Controller evolution making designers think ahead. 11 points to consider about game controls across platforms.
If you were around during the first arcade gaming days, the coin-op arcade games introduced titles that were either fully button controlled or had single joystick (or dual) with buttons. One example would be Atari’s Asteroids, it was all buttons. When it first found its way into convenience store and arcades, it was extremely difficult to play well using both hands. Other than musicians and a few other skills sets, most hadn’t had the need to be completely ambidextrous- yet.
Playing Asteroids, the left hand had to tap two different buttons to rotate left or right and with the right hand the player had to gently thrust, moving the spaceship, or blasted away at huge asteroids as fast as possible. In the case you got in to trouble, there was a failsafe hyperspace button in the middle that would send the spaceship somewhere random on the screen- usually right in front of an asteroid. Atari also mixed things up and added enemy spaceships that would come out and shoot at the player that would need to be destroyed. The key to playing well was not having to look down at the buttons so you could keep an eye on the screen. Note: early gamers figured out they could leave one or two chunks of asteroids and the small space spaceship would keep coming out, racking up points and extra lives- which could run all the way off the screen.
Then came the home consoles like Nintendo’s NES Console. Now there was a new controller called a “D”-pad that goes in all directions. NES was not the first but the games were developed well. Developers would get the max out of those controls with left/right/up/down movement or up to jump while utilizing the two buttons for game play like firing weapons. Some may remember playing Ghosts and Goblins so long their thumb would become blistered and sore- which never stopped anyone from continuing to play, only mom could do that.
As consoles progressed, more controls came to the scene with platforms like the PlayStation. Now we have two joysticks, a D-pad and 8 buttons (10 counting select and start). Note: I remember at first just avoiding the joysticks because the D-pad was so familiar and was kind of hoping I could avoid using it. But EA’s Madden finally forced me to learn because I was tired of losing.
PC games were no exception, games like Diablo 2 used most all of the keyboard. When that game first came out, we all lost 5 years of our life. While playing, one hand was on the mouse clicking drastically, while the other was hitting “F” keys and keyboard shortcuts. It got to where we didn’t even think about the keyboard hand constantly tapping keys. Kind of amazing actually. Note: I always thought the way the developers created the “exit game” created stress. Especially if you played hardcore and needed to get out fast in order to keep your character alive.- well done.
When Nintendo’s Wii appeared on the market in 2006, gameplay became moving a wand-like-joystick. Most loved it- minus some parents who lost their TV screens, windows and lampshades due to gamers losing grip on the controller. But hey, it’s just game-play progression.
Now these controls are all second nature, we can pick up and play any game and use any console controller and we start playing instantly knowing all those controls do something. For most gamers today, they can play a new game for a short time and have the controls down allowing to quickly focus on the game itself- and developers today just keep making it better.
Back to the future- mobile gaming. When the very first mobile games began surfacing developers had to experiment with controls. At first we saw some on-screen joystick games, with buttons on the screen for playing. Many of us had to figure out how to control the game without moving the thumb too far away from the joystick or the character would not move. Or to remember to keep the other thumb on or around where the buttons were, so you wouldn’t find yourself dead by not being able to fire or use powerups. And many had no idea what to do. These types of games in the early days often got reviews saying they were too hard or difficult.
Developers also experimented with swiping, tapping, dragging and titling. What seems like almost instantly, mobile gameplay taught us how to control a game with a touch mobile screen. The result-gamers know how to play games on a completely flat screen. Incredible really.
So today, when developing a game, developers think about how many ports they can do with one single game. After all, one game could easily be 10+ games by making it available across many platforms. For that matter many game companies are going back to their previous titles that were once console and or PC only and porting them to mobile. For many new gamers it is a totally brand new game, while to gamers that have previously played those games, it is fun and sort of a new experience because the controls are on a mobile device. Win win.
How many platforms the game will be on is all about budget and time and not everyone has both. Note: hardware is also a consideration, not all things can render and crunch physics the same. Recently I read a blog post “The expectation that any desired information or service is available, on any appropriate device, in context, at your moment of need” on CDS Global. This seems true to gamers too. If your friend tells you to try the new game they are playing chances are you will just bring up google and try and find it for your platform.
So today’s game designers are now challenged to think about how the game will work from a controller standpoint across multiple platforms. There is no doubt there will be brilliant people using the current day controls in new ways- including simplifying the game controls down to almost one button like we have seen in some of the runners that have appeared on the market over the last two or so years- like Temple Run and Canabalt.
What to do? Here are some points to consider about game controls if your game will be on different platforms and plan to include mobile.
1. Design the game front to back. We like to use Visio to create low poly screen flows, world layouts, skill trees, powerups and so on. This is a great way to “imagine” your game working before too much development starts.
2. In the final release candidate, there may be some small differences in controls of the game, especially from console to mobile. For most this is totally acceptable. So think up front how you are going to tackle these issues and make adjustments during the design phase. One of the things that will kill time is to figure things out as you go. Time=cost. Just to note there are some games/controls the player will expect to work exactly like the console game. It’s like listening to a classic song, you expect to hear specific parts of a song and when you can’t or its not there- something feels empty. So keep this in mind.
3. Fast pace games tend to be harder to allow lots of control on mobile. Slowing the game down here and there or even creating an artificial pause/stop (like entering a new level) to allow changes in powerups and gear will help. For the most part, fast pace games on mobile devices will often equal less overall inputs. There is only so much space on the game screen. But there have been some developers that have pulled this off well.
4. Some exact game controls will not work across all platforms. The flow of the joystick and R1 like buttons working with the animations may not convert. Maybe think of an alternate mobile version to develop using the same game assets or help the player by automating some of the gameplay. An example could be Dark Souls by From Software. The way the player animations flow is very tuned to how the joystick works- like swinging around and doing the backstab.
5. Negotiating controls with the development team is crucial. Sometimes taking away or adding a few things here and there during the design phase will help ensure the game gets out on time and on budget. If there is disagreement at the beginning it won’t go away. Always take the time to understand the issue, and work through it. It there is time in the budget, create a prototype just for controls. This is a great way to discuss control issues with the team.
6. Play games. Playing a variety of games will create ideas for your future games. But perhaps even more, it gives you something to show the development team how you are seeing the controls work. As they say a picture is worth a thousand words. There is nothing wrong with using a control feature from another game, we are all one community.
7. Watch YouTube videos and read gamers posts. Every so often there is a brilliant post that will light up your creative mind. Also if you see the same complaint over and over it is good to know for future titles what gamers “did or didn’t” like about something specific.
8. Work together and talk it up. Talking about the game controls with others will give you great input. Keep in mind there are some that only play Candy Crush and you are developing an action shooter. This is OK because you want everyone to buy your game, just don’t go overboard and lose sight of how your game needs to work.
9. Use a beta group. If you can get a group of people willing to play the game, they will talk to you. They are not too hard to find and most gamers love the idea of working with a development team. If they all are posting they can’t control the game, it is better to know during beta than when it hits the market.
10. Make a fun game across platforms. There is a difference between challenging and difficult. You know the story- great game idea, great graphics, great physics, great animations, poor mobile control= not a fun game. Testing and tweaking controls during development will make your game more fun to play in the end.
11. Have fun making the game. Game development is perhaps the most awesome thing a person can do. Sometimes during the development process we get tired and quite possibly bored and stressed out. When a game team has finally created their masterpiece release candidate they will have played a thousand or more hours. Not keeping it fun will sometimes lead to hurried decisions where “just that one thing” can make a huge difference- and will often lead to needing to create an update right after launch.
I once read a twitter post from a game designer saying something like “there are no shortage of great game ideas”- something like that. Agreed, but I would say “A great idea is one that is awesome, fits the budget, thought out “and” designed well and there is a definitely shortage of those”.
Thanks for taking the time and we look forward to hearing from you.
We recently received a call from David Baum, CEO at Bladepad. He showed us a very cool device they are about to roll out to the market- the new Bladepad! After a short bit of coding we began playing Jetpack Junkie using the new Bladepad and it rocks.
Stephen Wilkinson, Co-Founder RocketPop Games says “Using my years of d-pad practice I beat my own high score in our own game :)”. The pad works very much like a traditional controller, so for all of us that have years of practice playing on consoles, you are going to love it. In reference to the SDK it is fairly painless to implement- which means we will be implementing in on all of our games we can.
Its solid and connects right to the phone or iPod and has a cool sliding in/out feature to make sure you always have it with you- definitely a gamers device.
When testing we were able to use most the buttons for Junkie:
1. Flying (analog controller)
2. Jetpack power
3. Four powerups
4. Select and start
Look for some new video on game play coming soon and even more, David says to look for the Bladepad in stores soon near you.
Congratulations to “honeybabe 16” for winning Jetpack Poker in 5 hands. Unbelievable! Didn’t even think it was possible 🙂
If you have a high score or awesome screenshot share it with us on Facebook. We would like to hear from you!
In April we posted the game influences for our new mobile arcade game. We are working hard to get the game to beta and wanted to take a moment to share with you some screenshots from our new upcoming mobile arcade game!
The new game will be a sequel to our hit game Jetpack Junkie.
The new game will work on iPhone, iPod touch and iPads. Check back often for more screenshots and gameplay!
Thank you Classic racer for taking the time to review Jetpack Poker!
We hear you and will be creating a version of the game with no ads!
Have you won a Royal Flush yet? Let us know on Facebook if you do, something very cool happens.
RocketPop Games is working on a new mobile arcade game!
The game is slotted as the sequel to RocketPop Games hit game Jetpack Junkie. , Stephen Wilkinson, Co-Founder RocketPop Games says “Jetpack Junkie is based in the future, aliens had taken over Metropolis, jammed all radar and the Legendary Re-con Runners were needed to map out the city. In the new game we tell what happens next.”
RocketPop is not yet ready to completely spill the beans on gameplay but we wanted to list a few game influences. “We wanted to keep the theme from Junkie but switch it up, while keeping the arcade feel to the game” says Wilkinson:
Atari’s Xevious– one of the great arcade games of its day. It may not look like it now, but the graphics were sharp and the game play was totally fun. The player needed to shoot alien aircraft while bombing ground turrets- all the while avoid enemy fire.
NAMECO’s Galaga– we love the way Galaga played, but the way the enemy aircraft came sweeping down while shooting them was totally addictive.
Midway’s Space Invaders– hitting aliens flying across the screen while avoiding enemy fire was the name of the game.
Capcom’s 1942 Original Classic Arcade Game-The game play was addictive -especially when the airplanes weapons were powered up!
Konami’s Time Pilot– Constant firing and explosions says it all, and how about the idea of UFO’s in 2001? – after all the game came out in the early 80’s 🙂
Stay tuned for screen shots and more game information!
At RocketPop Games we enjoy reading the reviews and feedback from our players!
Thanks Nico De Angelo for taking the time to write a great review!
Have you become a Jetpack Junkie? Let us know!
Today reading through the news we ran across an article on gameindustry.biz “Gearbox picks up Homeworld franchise“. For Homeworld fans this is great news.
Homeworld originally released in 1999 and then added an expansion “Homeworld: Cataclysm” in 2000 and later in 2003 Homeworld 2 was released. This RTS was a space based 3D “Age of Kings” ,if you will, that hit every nail. The music, the sounds, the pace, the music :)- everything was superb.
For Stephen and I, prior to playing Homeworld, we would sit around the office after work and play Age of Kings (2). The “building your army up and attacking” never got old. But many of us nerds could imagine that a sci-fi version of the game would be even cooler. Then came Homeworld. We never stopped playing it, that is until our operating systems, hardware and other software made the game unplayable. We are sure it was a sad day for many when the game would no longer boot.
From fans of the game may we offer a few things ideas and suggestions:
1. Stay true to the game. Start with Mothership, build up ships, other ships can build other ships and attack.
2. Keep it “techie”. Skill trees are great (big), but create some complex maneuvering abilities for your armada and flight groups, adding in a “few right” clicks here and there to create options on ship building would be awesome- make the game easy to grasp but have more complex options for expert players that will play forever.
3. Create a great offline game by allowing the AI to be configurable. For many of us challenging ourselves and tuning our individual game play this is what keeps us up at night.
4. Vast game environments. Many times on RTS’s, once the player has figured out the game, we do not want the game to end. Maybe add in an environment that never ends and new enemies just keep coming? This way the player can enjoy the awesome armada they have created. Often a RTS will end right when you have leveled everything up and that is when it’s the most fun!
5. And maybe a wish- It would be nice if you can add on modules to the Mothership that makes it hugely powerful, that you can clearly see are installed- as well as cruisers and other ships. It shows players how awesome you are.
So Gearbox, congratulations, you have made some awesome games and we are sure the game is in capable hands. We will keep an eye out!
Here are a few screenshots from our new game Jetpack Poker”.
Our thoughts were- why not turn video poker into an arcade game? Level up and receive bonuses, while the minimum and maximum bets also increase along the way. The result was a fast paced poker game that leads you to the top! Please join RocketPop Games Facebook and twitter, we would love to hear your thoughts and feedback.
At RocketPop Games we enjoy reading the reviews and feedback from our players!
Thanks Tdogg33 for taking the time to write a great review!
We really wanted players to be able enjoy the game over and over. Let us know haw far you progressed!