How to Live the Trackpad Life

Mention to anyone that you’re using a trackpad — also called a touchpad — to play TF2, and you’ll be greeted with gasps of horror. How could anyone play an FPS without the finesse afforded by a real mouse? Why would you limit your own aim and movement like that? At least a controller would allow you to become the graceful and bloodcurdlingly bloodthirsty Demoballerina. Even drawing tablets have been advocated favorably over the specter of the default laptop trackpad.

How and why are different questions, of course. No doubt the why differs from person to person, but there are a couple of basic underlying reasons: budget, and infrequent use of proper tables or desks.

It’s true that a cheap mouse won’t put you out by more than five, ten bucks — but not everyone shares the same priorities. Maybe someone would rather spend that five or ten bucks on keys, or a cool new isometric dungeon crawler, or a book (which, if physical, will only ever need to retain compatibility with your brain — no driver issues, no backward compatibility required). Personally, TF2 is the only FPS I play, so I would prefer any computer upgrades to have other uses as well. A new mic I could justify; a new mouse, less so.

Tables and desks, on the other hand, might be a hard limitation rather than preference. Some people simply prefer to hold their laptops on their laps or sit in unorthodox positions, but others may not own a sufficiently large, even working surface at all, or have uncommon postural requirements — and furniture is not a five dollar investment, let alone specially designed furniture.

But perhaps you, dear reader, are yourself a trackpad user…

…or someone who has found themselves temporarily forced to use a trackpad. And you are more interested in the how.

The how, fortunately, is a little more solid. There are some computer settings you should be aware of, and some game settings you may — or need to — configure differently from mouse users.

Computer settings

For Windows users, check your notification area (to the far right of your taskbar) for any kind of touchpad, trackpad, pointing, or synaptics controls. Alternatively, check your Control Panel or open up your Mouse settings from there. Explore and look for the following settings:

1. Tap to Click

This setting causes your computer to register a left click whenever you tap the trackpad. Disable it. You don’t want to start accidentally firing all over the place when you’re just trying to turn around.

2. TouchGuard, PalmCheck, SmartSense, Touch Checking…

This setting can go under many names, but it prevents you from typing and moving the cursor at the same time. Translated into TF2 terms, this means you won’t be able to turn and strafe at the same time, let alone turn and use binds at the same time! Hunt it down, whatever it’s called, and either disable it or set it to zero. H/T to Sir Slick, whose patient exploration in the face of adversity dug up the name “PalmCheck”.

Game settings

3. Sensitivity

Many beginners guides advise new players to lower their sensitivity from the default. If you are using a trackpad, on no account follow this advice. A trackpad is so small that you will need a relatively high sensitivity in order to be able to do easy 180s — high sensitivty means you’ll be frantically swiping and reswiping at the trackpad just to turn around and check your back.

Set your trackpad sensitivity to something that makes you comfortable on the computer generally, and adjust your in-game “mouse” sensitivity to something that allows you to easily turn 180 degrees. This will make your life much easier when Spychecking, rocket jumping, or reacting to ambushes.

4. Keybinds

One little-discussed downside to using a trackpad is the inability to press M1 and M2 at the same time while moving (unless you have unusually strong and flexible fingers). This mostly hinders stickyspamming, which some may regard as a boon, but if you would like to retain or regain that ability, simply bind attack2 to a key on the keyboard — the slash, for example. The same goes for binds like attack3, lastinv, and nextinv if your trackpad lacks a middle mouse button or — as it probably does — a mousewheel.

In fact, the ability to bind keys on the right side of the keyboard is one of the little-discussed upsides of using a trackpad. While it’s a small and highly restricted bonus that doesn’t fully compensate for the trackpad’s limitations, it’s something that you should definitely exploit to its fullest. If you’re here to stay, you might as well make the best of it!

One thought on “How to Live the Trackpad Life

  • March 3, 2014 at 1:45 pm

    In my early days of PC gaming where I couldn’t play TF2 and had to stick to games like Sonic Robo Blast 2 and Skulltag (because my then-6-year-old, third-hand laptop was not designed for gaming in any way), I found Shift works great as a secondary-fire key. Ctrl could be used as Attack3. If you don’t use text chat often, you could even throw in Caps-Lock as some other bind (maybe an AutoReload toggle?)

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