Friday 25 May 2012

Key Bindings and Module Layouts for the Discerning Gentleman

In my recent post on screen layouts, I talked about some of the ways in which you can arrange your user interface in order to can speed up your interaction with the eve client in the heat of battle. Particularly when fighting solo, being able to react quickly to a situation can be the difference between victory and defeat. With that in mind, there are couple more things that we can do to reduce the time it takes to issue commands.

The first of these is to look at the layout of your modules (the buttons on your UI that is, rather than the position of the modules themselves). For the uninitiated, you can move your module buttons around by clicking the options button below your HUD (those three small lines at the bottom there) and selecting 'unlock modules' - you can then drag each module to the position of your choosing before repeating this process to lock them again. This doesn't just change where the button sits, it also changes the associated hotkeys - for example the default F1 will always activate the top left module, regardless of what you put there.

It's a good idea to standardise where you keep certain important modules, so that no matter which ship you're flying you're always clicking in the same place or using the same hotkey to perform a particular function. Doing this allows you to respond to situations more quickly, since you no longer need to locate the required module in order to activate it - you already know where it is. This is really just common sense when you think about it - look at the way that common UI elements are standardised in other applications, and imagine how much more difficult it would be to operate them if a particular menu or button was in a different place every time you went into it.

Despite being very different ships, the three examples above all follow the same basic layout - my point or scram goes in the top left slot, followed by my weapons and then any other directly offensive modules such as webs, neuts, and ewar - these are the modules which I generally want to engage as quickly as possible, and which I'll regularly be shifting between targets as a fight progresses. Other modules fall in standard places too - my primary propulsion mod is always first on the mid rack, my active tank mod is third followed by cap boosters and/or nosferatus. Damage control is always fourth on the bottom. Some of these positions might seem a little arbitrary - why I lay them out this way in particular brings me on to my next topic - hotkeys.

We're all familiar with the default hotkeys - back in the days before weapon grouping was possible, 'F1 to F8' was shorthand for fire all ze missiles (or turrets if you were so inclined), and while for most people that has simply become F1 now, I'm sure many of you still appreciate how much easier it is to simply press F1 than it is to click your weapon icon every time you want to engage it. In addition to that, you might have experimented with assigning your own shortcuts to various things, a popular one being the drone attack/drone return commands (while I believe these are now assigned a key combination by default, that was not always the case). However, there's more that we can do with this.

The following idea isn't mine originally - I found it on reddit and immediately fell in love with it. The suggestion is to map all of your module slots to the keys on your keyboard, starting with Q in the top left and giving you the following:

The great thing about this is that if you spend anything like as much time around computers as I do (and let's face it, if you play eve you probably do), the location of the letter keys and their positions relative to each other is already embedded into your muscle memory. Not only that, but for the majority of gamers your fingers will naturally rest around the WASD area - look again at the position of my turrets, propulsion mod and armour/shield rep, and you'll see why I have them where I do (personally I find S and the keys directly below it more difficult to reach than those above and to the right, hence the gap in my modules there).

To make this even better, set your hotkeys for overheating to shift and the relevant letter key - being able to make the mental connection that to engage your point you press Q and to overheat your point you just press shift + Q is incredibly convenient in the heat of battle. I also recommend mapping broadcast shortcuts for request armour, shield, and capacitor - I use the number keys 1 to 3 for ease of access, with my drone engage/return/dock commands on 4 through 6.

You'll need to disable some of the default shortcuts to make this work, things like align, warp, jump etc. You can remap these to something convenient if you prefer, but personally I don't find them all that useful (to use them you need to press the shortcut and then click the desired object, at which point I may as well just be using the selected items window).

Be aware, getting into the habit using keyboard shortcuts can take a while. I've always been a clicker, and when I originally tried using hotkeys it felt awkward and didn't seem like I was saving much time at all. However it really is worth it - it's not just that is speeds things up, but taking away a large portion of the mouse movement can make PVP feel a little less frantic - you're no longer rushing to engage modules, and can instead focus on the meaningful choices that make a difference to your fight.

So there's my advice. Again, a short disclaimer - all of this is simply what I've found to work well for me, and there's no guarantee that it'll work as well for you - there's no right or wrong and no best way to do it, but I do recommend giving it a try. You might hate it, or you might find it solves a problem that you never knew you had!


  1. As a fan of the align/orbit type shortcuts I have found that moving my modules from F1-F8 to 1-8 keys has been very beneficial since they are closer and more accurate for me. Great post that will help a lot of people with their mechanics.


    1. The only problem with that is the shorcuts for overloading. The ones for the mid and low become cltr-shift-# etc... which makes it difficult unless you are doublejointed or something...

      but I like the align/orbit shorcuts as well...

  2. I'll keep all of mine on the top slots, and use 1-8. not a bad idea.

    I've also used one of those keyboard overlay things to write what module belongs to what number - could be useful so that I make sure to change the setup to the same whenever I get in a different ship, at least until I get used to it and immediately know where I'm supposed to have a module.

  3. Thank you, it's really helpful. Well done :)

  4. It's so obvious, I'm very disappointed I didn't think of this myself, but damn this is going to make pvping so much nicer! Great post Azual!

  5. this is kool :-)

  6. I freaking love the idea of mapping all the module slots to the letters on the keyboard. I type a lot in my real life job so I can't believe I didn't think of this myself sooner. You made my day even if it wasn't your original idea. Also I hadn't considered making a binding for drone actions as well. 1-3 is a great idea in combination with the letters. Bravo. Well done.

  7. Now I wonder why I've never thought of this =) And once again the explanation is crystal clear. Thanks Azual!

  8. Nice. I have played around with different key shortcuts and module positions over the years and had never thought of this. Going to give this a go as I've never been happy with the shortcuts I've got set up.

  9. Shamelessly plagiarizing this set up now. It's awesome.

  10. the qwe setup i saw first in starcraft 1/2. where one had to combine keyboard with mousemovement to get the most actions per minute to get inside the reaction delay cycle of the strategy game.

    but i don't put my hands on wasd, but esdf. this is where i normally have my fingers so there is no point in shifting them over to wasd, which was a doom first person perspective preference. i've gotten into the habit of using ctrl and alt + with my mouse keys, since I use a 8 button mouse. Hasn't died in years. It allows me to play mmos that utilize skills that take up about 20 hotkeys in total. i can just fire them off whenever in needed to, with a combination of qwe and ctrl+qwe and alt+qwe setups.

    Eve doesn't require that as much for grouped weapons, but for utility slots it can still be nice once I get used to it.

  11. Wow, EVE vets are keybind n00bs? How is that?
    I'm an EVE n00b, so I must be missing something, but I thought every MMO player would keybind as much as possible to maximise efficiency? EVE is a very different beast I guess.

    It will take about 200 button presses to put a given bind in muscle memory - that is you wont have to think about it where it is, your fingers will know where to go without you having to look or consciously think about it. IE: use becomes instinctive.

    The main thing is to have all your most important & oft used buttons close to where your fingers naturally rest so you can access them quickly without getting your fingers tangled.

    It helps if you keep the same keybinds from game to game (as well as ship to ship). So any new game I enter, the key binds are a bit of a no brainer, same set up as for every other game.

    Keybinding is always one of the 1st things I do in a new game. Q & E are always my crowd control buttons, it's deep in muscle memory, so in EVE that will be scram and web respectively. 1-6 is always DPS. C is a speed increase, so that is now my AB/MWD key. R is always a self heal, so that will be Armor Repairer in EVE. F is my GTFO panic button, not sure what that will be in EVE yet, I'm to n00b to know at this point.

    Don't forget the ` key (to the left of the 1), it's easy to reach for most people and so a good candidate for anything you need in a hurry or that you use often, same with Tab. I remapped Capslock using sharpkeys, for another great easy to use "O shit" button. The remap means it doesn't function as Capslock now, I got sick of accidentally shouting in chat after toggling it.

    Still not sure where I will assign Lock/Unlock target, perhaps mouse 4 & 5, although Tab & Capslock are also good unused candidates. I haven't finished deciding where everything will go yet, it's a decision that effects gaming efficiency and comfort enormously, so it'll probably take me a while to work out my own optimal arrangement.

    I really like the idea of shift being the modifier for overheating modules, that will suit my set up perfectly. Thankyou. :D

    Keybinding is a huge part of many MMOs, it's not unusual for players to have 20 - 40 keys (including modifiers - shift-Q etc) embedded in muscle memory. It amazes me that CCP made EVE players struggle with clicking for so long. Terrible, RSI inducing design decision.

    Have a look around the internets, there's tons of great resources about keybinding efficiently & ergonomically. I've linked Taugrim's binding rationale below, he's one of the foremost pvpers in a bunch of different MMOs. Here he rightly states "by not fixing the default keybindings you are placing an artificial ceiling on your skill level". EVE is different to the traditional style of MMO, but his advice is still worth a read for EVE players. Have a look if you're of a mind, you might find some ideas of his useful. Especially the advice at the end about learning your new binds.

  12. Do you have key binding suggestions for Lefties who mouse left handed and keyboard right? I don't use a gaming keyboard at the moment so any suggestions that include they keypad are welcome.

    Also, question on the module shuffle. Will the mod's have to be manually shuffled around every time you build a new ship and undock? Any suggestions - other than not dying :-) - to speed this up for situations when a quick refit and deployment in mid battle is needed ?

    1. Yes, you'll need to reposition your modules when you build a new ship. It just becomes part of the process the first time you undock it, like making sure you have scripts and ammo.

      Regarding the keys, anything should work as long as it's comfortable and intuitive for you. It's difficult for me to say what that might be without being left handed myself. You could perhaps map the first three modules on each rack to the numpad, and just make sure any modules you need quick access to are kept in those slots.

    2. I ended up going 1-2-3 on lows, with shift down arrow to overheat the rack, 4-5-6 on mids, shift left arrow to overheat the rack, and 7-8-9 for highs and shift up arrow to overheat the rack. Still trying to figure out an easy combo to overload the individual modules unless I move everything to right hand qwerty hand layout and use shift on that. Since I'm using number pad, also added * to command drones to engage, - to recall and orbit and + to recall to drone bay. Takes removing a lot of keybindings that I wasn't using anyway, but the more I can key press right handed the less mouse has to fly across the screen, right? Thanks for the tips and posts. 2005 vet just swapping into Pvp, this has been tons of help


The Altruist is the Eve Online blog of Azual Skoll, PVP instructor and small gang PVPer.

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