Friday, February 5, 2010

The Belkin N52te (and how to use it)

This post has been WAYYY too long coming, so I finally just sat down this morning and started taking photos. My original post on my old Belkin n52, and how I configured it for my Warrior, was one of the more often read and commented-on articles of mine over at NotAddicted, and is actually the #6 result to come up on googling "belkin n52 gamepad". I'm top ten baby! Woo!

For anyone that has no idea what a Belkin N52 gamepad is, just sit tight. For all of you who know what one is, but are not using it to its full potential, buckle up, and let's do this.

First of all, what is a Belkin n52 gamepad? It's a little keyboard that sits to the left of your main keyboard. It consolidates a useful cluster of keys for your left hand, so you don't find yourself trying to hold Shift with your pinky while you stretch for the Y key with your index finger, all in the middle of a crazy pull.

There's a closeup below. There are a few things I immediately like about the layout of the keys, one being that the W and S keys in my layout are directly above and below each other. Now look at your keyboard. In a typical WASD layout, the W and S are slightly shifted, because for TYPING that makes sense. But when you're using those keys to move forward and backward for hours on end, it makes no sense. I have two joints (and a knuckle?) attached to my middle finger, and they primarily move vertically. It's ergonomics. Whatever. Let's take a look at the basic layout of the thing before I begin to sing its praises.

This is the Belkin n52te. The "te" stands for Tournament Edition, which is a little ironic, because I doubt you'd be able to use one of these in any kind of regulation play. The old, silverish, n52s (and the older n50s before that) were actually made by Belkin, but then Razer stepped up and took over the construction of the product, and the keys are much more responsive, and there are horrendous blue LEDs that you can turn on or off depending on how into that kind of stuff you are. They also added a round joystick nub thing on the dpad area that I promptly popped off and gave to my cat.

There are 14 keys in the primary cluster, with two more (and a dpad) for your thumb to handle. There's also a scroll wheel on the unit where the "15th" key would have gone. One of the biggest things that the Belkin has, and a standard keyboard doesn't, is that thumb area.

Let's take a closer look:

That's a lot of stuff for your thumb to handle, which is good. I'm a big fan of the thumb; it's kinda what separates us from the lower mammals. Wasting a fully opposable thumb on spamming the spacebar to jump around Ogrimmar is pretty shameful. The Belkin elevates your thumb to its proper status.

Check it out: In Japanese, yubi is the word for finger. Oya is a word that basically... well, it's for denoting someone of higher status than you (you call your landlord Oya-san, for example). So how do you say thumb in Japanese? Oya Yubi. It's the friggin Boss Finger. How cool is that?

Anyway, your (pasty, white, Frodo Lookin, The-One-Marriage-Ring Crafted-in-Mount-Doom Havin) hand sits on the little palm rest, and everything falls into place.

If you have freakishly oversized Man Hands, you can adjust the little palm rest thing to one of two positions:

Okay. Enough of the little build up crap. Foreplay's over. Let's get into the nitty gritty.

One of the biggest points the Belkin has going for it is that it doesn't actually pretend to be the left half of your keyboard. There are all kind of silly knock offs that try to be Belkins, but they just give you another WASD cluster, complete with Q E R T Z X C V keys and all that crap. The Belkin is fully programmable, which means if you don't use WASD to walk around, you don't need the main four keys to be that. You could have them be ESDF, UHJK, RDFG, Numpad 8456, WHATEVER. Any key on the Belkin can be any key you want it to be, and they can even be any combination of two or more keys, or fully customizable macros. You can have a single key be Ctrl-Shift-5. Or you can have it be 44444444444. Sadly, I actually use that when I play combat swords on my Rogue, it just repeats 4 every 50ms as long as I have it held down. SINISTER STRIKE, HOOOO!!!!

Not much has changed from the main layout I decided on oh-so-long-ago when I first started using it, save for new moves needing to be incorporated.

The main UI of WoW (or any MMO, bascially) has numbered keys from 1-0 along the bottom of the screen. 1-0 = 10, WASD = 4, there's 14 keys in the main cluster. Coincidence?

I bascially have my WASD dead center (on the home keys), and then I wrap 1-0 around it clockwise. The scroll wheel has two keys bound to it, Numpad Zero and Decimal, and I put "-" on the upper thumb button. The astute among you will have noticed that WoW actually has a TWELVE button action bar. The "-" key is my upper thumb button (the "ohshit" button usually, that I can activate while on the run; I put Health Pots there or whatever), and the twelfth button is activated with rolling that extra scroll wheel down, towards me (Shield Wall, on my tank). Rolling that same wheel up pops Last Stand (I think of it as "locking myself DOWN", or "bringing my health UP").

Let's see that whole thumb section in better detail:

There's that "-" up top, with Tab (for targetting) being what your thumb is resting against when it isn't using the dpad. The dpad itself is used for jumping around Ogrimmar like an idiot, but so many other things as well. Alt is my Ventrilo push-to-talk key, and Shift and Ctrl are my button modifiers. For a while I had Alt where Shift was, but found I would Alt-Tab out of the game at bad times, so reversed those bindings.

Once you begin to look at how many buttons you have confortably at your command, I try and come up with a system for using them. I play a lot of alts, and there are some moves that mimic others. Rogues and cat druids both have something they use to build up combo points, then finisher moves, etc. I tend to find that I want my 'spammy' moves to be the easiest for my fingers to reach. I don't want to be reaching 'up there' to my 3 key for a move I do ALLL the time. On my warrior, tanking, 3 is Shockwave. I use it, but it has a longish cooldown. I'm constantly spamming Heroic Strike and Devastate, so those get the prime real estate locations of 5 and 8. My fingers naturally rest on the WASD chunk of keys, and moving straight down has my index and pinky in line to whack those over and over. My ring finger is on Revenge for when it lights up in the 7 slot, and I can interrupt casts with my middle finger on 6. Devastate and Revenge sometimes proc Sword and Board, and it's a short reach up to Shield Slam on 9. Taunt is on the upper corner at 0. I don't need it too often, but when I do it's in an unmistakable position.

All that I just laid out is personal preference. I don't pretend that my key binds are TEH BEST or anything ridiculous. I just know how I play, and my fingers know what to do when it's time to interrupt a cast or whatever.

One other thing I touched on was similar situations across toons. Before I get into that, I have a few similar situations happening on my one toon here. Ugh, this is where it gets kind of weird, but hopefully by the end it will make sense.

6 is Shield Bash. It interrupts spells. I think of 6 as my 'stop that from happening' button. That means, when I set up keys on my Rogue, I immediately want to hit 6 when I see someone casting on me. So I drop Kick on the 6 key, duh. But what about 3? Shockwave interrupts spells too, but in an incapacitate sort of way... a Shockwaved mob is stunned for a few seconds. So on my Rogue, I have another move like that... Gouge. So Gouge is 3 on my Rogue. Obviously the playstyles are different, but if I just want to interrupt a cast, I hit 6, if I want to stop a cast, AND have time afterwards for whatever, I hit 3.

See what I'm getting at?

My brain is crazy, and I think in pretty abstract ways about this kind of crap. I don't really sit down and analyse it beforehand, but I try to have a system for stuff like this... Ctrl-5 and Ctrl-6 are similar too... Ctrl 5 is my 'buff myself' combo... this is Sprint on the Rogue, Battle Shout on the warrior (this was before tanks had Commanding Shout), Hysteria on the DK... etc. Ctrl-6 is the "debuff you" flipside to that... Curse of Weakness on the Lock, Evasion on the Rogue (which I guess is a buff to me, but reduces your chance to hit me), Demoralizing Shout on the tank, Mark of Blood on the DK.

Not every single thing lines up like this, but when I play a new class, it's easy for me to have these pre set up slots that moves fall into. Sometimes I trip up, or sometimes they need to be moved. I didn't realize DKs get a normal taunt, and I already have Death Grip in my 'taunt slot', but with DKs you just pass out drunk on the keyboard and win anyway, so....


Not a whole lot has changed since my previous writeup, except that I shuffled around a few moves to make space for the BC/Wrath moves, and I rolled a whole bunch more alts. 4,5,8,9,0 still tend to be my money keys for my main moves/spells. I mentioned the spammy 5/8 thing because with my warrior I literally just hit those two keys a zillion times a minute. With more methodical playstyles (Rogue, Warlock), I tend to use 4 as my main nuke... Mutilate, Incinerate/Shadowbolt (depnding on spec), and the 8,9,0 lineup is stuff like my DoTs or Kidney Sshot, Slice n Dice, Evsicerate/Envenom.

Key Modifiers:

I've mentioned before that the biggest thing the Belkin offers is that Dpad. It's true. I find it's so easy to have those 1 thru 0 wrap around, but it's extra good when you realize that you ALSO have Ctrl & Shift + all of them. Well, almost all. I find it's a stretch to try and pull back to hit Ctrl on the dpad with my thumb, and also reach your index finger up to the 1, 2 or 3 keys, so I delegate those to stuff like warlock pet sit, stay, follow. Shift 1 and 2 I don't have a problem with, and make those my Will of the Forsaken and Cannibalize ON EVERY TOON. All my girls are undead females, and they all will BREAK FEAR, all over your ass, then kill you, and then EAT YOU. If I play on my Shaman (level 11), and I get feared, I hit Shift-1 out of reflex, and then just curse the stupid orcs and their dumb axe racial or whatever crap they have.

At any rate, you begin to realize how many slots you can actually use, AND ACTUALLY REACH, and it's a little bit much. I actually have a problem where I can't NOT have a skill somewhere on my bars. Some people are just like 'oh move Z, fuggit, it's lame, I never use it', but I keep thinking how I'll need it eventually in some lame ToC Faction Champs crap (Banish? lol? CC?), and so I have it somewhere.

Again, a lot of moves fall into my slots... Shield Bash (spell interrupt) is 6, so Spell Reflect? Shift 6. AoE stun (Shockwave) is 3, so single target stun (Conc Blow) is Shift 3. Taunt is 0, so AoE taunt is.... wait.... Ctrl 8. Oh crap, Taunt USED to be 8, so AoE Taunt was Ctrl 8... but then I put Devastate there, and omg my brain... ugh....


Life Drain is 7, so Mana Drain is Ctrl 7. 7 is ALSO Mana Burn on the Priest, blah blah blah... Look. I'm not going to list every single keybind I have for every toon I play. You get the idea. Your fingers' muscle memory will learn to react in certain situations if you don't just throw crap around willy nilly. Try to be aware that you basically have a zillion buttons, and none of them is more than ONE NEIGHBORING KEY away from the WASD homekeys. THAT is the biggest point.

I won't even get into my mouse

oh crap yes I will, apparently. I have the increase and decrease sensitivity buttons on my mouse rebound to + and - on the numpad, and tilting my wheel left and right I have bound to brackets [ & ]. BUT! This isn't 4 keys, it's 12, because of those shift and ctrl modifiers.

I mean... I haven't given up on my keyboard. I'm typing this whole thing up using it. I use it all the time. I don't waste keybinds on Map or the Talent Pane windows to the Belkin, because I don't need to open those map during combat.

When you realize how far I've gone with this, trust me when I say I haven't even touched the surface.

Below the thumb key are three little LEDs indicating which "shift state" you're currently in. I leave mine in Blue, and am able to sleep at night (barely). You can bind a separate key to shift the entire unit into Green (or Red) state, and then remap ALL the keys AGAIN. Frankly for WoW, we don't need


whatever, a zillion keys. I could see how it could be neat in an RTS game, where Green state was Building, Red was Combat, and Blue was macros that typed out in fractions of a second how lame your teammates are for feeding the enemy army. That is a completely real and viable way to use the unit. I use it for WoW, and don't need more than all the buttons already available in one shift state.

I have, however, shown people how to use it for things having nothing to do with gaming. At my old job before I went to Japan, when I was doing IT, we did a lot of grunt work in Photoshop, and we used a lot of people on staff that had never used anything more advanced than MSPaint. Rather than have them try to remember how to find the Brightness and Contrast sliders (which, to this day, have no keyboard shortcut) among the zillion dropdowns Photoshop has, I just made simple macros that would play out "Alt I, down, down, right, enter" in 10ms, and bound it to a key. I showed them how to bind a key to be the Lasso tool, and use the dpad to modify that with shift, so they could cycle through the various version of the lasso tool to find the one they need. Yes, they could have just learned that L was the Lasso tool, but they weren't all touch typists, and to have the 7 or so tools we used in Photoshop be so easily accessible was a huge boost to productivity.

I took those same lessons and set my 60-something father up with a Belkin just recently. He uses Photoshop all the time (he's an illustrator), but never used keyboard shortcuts, because of the hunt and peck method he uses for typing. He just has no idea where the keys are. I went crazy over the top, and made Photoshop Actions for him that select a hard brush/50% opacity, bound that to F2 in Photoshop, and then bound F2 to be a key on the Belkin. Once you start to see it in this light, you realize just what you can do with it.

Or hell, you can just play WoW with it, right?

The software to bind the keys is pretty straight forward. I liked the last version better, but I'm getting the hang of the new one. One thing the TE edition offers that's cool is that it has flash RAM on board the unit itself, and is a universal USB device. You can create a loadout, and flash it to the unit, then take it over to a friend's house, plug it in, and all your macros and whatever will (should?) work. I've never actually tried this, but that's the theory. The old version required the drivers be installed before you plug it in, or it would create a hassle. Both versions are 'aware' of executables launching though, so you can have a loadout for WoW, and a different for CoD4, and when you launch either EXE it will pop to the right loadout.

Probably the worst part of owning one is how reliant you become on it, once you've tasted its milk and honey. When you FIRST buy it, you hate it, and you don't want to use it. But after the first day or so, you begin to see the light, and then forever after you will carry one in your laptop bag like a ball and chain. Playing WoW without one of these reduces me to a mouse clicking, keyboard turning noob.... but with one, I'm a force to be reckoned with.



Dwism said...

Damn you! Another gadget I never knew I could not live without! ;)

thanks for this

Wolfblitzer said...

That's an interesting layout you use. Personally, I bind my D-pad to WASD, which frees up the face of the N52 for action bars. I bind the top left key to tab, with shift and ctrl below that. This leaves me 11 keys on the face for binding. These match up with the first 11 buttons on the action bar. The 12th button is the little guy above the D pad. I find the big thumb button below the D pad to be a bit too long in throw to do anything critical, so it gets spacebar duty.

Dude, you got hands that only a hobbit mother could love.

Armagon said...

I'm "only" using a Logitech G11 (like the famous G15, but without the LCD and thus cheaper) and I'm already lost when I have to use another keyboard.

Yes, my WoW keys are mostly the left half of the keyboard minus F1-F4 AND additionally most of the G1-G18 keys.

May not be the best to have half of the keys being used with the pinky, but it works fine...

HP said...

Oya Yubi!!

Man, such a random factoid but I love it! =P

I doubt I'll ever use a Belkin N52te but it sure looks cooler and ergonomic

Ixobelle said...

I swear to god i have normal hands... they just aren't very photogenic apparently?!


Klepsacovic said...

Most hands don't look very good. Depending on the angle and lighting the hair looks darker and more wolfman-like.

More relevantly, now I actually see the point of one of these. I doubt I'll buy one, but they make sense now.

Silkworm said...

I will give it a try since this is your second time trying to sell this baby to us. I dont't doubt your word. First thing I'm doing this week. I'm getting one.

Steven said...


I actually won one of these when Phaelia retired from WoW. I love it and I have been using it but in a different configuration...
But after viewing this I think I may need to reconsider my layout... and spend another month or two retraining my fingers on what to reflexively push!

Skarlarth and Company

Imperial said...

Hey Ixo, been following your blog for sometime and definitely enjoy it. Not sure why I never comment that's just how it goes I guess.

Anyway this N52 thing got me wondering, as I play a prot gnome warrior of awesomeness, have you ever considered mapping your movement keys to the thumb pad? Do you think you could have decent control? My thumb is well versed from hours of console gaming and I think it would be sweet to move and have all my abilities at my fingertips.

One of my annoyances with playing on the keyboard (I map strafe to a,d and use q,e for other binds) is that I can't strafe say right in your layout and use shockwave at the same time. Or strafe left and taunt. I'd love to have the freedom to move around and still have access to all my abilities. Anyway, just wanted to hear your thoughts on the usability of the thumbpad in that manner? And possibly Wolfblitzer's thoughts on it since I see he binds in the manner I was referring to.

James Warne said...

I've been on the fence about these things for a while now, but after your endorsement I think I might just have to pony up and grab one. I'm using a G15 now, but one major annoyance is that my left hand is either on WASD OR using the G-keys for abilities...but not both. This creates a lot of back and forth as I reposition a mob and quickly move back to the G-keys to spam abilities. The fact that it's (a little) more portable than the keyboard, and that I don't have to install drivers for it to work on other computers is friggin' sweet.

Ixobelle said...

yeah, I've never used the dpad to move with it (and commented on that in my first article, with a lollerskates photo of me holding it like a NES gamepad). I guess it makes sense that your thumb could 'handle' being used in that way, but the WASD is just too ingrained for computer movement for me personally.

The whole strafe right and shockwave thing isn't a huge issue, as when I'm shockwaving, I tend to line everything up, stop moving, and blow it. I see what you're saying, but I've just never gone there...

Gold NoScripts said...

Ever since I started playing WOW I've used the num pad for all my binds. 1-9 is compressed into a small area. I use '0' to tab target. '.' is my vent push to talk. Everything was great until the burning crusade and then I needed to expand my number of keys. I took up '/', '*', '-', and '+'. Just like you Izzy I always have "oh shit" buttons on all of my characters.'-' is divine protection, or shield wall, or icebound fortitude. 6 is always my counterspell, kick, HoJ, etc....

Page down switches between hot key bar 1, and 2 so I have quick access to 24 key skills. These are always the skills I use often, or need to use quick.

Since WotLK I've needed to expand and I now have the entire 6 block of insert,home,page up, delete, and end filled up. Most of these keys I hit rarely, but I'm not much of a clicker and it makes me super fast for raids/pvp.

I've never seen anyone else use the numpad, but I find it super easy.

Anonymous said...

I'll see you your n52, and raise you a Steelseries Fang (, formally an Ideazon Fang.

Been using it for four years now, love it to pieces (literally, I should get a new one).

Ian said...

Love the article, Ixo, just like I loved the old one.

As for strafing, it is not an issue: just hit A and Right-Click and you will strafe left; D and Right-Click will strafe right.

Ixobelle said...

@anon: that steel series is interesting, and we're both on the same page, but that layout just looks too wonky! what's the big empty space down below the main WASD area? Why all the little round buttons above it?

that seems more geared towards FPSes, but to each his own... not so much apples/oranges, as apples/pears ;)

Dazh said...

It is more for FPSs, but I've had great success adapting it to WoW, and it has all the functionality of a Belkin minus the macro programming, which I'm not a huge fan of anyway.

The open space is basically the same as the open space on the Belkin, only your's is ergonomically curved to fit your plam (makes my hand feel to confined, somehow), and "all the round buttons" are various useful keyboard buttons in most FPS games (alt, tab, R(eload), Use, etc.). Of course, it's all re-programmable so all that matters is that they're in convenient locations, and even though they're close to each other the varied concave/convex button tops makes hitting the right one surprisingly easy.

My only complain with it is that using shift/control + some of the number keys is a little awkward, but I think that has much more to do with my button setup then anything. So yes, it's just a matter of taste!

PS - Have a name now, just ducked it up last time >.>

Anonymous said...

I liek your handz and i liek turtlez.

Anonymous said...

Been using one of these for a few years now. I have not gotten as crazy as you have with it. But I do get so I depend on it a lot. I use the left center key for tab/target. Top right for my map as I get lost easily. Top left is my escape key. Center keys are usual WASD layout. Every once in a while I set up a new key but I have to be in an unlazy mood for that. I pretty much use the n52 and my mouse most of the time. Keyboard just for chat and a few other once in a while stuff. If I use a key often it goes on the n52 pad. Cheers.

Anonymous said...

hi there, i have never had the extra cash for one of these, but i got luckey and a friend gave me his cause he just never used it, the downside?? ... he cant find the mapping editor for it... i have looked everywhere... is it a driver, or a firmware?