Games Can Have Great Controls on iPad, iPhone When Developers Innovate

By on Dec 25, 2010 at 10:50 am

Some gamers complain that iOS gaming can never take off in the hardcore market due to relying on touch-only technology with no buttons of any kind. They do not grasp the fact that virtual dpads or virtual stick controls are only one facet of iOS gaming. There are also tilt-only or gyroscope-or-accelerometer control methods that is used in virtually every racing game coming out. There are many other great games like Tilt to Live, the Labirynth titles or the Super Monkey Ball series by Sega that rely solely on the tilting mechanism with no other on-screen buttons to speak of. These are the games I think we should see more of. I think developers just need to find ways to implement such control to traditional games or create new genres.

For racing games like the excellent Real Racing 2, the feeling of moving your device side to side — if the precision is fine-tuned correctly and sensitivity good enough so you don’t have to move your device overbearingly — mimics holding the steering wheel in your hand (on the bigger iPad at least). To anyone who played Mario Kart for the Wii with its motion-sensing steering and holding the Wiimote along with the wheel addon in your hand should be familiar with what to expect. It doesn’t beat a full steering wheel add-on for a console or the PC but I think this is the best option for portable racing-games in general.

One drawback some gamers and iDevide users seem to complain about tilt-only controls is that they make them look awkward in public. This can be the case for certain self-conscious people but I think they are just hyper sensitive. Playing games in general looks awkward once you really get into the game anyway as we’ve all seen those gamers who start talking into the television or handheld gaming screen and the ones who end up throwing their controllers. I think tilting your device may just be a conversation starter at worst and probably just draw curiosity if anything since people are still not used to all the functions the iDevices offer. This is especially true with the relatively new iPad, which is an iDevice made for public consumption at places like coffee shops. But tilt isn’t the only type of control that works well and I will go into some others as well.

Certain ports of point-and-click adventure games and the iDOS emulator also showed that creating a virtual icon like a mouse icon can work as well. The icon is controlled away from the action, by touch. This is one way stylus-like small precision can be achieved without the stylus and control being hampered by the thickness and inaccuracy of your thump. There are also games like Fruit Ninja, Infinity Blade, and Cut the Rope that rely on swipes and slashes with the fingers to cause similar actions on screen. Rather than virtual controls, they allow you to interact with the game.

Some other great control methods I’ve seen on the iDevices is drawing style of games like Flight Control, Crayon Physics Deluxe and Doodle Sky HD. In such games, the player uses his fingers to draw waypoints on the screen for aircraft to travel to while avoiding enemies and other distractions. In the case of Crayon Physics, the player draws objects and has only the limits of his creativity to guide a ball to destination points. I haven’t seen this type of interaction and creativity possible with such hands-on and artistic gameplay on many other platforms besides the Wii and DS with titles like Scribblenauts and Drawn to Life. Sure games like this also work well on devices such as the PC with a mouse and keyboard control, but part of the charm is interacting with the screen and game world itself. Even, the Wii with its unique games and controls, lacks this direct interaction with the game-world as if you were taking part in it.

The stylus is another possibility or option to implement in iOS gaming that I haven’t seen used yet or at least taken into consideration by game developers. and the iPad in particular has a number of specific stylus pens available for purchase as it has apps such as Sketchbook Pro, popular by students and artists alike. Real time strategy games — where a lot of action is happening on a tiny portion of the screen — could benefit by a design with the stylus in mind. The DS proved stylus controls offer great flexibility in certain genres as the fingers are generally a lot thicker than the tiny head of a good stylus.

In my opinion, the titles specifically designed for the iOS gaming and that take advantage of the platform’s strengths in creativity and flexibility, like Infinity Blade has done, can have great controls and be even better than other versions of the same game. Rather than trying to compensate, or port a game designed for a traditional control-pad, developers need to think outside the box. One thing I can’t understand is how high-profile developers like Sega and Square-Enix — yes Secret of Mana the reference is to you — continue to put virtual dpads on the game screen rather than in the corner or below the gameplay screen area. Pizza Boy demonstrated that even traditional platformers with virtual controls don’t need hinder the playing view. What I really wish for Secret of Mana to control similar to Braveheart. Instead of an ugly blue circle for a virtual stick, have the character attack after clicking on enemies via touch (also like in Braveheart). Developers need to concentrate on titles with controls that work to iDevice strengths not weaknesses, I have to admit however, despite my criticism, I find some titles like Samurai 2 to play great with virtual sticks, but not when the controls get in the way of the action. Now excuse me while I play some Super Monkey Ball 2 on my iPad.

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