When Microsoft unveiled the Surface , its new tablet PC, one curious detail managed to slip beneath the radar. The tablet's integrated keyboard boasts pressure sensitive keys which, as Ars Technica have pointed out, could finally offer PC gamers the chance to control the speed of their movement.
I love my mouse and keyboard like tiny, mechanical brothers, but there are some things they don't do well. I'm secretly envious of our console playing brethren's ability to walk at whatever speed they choose, all dictated by the nuanced tilt of a game pad's analogue thumb stick. Our mice may be precision pointers of death, and our keyboards may offer us more buttons than a joypad owner's wet dream, but when it comes to movement we either walk very slowly, or run full tilt.
But the Microsoft could change all that. Just as the analogue sticks of a joypad let console gamers control their speed precisely and carefully, so could the pressure sensitive WASD of the Surface finally free us us from the curse of perpetually running everywhere. Imagine being able to play a stealth game where you could actually control your speed, instead of deciding between 'guard alerting dash' and 'agonising exposed crawl'.
Of course, the technology isn't guaranteed to work. While analogue sticks and triggers are ever popular on console controllers, attempts to build analogue face buttons into the PS2 and original Xbox controllers had mixed results. Few games actually took advantage of them, and those that did, like Metal Gear Solid 2, often ended up fiddly and hard to control. Perhaps while the broad motion of sticks and triggers feels natural for analogue control, pressing down on keys is more awkward and unfamiliar.
It's unlikely that the Surface itself will be the one to spread analogue keys to PC gaming. As Adam explained in his Microsoft Surface launch post, the tablet only really capable of playing older PC games. But if the it proves popular enough, it just might encourage Microsoft to bring their keypad out on true PCs. If nothing else, it'll give us a fascinating new toy to play with.