iOS gaming is a huge market but it is mostly dominated by freemium casual games.(At least from a profit standpoint.) I think this can be attributed to a few things:
- The touch screen
- The fact that an iPad/iPhone isn’t just a game console. (Non-gamers by the millions buy iOS devices.)
The touch screen is both a blessing and a curse. It allows you to play a game anywhere but it can be hard to design games that work well with the touchscreen. Some games are ingenious but others just overlay controller buttons onto the screen which can be a terrible experience. It all comes down to control for me. The touchscreen leads both to innovative controls, ideas, and mechanics for those who put some real work into making their games work on the touch screen but many are content to just plop some virtual buttons on the screen. Keeping the mechanics of a controller based game just doesn’t work for me. I believe this to be a fundamentally wrong way to create games for iOS. The aforementioned innovative games are usually puzzlers or casual games. A lot of them are single tappers like (Tiny Wings(iOS Universal - .99c) or swipe based like Fruit Ninja(iOS Universal - .99c). (A gross simplification but not that far off.) I am not saying that these games are bad, I loved Monument Valley(iOS Universal - $3.99), Rymdkapsul(iOS Universal - $3.99), and a score of other games but I wonder about the potential for games like Diablo or Fallout. So how can we bring grander games to the iPad? Well Metal will help but I am focusing solely on controls in this post.
I usually divide iOS gaming into 3 categories:
- Designed for a Controller
There are 2 types of casual games for me: money grabs and non-money grabs. Money grabbers like, Candy Crush, receive most of the gaming profits on iOS and are often in the top of the free charts. I have voiced my hate of Freemium games elsewhere so I will leave it at that.
There are lots of fun casual games not designed solely for you to make in-app purchases as well but I think they are over-shadowed by the freemium brethren.
Games like Device 6 (iOS Universal - $3.99), Monument Valley, or Blek(iOS Universal - $2.99) are designed with the iOS device in mind. It looks at the limitations of the touch screen and offers controls and game elements that suite it. These are the types of iOS games I like.
Games ‘Designed for a Controller’
Games like the N.O.V.A series 9iOS Universal - $6.99) are the most ambitious. (N.O.V.A is basically a Halo rip off. At least the first one was.) They try and bring console level gaming to iOS but they rarely put any thought into the input mechanics. They simply overlay some buttons and a joystick over the screen. These games are much better suited for a controller and are usually pale imitations of their console inspirations. I see the potential for these types of games but the controls have always made me dislike them.
That is of course a gross oversimplification but it has been my experience for the most part.
The Potential For Console/PC Games On The iPad
For me, controls are the most important thing and I am not talking about responsiveness. They need to be designed with the touch screen in mind and I for a long time I couldn’t imagine taking a game from the Xbox or Playstation and playing it on the iPad. The controls were too complex and a bunch of gestures would just make for an unpleasantly complex gaming experience. Why play on an iPad when the experience was vastly superior on a Mac/Xbox/Playstation/PC. Physical controllers seem like a good idea but it’s basically playing a console game on a small screen, it only adds portability. I recently started playing a game that made me rethink everything. Wayward Souls(iOS Universal - $5.99) marries more complex gameplay with controls that work on a touch screen. It makes me think that games like Diablo or Fallout are possibly on the iPad. In Wayward Souls the controls are simple, the whole left side of the screen is a virtual joystick while the right side is for attacks. (There are no buttons to move or attack you simply tap/slide anywhere on the sides of the screen.) You slide your left thumb around to move and tap your right to attack. Your right thumb can also use gestures, like swipe up or down, to do special attacks. Playing through the game was a revelation I hadn’t experience on iOS before. It felt like console quality controls on a touch screen device. Computing limitations aside, I could see these controls being used to bring desktop/console games to the iPad with no negative effect on the controls.
Diablo on the iPad
If you are unaware Diablo uses the mouses left click for one attack and the right click for another. I could easily imagine playing Diablo by moving with my left thumb, attacking with a tap (left click) and using a slide up for my right click. Gestures would be used to get around the lack of keyboard shortcuts. To use something like a potion a slide down could be used. Ranged characters could attack by tapping on specific targets with the same slide up to use their right click ability. The toolbar along the bottom of the PC version could be easily transferred to iOS. Maybe even using the same magnification feature that Apple uses for the Mac dock. (Slide your finger over an icon and it becomes larger.)
Fallout on the iPad
The Fallout series has relied on a combat system called V.A.T.S. that freezes the game and allows you to select different body parts to attack. This mechanic could be easily used for an iPad game. Things like jumping could be accomplished via tapping your left thumb. Switch weapons could be a sideways swipe.
Bioshock For iPad
One of my favourite games of all time, Bioshock, has been ported to iOS. If you have never played Bioshock would you kindly go buy a copy and play it (on PC/Mac or a console). It was developed by the same developer that ported XCOM: Enemy Unkown (iOS Universal - $9.99). I have never played XCOM, no matter how many times my friend Mike tells me to, but as far as I have heard the iOS version is a very high quality version of the game. I was planning on buying this game the minute it was launched but I was out of province and couldn’t download a 2GB game. I am glad I didn’t because the reviews have expressed issues with the controls. Bioshock is a complicated game with weapon switching, ammunition switching, plasmid switching, and health and EVE (mana) potions. The developers chose to overlay buttons rather than come up with a new interface better designed for touch. Which was incredibly disappointing to me. This is a good review by IGN.
Download link for the iOS version of Bioshock(iOS Universal - $14.99)
Even Simplifying These Games Might Not Work
The biggest issue these games would have is that they were designed with a keyboard and mouse or controller in mind. They could increase their complexity because they had easily reachable physical buttons. The iPad doesn’t have that advantage. I think overlaying buttons on the screen is wrong but gestures may not work either. Players would have to learn the gestures and developers would have to make them intuitive and hard to accidentally trigger. So do developers cut out features? Bioshock loses the ability to jump, but keeps complexities like multiple types of ammo. It’s a hard edge to balance on.
Will These Games Even Have A Chance?
Games like Bioshock, Diablo, and Fallout would need a fairly hefty up front price and iOS customers often balk at paying .99c for something. Even if gamers pay 20$ for these games will they want to play these types of games on their iPads? I like gaming on my iPad but there are definite downsides to holding a device that weighs around a pound for any length of time. Marathon gaming is likely to lead to very tired arms and sore wrists. I honestly don’t know the answer to this question but I would be interesting in finding out. XCOM must have done fairly well because the developers ported Bioshock, if it was a complete flop why would they try again?
Our iPads are becoming more powerful, and gaming graphics will be seriously improved with games supporting Metal. I wouldn’t doubt more developers try and make “console quality” games for the iPad but will they just stick some buttons on the screen? Or will they put some serious work into designing controls that work on the touch screen?
Tiny Wings(iOS Universal - .99c)
Fruit Ninja(iOS Universal - .99c)
Monument Valley(iOS Universal - $3.99)
Rymdkapsul(iOS Universal - $3.99)
Device 6 (iOS Universal - $3.99)
Blek(iOS Universal - $2.99)
XCOM: Enemy Unkown (iOS Universal - $9.99)
Bioshock(iOS Universal - $14.99)