A while back, I posted about a way to convert an old keyboard into a USB foot pedal. The comments of the original story mentioned you could buy one from eBay for like $15. So I bought one from KeyHere for about $9 shipped. You can save maybe 50 cents with any of the ones from TomTop, but KeyHere includes a Windows config utility on a mini CD.
First off, this doesn’t work in Mac OS 10.6 (Snow Leopard), though it supposedly works under earlier versions of OS X.
The foot pedal and utility work fine under Windows; I tested under Windows XP and Windows 7.
The downside of the process is that shipping is a little slow cause it’s shipping from Hong Kong. NewEgg has really spoiled me. The packaging is a basic bubble envelope containing the goods – a plastic USB foot pedal, some directions in Chinese, and a mini-CD with a frontend for keymapping the device.
The foot pedal is relatively small (see above) and made of plastic. It works just fine if you’re reasonably gentle with it. But if you want to stomp on it, it probably won’t last. Additionally, the cord is pretty short (5-6 feet). It’s more than enough if your computer is on the floor, but a little short if you want to use it with a laptop.
By default, the device shows up as a keyboard where the pedal is the ‘1’ key. The included software seems like a basic registry frontend for remapping it (screenshot below). In the screenshot, I have it remapped to CTRL.
Interestingly, it seems you can remap it to move the mouse around, though that’s not terribly useful. There’s also an option to emulate the scroll wheel, but the setting is awkward— you enter a positive or negative integer and that controls the scroll wheel. Negative numbers scroll down and positive scrolls up. For it to work right, you have to reset the settings to make sure that the keyboard input is null.
I’ve spent a couple of weeks using the foot pedal with Left 4 Dead 2 (a first-person shooter). At first, I mapped it to the spacebar (jump). I found that it wasn’t beneficial compared to the normal method (using your thumb on the keyboard). Part of the reason is that you need to jump at precise times to jump over gaps and such. More use of the foot pedal might solve that – I’m not entirely used to the threshold of the pedal. The threshold isn’t li ke a keyboard; there’s no tactile feedback that you’ve pressed it.
Then I remapped the foot pedal to the CTRL key, which makes your player crouch when held down. If you’re not familiar with first-person shooters, crouching is used for ducking under things (like crawling in vents) and most games increase targetting accuracy while crouching. I found that the foot pedal was great for crouching. There are two things to note here:
- Holding down the left control button is awkward for your hand in most FPSes. In contrast, spacebar is much easier. Therefore, it’s easier to improve over the default for crouching, but not as much for jumping.
- Crouching doesn’t need to be precisely timed like jumping. If the character crouches a half second early or late, it’s not as big of a deal.
Absolutely worth it for computer gaming. It’s more useful in situations where you don’t have a handy button to assign to an action. The main drawback is that it lacks tactile feedback when the button is pressed, so you have to get used to the threshold for the press.
If they ever get it working for Mac OS 10.6, I’ll try it out for day-to-day usage. It might be handy to alleviate common functions with awkward keyboard shortcuts, like opening Dashboard/Expose or potentially mapping it to application-specific commands (e.g., build LaTeX, compile code). Or you might be able to map it to next-track in iTunes.