Touchscreen implications for mobile gaming

by Andy Polaine on September 15, 2007

Interesting piece by Stuart Dredge on the implications that touchscreens (read: iPhone) interfaces have for mobile gaming over at Pocketgamer.

Of course there are issues to do with Apple keeping the development environment closed(ish) and also their own relatively stringent UI guidelines, but as Dredge suggest, this could actually be of benefit as there would be some consistency across games.

The piece really looks at the question of restrictions being a challenge or a nightmare for design. I think it’s much tougher, but more worthwhile, discipline to have to design with a small palette of options. It makes one think much more creatively. John Chasey, of developer Finblade made me sigh when I read this quote from him:

“When you are having to support 500 handsets, during porting the focus ends up being on getting the title to work and run on those phones.”

That’s an utter nightmare – it means almost all the effort goes into getting it to work, not really resolving the game creative.

I had this thought some time ago (before the iPhone) that there are simply too many handsets on the market and manufacturers in their marketing segmentation (lack of) wisdom really shoot themselves in the foot. I wrote about this a while back but seeing Nokia et al. put out 5 or more handsets in one go really made me see the wisdom of Apple’s model, which is about refinement and killing off older products to keep the line slim. John Gruber makes a great analysis of this:

Most companies wouldn’t even consider killing a product like the iPod Mini while it was still a best-seller; instead, they milk hit products for all they’re worth and ride them out for years. (Exhibit A: Motorola’s Razr.) One thing Apple could have done, but didn’t, was continue to sell iPod Minis alongside the Nanos. Apple treats its product line-up like a product itself — it is designed to be obvious and easy to understand.

So developing games for the iPhone might be a bit less of a headache – at least there could be some stability in an environment which must be like the web-browser nightmares of 1999/2000 only multiplied 100-fold.

But the other potential is to explore this new interface and interaction style. Jim Blackhurst at Eidos says in the Pocketgamer article:

“Touchscreens aren’t the perfect input device, but they are a billion times better for most games than the phone’s number buttons.”

For me the exciting stuff would be moving away from traditional games and exploring the iPhone’s touch capabilities in their own right. What kinds of games and playful interactions would only be possible with that kind of interface, for example? Then what kinds of games might come out of that? Toshio Iwai and Yamaha’s Tenori-on comes to mind as a great example of thinking differently in this space.

[tags]test[/tags]

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Adam Searle September 15, 2007 at 5:38 pm

Very true. An in it to win it environment. I’d love to get into ipod games, although the only distribution is through itunes. So you have to be on apples good side.. and be lucky enough to score a deal over there. Else, no one will see your games.

Mobile ninjaman? Tehe. On a touch, oh baby..

2 Andy Polaine September 16, 2007 at 9:45 am

I would reckon iTMS to be a much better distribution platform than most network service providers though.

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