newly installed Xbox 360 Controller preference pane.
The preference pane is very useful to tweak your controller to best suit the games that you’re wanting to play. It also lets you confirm that the controller is detected.
Now that you’ve set up your controller with your Mac, you’re ready to customise and enable it to control our games.
Installing Joystick Mapper
Make sure your game controller is connected and then, if you haven’t already done so, purchase and download Joystick Mapper from the Mac App Store and launch it as soon as it’s ready.
Customising Your Controller
Let’s take a few minutes to explore Joystick Mapper. It will look pretty empty since it’s waiting to be set up but we’ll soon have a controller set up.
At the bottom of the window is a status bar that displays how many joysticks (game controllers) are connected. If it reports that no joysticks are found, disconnect and reconnect your controller and then in the menu, select Quick Options > Refresh Joysticks. After a few moments Joystick Mapper will refresh and attempt to detect any connected game controllers.
Joystick Mapper works by creating something called Presets. This allows us to have different options set depending on the game we’re wanting to play. For example, in a game such as Portal, I’m going to want the right stick to control where I look which is usually controlled by the mouse. In a racing game I might want that to steer the car, usually controlled using the keyboard. By using presets we can make sure that we have some great customised controls that will let our game controller work in any game we want.
Creating a Preset
Let’s go ahead and create a preset.
Click Add a new preset…and a new window will open for us to start customising.
Name the preset and then select Add a new joystick. If you have one controller attached, it should automatically assign it.
To allow each button and stick to work on our controller, we use something called binds. All this means is that we set our buttons to shortcut, or bind, to certain keyboard keys.
Let’s pretend we’re going to use a simple platform game that only needs up, down, left, right and a jump button. The game states that we use the arrow keys and the space bar to jump. What we need to do is bind the arrow keys on our controller to those keys.
We have two ways we can do this: either select the button from the drop down list in Joystick Mapper or we can make use of the Scan function which will detect the button we’re pressing.
Go ahead and press Scan in Joystick Mapper. A timer will appear giving you a few seconds to press a button on the controller. Wait for the timer to finish, then press Scan again, only this time press the Up button on your controller.
Joystick Mapper automatically detects the button pressed for us to then bind. We can then assign this to the Up arrow on our keyboard by selecting it from the drop down list.
Repeat the above steps for the remaining directional buttons and assign the space bar to one of the controller buttons.
Once you’ve finished setting up your controller, close the window and then select the check box on the left of the preset to enable it.
We can edit our preset by highlighting the Spanner icon and it can also be removed by highlighting the X icon. Go ahead and remove the preset.
Using Built-in Presets
We’ve created a preset! It takes a few minutes to do but once set up, you don’t need to really make any changes. But what about setting up the controller for something like Portal? Thankfully, Joystick Mapper has a bunch of built-in presets we can start from for both Xbox 360 and PS3 compatible controllers!
Loading the examples is easy, simply select File > Load Examples. After a few moments there’ll be a bunch of presets loaded up that cover a wide range of game types.
Take a look at the Example: FPS preset for PS3 Gamepad by selecting the Spanner icon.
As you can see, that’s a lot of options! We can actually use this preset as-is and it requires no customisation of our own. Enable this, just as we did before, and then minimise Joystick Mapper.
Tip: Tip: Whilst we can use this preset without any changes made, this may not be applicable to all games of this type. Thankfully you can duplicate presets by clicking the Duplicate button and then modifying it without losing our existing settings.
Setting Up Our Game
As I stated at the beginning of this tutorial, I’m going to use Portal as our example game, which is available via Steam for Mac.
After starting a new game I can already move the analog stick on my controller to control movement!
However, as soon as I get to the first puzzle, I have no idea which button E corresponds to. I could quit the game, go back to Joystick Mapper and then assign it to the button on the controller I want to use, then go back to the game - but that’s far too convoluted! Instead, let’s adjust the game to suit us.
Tip: Tip: If you often play games using either a keyboard and mouse or a controller and want to keep the controls as they are, you’ll need to switch back and forth between Joystick Mapper to map the correct buttons. Note down all the buttons you need first to save you time.
Pause the game by pressing ESC and then select Options.
Go to Keyboard and from here we can adjust all the controls to suit our new controller. Portal only has a small number of buttons (portal colour, use, jump and crouch) so it’s relatively easy to change them.
Double-click each of these keys and it will highlight yellow. Then simply press the corresponding button on the controller. For example, I’ve set the portal colours to be the left and right trigger buttons.
Depending on if you prefer to have an inverted look system (where moving the stick up looks down) then go to the Mouse section and select Reverse mouse.
Additionally, if you find the stick a little too sensitive, you can adjust the mouse sensitivity in this section as well.
Learn more about Joystick Mapper.
Now you’ve set up the controller, you are now ready to get gaming! With the above tutorial I’ve been enjoying playing Portal using a PS3 controller just as much as I previously played the game on my Xbox 360.
Setting up a gaming controller seems a lot more involved than it actually is. Most of the time you’ll just be performing basic trial and error to make sure that the bindings of your controller are correct so it’s important to use the power of presets in Joystick Mapper.
Do you use a game controller with your Mac? Perhaps you use another method. Either way, we’d love to hear your experiences and feedback, as always, in the comments.