Ideazon's Z-board keyset for World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade provides an exciting new way to experience World of Warcraft. This custom keyboard gives you easy access to various functions via a single keystroke, as well as highlights the default commands that are accessed with each key, and has the potential to streamline your gameplay.
Originally created by Ideazon in 2003, the Z-board is the first mainstream attempt to create a keyboard designed for playing computer games. After all, one of the biggest differences between computer games and console games is the streamlined controller, right? The Z-board itself is an innovative piece of engineering because it comes to you as a somewhat ordinary-looking keyboard, with the slight exception that the keyset seems to have three distinct areas it is divided into, and a few additional buttons lining the upper edge. The reason the keys are so divided, however, is because a clasp on the side of the keyboard unlocks the keys and allows you to remove them!
Underneath, the Z-board looks like a big tray with a large matrix of key connections. And just what in the world is this good for? Why, putting different sets of keys on it!
The other keyset that comes with the Z-board by default is the "Gaming Keyset" that clearly is inspired from First Person Shooter games like Doom, Quake and Halflife. The lettered part of the keyboard is shifted to the right, and a cluster of buttons for character control and changing weapons are arranged neatly where your left hand would rest.
The Gaming Keyset is not the least bit useful for playing most other games or for use in ordinary day-to-day typing, which is why when you're done, all that needs to be done is unlatch the Gaming Keyset, remove it from the "tray" that it sets into, and return the Standard Keyset.
I haven't played a computer-based First Person Shooter in a long time, but I'm tempted to go dig one out of the closet just to try it. However, the more pressing question to the MMO community is "Are the other keysets any good? Like the one for World of Warcraft?"
One of the immediate setbacks in design for trying to create a keyboard or keyset for an MMORPG is that the players need to be able to type normally. Unlike in a first-person shooter, the users are routinely communicating with each other by text, and many of the slash commands the game employs also demands ready access to a standard set of letters. As such, the World of Warcraft keyset isn't nearly as inspired. What the folks at Ideazon have chosen to do, in realizing this constraint, is compress the keys toward the left two-thirds of the KB, eliminate the numeric keypad, and replace it with a set of one-touch hotkeys for functions you might not want to fumble around looking for.
One has to ask themselves, "If I had to add 20 buttons for performing commands that are used consistently, but are a pain to remember or to actually execute, what would I add?" I think everyone would come up with a different list, especially when considering different playstyles. Since the rapid key access is most pertinent in a PvP environment, however, a few of the keys have that slant - duel, yield, pvp on/off, battle map, scoreboard - and then there are also a few raid commands - raid chat, raid info, ready check, and raid warning. Rounding out the set is a show/hide UI button right next to the screenshot button (which is quite nice,) inspect, roll, invite and follow. And the final quarter of the buttons are for /say, /party, /guild, /yell, and /whisper.
I think I would be inclined to make different choices with my 20 buttons. I don't think it's really any easier to reach to the right end of my keyboard to push a button than it is to type /p, /g, /w, /pvp, /d, /ra, or most of those other choices. Fortunately, I have that option. The upper edge of the keyboard has nine additional buttons that I can configure through the Z-board software to perform whatever task I want. They're still more or less limited to the same commands you could put in a macro, but this way they aren't taking up space on your hotkey bars and you always have access to them. If shouting "incoming %t!" to my raid was something I wanted a button for as the guild puller, I might very well dedicate one of these buttons.
The main section of the keyboard is fairly colorful and full of text compared to an ordinary keyboard. This might have something to do with reminders of what every button is used for (by default) printed on each key. And while the basic uses for these keys might not seem all that utilitarian, the shift and control keys are printed in green and yellow rather than white, and similarly their functions on each key are printed in these colors. You probably never knew that bringing up your pet's spell book could be reached by pressing Control-I! There's even a dedicated key for those of you who use voice chat programs like TeamSpeak and Ventrillo.
The final feature involves the function keys. Just past the F12 key is a separate button marked "emote". After pressing that key, if you use any of the function keys, they will each perform a particular emote. I don't know how often I need /greet or /kiss on demand, but at least I can quickly /rude or /spit someone, which happen to be the two buttons closest to the emote key.
Overall, the team at Ideazon did probably everything they could with World of Warcraft, but aside from the keyboard itself feeling cramped and uncomfortable for my fingers (which is the same reason I can't stand using laptop keyboards,) the specialized keyset really just provides quick access to things that I either don't need or am so used to typing anyway that I don't know relearning the game with the buttons will make things any easier. Then again, I've been playing World of Warcraft since beta phase 2, which means I've almost reached the three-year mark. You can't teach an old dog new tricks, but for some of the newer players who haven't yet learned all the little keyboard shortcuts for everything, the Z-board might be a very worthwhile investment. And if you've already got a Z-board, there's little reason not to have the WoW keyset.
For more information, visit Ideazon's advert on their own website.