How To Make Console Gamepads Play Nice with PC and Mac

By Matthew Braga

To a PC gamer, there is nothing more perfect than a keyboard and mouse. But don't count out the gamepad just yet. Console controllers can come in handy from time to time; we'll show you how to hook your current-gen gamepads to your Mac or PC.

To a PC gamer, there is no control scheme more perfect than a keyboard and mouse. First person shooters and real time strategy games are ruled by those with a pointer in hand, and anything less precise is simply unacceptable. So, hang onto your mouse pads, folks, because what we're about to suggest to you might seem a little heretical. Today, we're going to show you how to use your console controllers on a PC or Mac — and we're going to do it with simplicity, civility, and the promise that you won't have to break your controllers.

There's no doubting the precision offered by a keyboard and mouse combo, but there's a time and place for other modes of input too. Fighting games, racing sims and even some adventure titles can benefit from a controller in hand, and almost nothing beats a gamepad for old-school emulation too. With just a little bit of a software, and a few minutes of your time, we'll show you how to make your Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and Nintendo Wii controllers all play nice with your Mac or PC.      

Xbox 360 Gamepad (Wired or Wireless)

Windows Vista and 7 should come with driver support for the 360 gamepad included. Wireless gamepad owners, unfortunately, have to purchase an additional  receiver to make things work. However, once things are installed, the controller should work seamlessly with a myriad of Games for Windows Live titles and other games with gamepad support.

While you'd expect Microsoft to make things easy with their own operating system, gaining functionality in OS X is also pretty simple. The Xbox 360 Controller Driver from developer Colin Munro adds a settings pane to your System Preferences that recognizes a connected gamepad. While there's not much to do here besides test the device, the application does allow full gamepad functionality in any application that supports one. Here, we were able to quickly configure the controller within the Halo: Combat Evolved demo, as well as emulators like zSNES. And while we were unable to confirm if it worked, rumble support is said to be built in, taking full advantage of Apple's Force Feedback library.

Nintendo Wii Remote (and Nunchuck)

Button mapping with GlovePie 
some success, though aren't quite practical for regular use. The remote's real power comes from its ability to function as a simple yet powerful wireless input device. On both Mac and PC platforms, the remote's every button can be mapped to a keyboard command — great as a replacement Front Row remote, or simple gaming controller too.

To interface with the Wiimote on a Windows machine, you'll need to have some sort of Bluetooth card or dongle attached. In both Vista and 7, simply use the built-in Bluetooth manager to pair the Wiimote as you would any other device. Holding 1 and 2 on the Wiimote will begin the pairing process, and there's no passcode required. While there are other ways to keep your remote connected, this is by far the easiest. That simplicity comes with one little caveat, however — you'll have to re-pair your Wiimote each time you want to play.

Playing Donkey Kong Country 3 with the Wiimote. Button configuration: awkward.
GlovePie. The application maps button presses and other forms of input to keyboard commands and actions. It works with a huge number of devices, but in this case, we'll be using it to map the input from our Wiimote. The interface may look daunting at first, but getting things set up is actually quite easy. Once GlovePie loads, you'll want to select the GUI tab just below the menu bar. Here, you'll see a button labeled "Detect Output to Emulate." Click it, and press the button on your keyboard you'd like to map. You'll see another button now labeled "Detect Input." Click it, and press the desired button on your Wiimote. Easy, right? Even the nunchuck and additional accessories are supported too.Save the changes, and you've successfully mapped your first Wiimote input. Repeat the process for every other button, and then run the script. If all goes well, everything you do on your Wiimote will be just as if you were pressing those very keys on your keyboard. Load up your favorite emulator, make sure your keyboard controls are set up right, and a night of Megaman 2 awaits.

OS X, the process is quite similar thanks to DarwiinRemote. All pairing is done within the application here, and the log drawer gives you a few tips on how to connect successfully. Once you're set up, however, you'll see a few fancy features that weren't available through GlovePie. All motion functions are tracked, logged and graphed — even for the nunchuck — while rumble functionality can be accessed as well. From the application's preferences you can set key bindings just as you would with GlovePie, though through a much cleaner, simpler GUI. As you can see, the default keybindings are set to emulate a Front Row remote, though the possibilities are really only limited by your keyboard. Watch a movie, play some Sonic, and enjoy your new Bluetooth remote.

Playstation 3 SIXAXIS Controller

DualShock 3 controller to your computer is easy, so long as you're on a Mac. For whatever reason, Snow Leopard has near complete support for the Sony gamepad built-in to the OS; a mini-USB cable is all you'll need to get things running. Surprisingly, there's also Bluetooth support as well, possible with a slight tweak. Download Colin Munro's PS3 controller package, install, and you can pair the gamepad as easy as on your own PS3.

Things get a little more tricky when you're running Windows. Plug your controller in, and you'll see it's recognized, but no buttons register. To fix this, download the latest version of DS3 Tool from MotionJoy and install accordingly. Once that's completed, users of 32-bit operating systems can simply install the driver from Program Files > MotioninJoy to make everything work.  64-bit users, however, will require a few extra steps.

bcdedit -set loadoptions DISABLE_INTEGRITY_CHECKS
bcdedit -set TESTSIGNING ON

Then restart your computer. This will allow the MotionJoy driver to install on 64-bit systems and your DualShock controller to function. However, keep in mind that Microsoft considers disabling Driver Signature Enforcement a security risk. The potential for disaster is low, but if you're worried, you can easily disable Test Mode when you're done with the following commands:

bcdedit /deletevalue loadoptions
bcdedit -set TESTSIGNING OFF

One more caveat when using MotionJoy, however: it will likely kill your existing Bluetooth drivers. DS3 tool has rudimentary Bluetooth support for DualShock gamepads, but it never quite seems to work. If you find your usual Bluetooth functionality has been affected, simply uninstall the MotionJoy driver to reverse the changes. As you can probably tell, this is the most complicated of the three controllers to install, but it can work flawlessly if done right.

Image credit Matt Braga.