An iPad Is Not A GamePad

So Don’t Treat It Like One.
Been thinking a lot about in-game controls this week as I work on a new title, and trying out a bunch of other games in the process.

It’s funny that, whilst the touchscreen is viewed as a superior interface to a mobile device (and is in most respects), as an interface to games it can be very limiting – unless you’re prepared to think outside the box a bit.

There are some games where you just want buttons to press. Platform games are a good example. You pretty much need left/right/jump as an absolute minimum and (on ‘old school’ platformers particularly) these need to be pretty accurate. The lazy approach is to treat the mobile device like a gamepad and just overlay a D-Pad type control over the touchscreen – hey, it’s not THAT different right? Wrong!

This approach just doesn’t work in my opinion. You need the tactile feel of real buttons under your thumbs/fingers to know where the controls are. You also need to be able to position your thumbs/fingers over the relevant control ‘at the ready’ without activating it, something that is impossible on a touchscreen.

The more buttons added to the pseudo-gamepad style interface the worse the problem becomes. Super Crate Box is a good example. Great game, but one that cries out for proper gamepad/keyboard control and is all but unplayable in it’s pseudo-touchscreen-gamepad iPad incarnation. So often I found myself failing, not because I made a wrong decision or didn’t react quickly enough, but because I’d hit the wrong virtual ‘button’ – the cardinal sin of any game UI.

There are other solutions though, I’m quite a fan of the ‘swipe’ as a touchscreen control method (see Floppy Frog) as it allows you to define a bunch of parameters with one single gesture (e.g. direction of jump, velocity), but swipe has it’s issues as well – not least the lag between touch and release.

Kid Tripp has a nice approach, paring down the platform game to a series of very simple controls that are activated by a short or long press on either side of the screen. In this scenario the touchscreen does kind of work like a gamepad because the controls have been so simplified. It’s a good solution. I still find it way too difficult to play, but that seems like an intentional game design decision rather than a failure of the control system.

To be continued…

Super Crate Box – The Virtual D-Pad Is A Fail

Kid Tripp – Simple Controls That Work

Floppy Frog – Much Control From One Gesture

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