When developers start work on any game, there are a number of questions that need answering. Some are about the nature of the game itself, but some are incredibly platform dependant and this is most evident when designing for smartphones.
With so little real estate to play with, the user interface is the single most pressing concern to address. However good the game looks and however innovative the game play, if the user interface is clumsy or inaccessible, than the game will struggle to succeed.
At the core of this is the debate over control schemes- should mobile games look to replicate console controls or look to develop a control system consistent with the nature of the device.
Most early attempts at mobile gaming assumed that gamers would require visible controls to help them adapt to the touch screen experience and to prove that games on a phone should be taken seriously.
Gameloft are the biggest name in mobile game’s development and they have tended to favour this replication of the console control system– a joystick for movement and buttons for input being a favoured option. This has allowed them to develop games which feel like a console. But, including these widgets reduces the real estate available.
At the other end of the scale, games such as Angry Birds and Cut the Rope are entirely touch based and intuitive, the skill in these games comes from mastering the physics engine – not the control scheme. This intuitive nature is an integral part of the experience and one of the main reasons both games have sold millions of copies. Bumpy Road has taken this concept to its logical conclusion, rather than controlling (and potentially obscuring) a tiny avatar, the player controls the environment around them, meaning they can always see the effect their actions have.
That is not to say a deeper gesture based control system is undesirable. Infinity Blade was heralded as a new dawn for mobile gaming. Running a modified Unreal Engine, the game showed the mobile’s potential as a gaming device. More importantly it showed that a control system could be developed that retained depth, while avoiding cluttering the screen with widgets. The direction and gesture based system rewarded skill and timing, while not being inaccessible to new players and the looped nature of the game made it perfect for play on the go. As another example, the recently launched Atari Arcade used an adapted classic control system, that takes advantage of the existing control metaphors and the touch interface of newer devices.
Which of these methods (if any) have you used in your mobile game development? Do you think device vendors are providing enough tools to cover off control systems for gaming on different devices, or do you think third party developed systems are still the way to go?