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[PATV] Wednesday, July 10, 2013 - Extra Credits Season 6, Ep. 18: Designing for a Touch Screen

DogDog Registered User, Administrator, Vanilla Staff admin
edited July 2013 in The Penny Arcade Hub

image[PATV] Wednesday, July 10, 2013 - Extra Credits Season 6, Ep. 18: Designing for a Touch Screen

This week, we lay out some basic guidelines for designing a game on touch devices.
Come discuss this topic in the forums!

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    SzabuSzabu Registered User regular
    Well said What really makes me mad is when publishers decide to release a game that's obviously meant to be played with traditional controls (which will become a virtual controller on the touchscreen) and make it mobile-exclusive. Like the new Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame remake. The controls will most definitely suck, and for whatever reason they don't bring it to the 3DS eShop or the Xbox Live - or anywhere where it can be played properly.

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    Mr. MaskMr. Mask Registered User regular
    Mobile Platform Episode: YES PLEASE!

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    RMS OceanicRMS Oceanic Registered User regular
    Watching a Youtube video of Megaman X for iPlatforms:

    Yeah, emulated gamepad is silly. Now there are bluetooth gamepads you can buy for it which would get around it, but it still feels like a poor fit.

    Yes to Mobile Platform Episode please.

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    deathbymangadeathbymanga Registered User new member
    yeah, i'd love to see an episode about that. Go ahead and do that

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    TarrkerTarrker PennsylvaniaRegistered User regular
    I would have to say that I would like to see a video from you guys about mobile gaming. I would have never gotten into any of this touch screen nonsense if it wasn't for my wife REALLY wanting a smart phone.

    Also, I just had to weigh in on how much I HATE trying to play games with the touch screen. I have beefy, gnarled fingers from a lifetime of martial arts training so more often then not I can't even navigate the menus of stupidly tiny buttons, let alone play a game.

    Most of the games I've seen that have good controls are meant to be played with thumbs which is sad since I simply cannot play them at all. I have MASSIVE thumbs and my thumb nails are kept fairly long because of shwung dao and for things like pulling out a tiny screw accidentally dropped into a tower case.

    This seriously causes me some grief. Unlike my fellow "hardcore" gamers I'm actually really interested in trying some of these games that are, often times, only available as a mobile app. I'm suddenly reminded of the baseball coach who told me I'd never be any good at hitting if I insisted on bating left-handed. I'd really like to show him what I can do thanks to my tameshigiri training :)

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    Titanium DragonTitanium Dragon Registered User regular
    The reason why there are so many bad touchscreen games is the same reason that so many have been sold:

    They are cheap and disposable throwaway things.

    The video game crash of the early 1980s shows that, if people have the choice between stuff that costs virtually nothing and is total garbage, and quality, they won't actually spend the premium for quality. Plus a lot of these people aren't really gamers, they're people who buy a few random throwaway games to whittle at rarely.

    It isn't a very consistent or solid market, which I think really is the issue. When they want dollar apps, that's pretty rough if you have any sort of real budget.

    You can make lots of simple puzzle games and suchlike, but if you need to make a million dollars to pay your team, then having to sell two million games just to break even is pretty dangerous.

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    Zama174Zama174 Registered User regular
    I'd love to see a video on that topic, so please make it. ^^

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    WarpZoneWarpZone Registered User regular
    Don't forget that making a game on a touchscreen device requires you to add in an abusive energy mechanic that wastes the player's time while sucking their wallet dry. Oh, wait. I'm sorry. That's mobile-specific, isn't it? I'll wait till that episode.

    All kidding around aside, can you please do an episode on how to make a profit selling games in a market that is actively hostile to quality gameplay? Somebody tried to make a parody of the Zynga model. It was called Cow Clicker. The damned thing was a huge success. When the developer shut the game down by "rapturing" all the cows, people complained that their game which literally did nothing but make you wait 6 hours to click your cow again was "less fun" without the cows. He proved that even if you're deliberately making the worst, lest-fun game possible, these idiots in charge of who wins and loses in the mobile market will pay for it, just so long as it uses the Zynga Skinner-Box. Conversely, I've never seen anyone on the internet say "I made a Zynga-style game and it was a huge flop. We didn't make any money." There's a lot of hand-wringing about how much the model sucks, how abusive Energy systems are, and how we should be making better games, but no evidence that bucking the system works.

    Please help. It hurts. >_<

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    Trivial_PunkTrivial_Punk Registered User regular
    That mobile platform episode would be so fitting right now that it's not funny. It's a little funny. I'm not funny.

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    FalchenFalchen Registered User new member
    I would love to see an episode on the trials and tribulations of developing on a mobile device.

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    AdariumAdarium Registered User new member
    @Warpzone I would love for them to focus on monetization models for a mobile episode. Not so much on why the zynga-style games are bad but rather better ways to do things while still being successful on that platform.

    It's an incredible challenge to release something decent along games designed like slot machines.

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    superthebillybobsuperthebillybob Registered User new member
    A mobile issue episode episode would be great.

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    YaronGAYaronGA Registered User new member
    I would love to see a mobile game development episode
    What happens when you need to design for both a tablet and a phone?
    What happens with global travel or when my device breaks?

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    SiddownSiddown Registered User regular
    Good episode, and probably your least controversial. I can't imagine anyone arguing that virtual joysticks are superior to physical ones. :)

    I'd like to see a mobile gaming one too. According to Rovio, Angry Birds has been downloaded over a billion times, now I don't know if that includes all their AB titles or just the initial one, but either way that's beyond crazy.

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    teutatesteutates Registered User regular
    i would love a episode on mobile development :)

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    discriderdiscrider Registered User regular
    I still don't understand what a touch screen could do that a single-button mouse could not. The mouse also has the advantage of not having your hand obscuring your vision all the time.

    The one and only benefit to the touch screen is that it's packed with mobile devices to cut down on device size, and so games on these devices are far more portable than those requiring a mouse. I don't think games designed with this in mind can ever aspire to be better than distraction-ware, those that you play for minutes at a time filling the free space between other more important tasks.

    So I think the platform itself is biased against what I'd call a good game, one that enthralls me and that I want to play for extended periods of time, because the control scheme is just too limiting. If my hands are getting in the way of the game, and the device is too large to manipulate with both without putting it down, then I'd much rather go back to a stylus or pure button control scheme that's dedicated to games. Better to have two specialised devices, a phone and a portable game platform, than have to make do with a weaker experience.

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    MangobyteMangobyte Registered User regular

    I think there are some benefits in terms of visceral experience, especially for people who don't already recognize their mouse as an extension of their body (i.e. "casual" gamers). My daughter has been competently using the touch interface of our ipad since before she turned 2. She can navigate menus, open programs, deal with ad dialogues (though she's not reading yet, so these were 50-50 until she started recognizing the "cancel" button by sight), and she has no idea how to operate a mouse. Granted, she has less exposure to the mouse as an input, but I think that touch interface is inherently more intuitive and may have a greater potential for visceral experience.

    The hand-in-the-way problem probably cuts down on this, though, so I guess it's still up in the air : )

    Executive summary: Touch interface lowers the barriers to adoption for a game. If you make a game that is fun on touch interface, it has the potential to appeal to a wider range (and thus, higher volume) of users.

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    ijedijed Registered User regular
    +1 mobile episode.

    And looking at that port of Megaman X with virtual buttons hurts - what a terrible thing to do to such a great game.

    The only developers who put virtual crap into their games are fundamentally lazy ones, ones doing a cheap port or ones being forced to do so by the publisher.

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    The Guy is Zonef137The Guy is Zonef137 Registered User regular

    Also, you have more control over your input device with touch controls over a mouse. Yes, you don't have has many buttons as a mouse. But since you can lift your finger off the device and instantly move it from one side to the other, this allows for different gaming experiences. For example: how many people do you know play Fruit Ninja with a mouse, over people who play on a touch screen? Not many I'm guessing.

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    vallcristvallcrist Registered User new member
    +1 mobile episode. :)

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    MasterFMasterF Registered User new member
    Mobile episode: Yes please.

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    DeoFayteDeoFayte Registered User new member
    I'm no master of the horde of games out there for my IPhone but so far I've hated all of the controls compared to my mouse / keyboard. Especially on games like fruit ninja, give me a mouse, a solid small point to move across my screen, compared to my large hands any day.

    I've found I only really like classic rpg style turn based games or casual games because they're something I can pick up and play for a few minutes here and there.

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    loscrudosloscrudos Registered User new member
    Yes! Please do an episode on the challenges of working on a mobile device. Love to hear it!

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    galgal Registered User new member
    i actuality loved the bastion on my iPad

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    CowiculaCowicula Registered User regular
    +1 mobile episode.

    I'm a mobile developer, so I see these things come up on a daily basis. Great show!

    A few nitpicking criticisms:
    Although I agree that one-touch is a great way to simplify a touchscreen interface, having input on both sides of the screen is nowhere near as painful as your images make it out to be. Yes, I suppose you could lay the device flat on a table, but most users aren't doing that.

    Generally, with common touch screens (iPad or iPhone) you would cradle the device between your two hands, assuming that a two-sided-input game is in Landscape mode. This frees your thumbs for button pressing. Imagine an NES controller where instead of the D-pad you had another two buttons -- that's generally the best layout for more complicated iOS games.
    Its true to a certain extent that turn-based games work because it gives the player time to interact with a complicated or difficult control scheme.

    However, a much bigger reason has to do with playing habits. Right now, touch screen is basically equivalent to Mobile, with few exceptions. Your major touch screen devices are the iPad, iPhone, Android devices, Kindle, Wii-U, and a handful of all-in-one PCs. The majority of those are mobile devices, and when people play mobile games they have MUCH different habbits.

    A mobile gamer is far more likely to be interrupted while playing, or to have a small fixed time to play, so games with no time pressure are immediately more convenient for most touch screen devices.
    Also I have to strongly disagree with you that the lack of innovation with touch input is because developers haven't understood the medium. I think a lot more of the problem comes from a combination of publishers playing it safe and a COMPLETELY uninformed consumer base.

    Your average console gamer is going to be much more familiar with games as a medium than your average mobile gamer (most touch-interface technology is mobile right now, unless you are counting the 10 games for Wii-U). A casual mobile gamer is going to be a lot less discerning when it comes to innovation, especially because a lot of these retread ideas aren't stale to them. Quite frankly, they aren't stale to me either despite playing games for years. I still spend all my iPhone gaming time playing Sudoku or Bejeweled, because the entertainment value and play session length is appropriate for the situtations where I use my touch input device.

    Why would a publisher sink money into a developer's wacky innovative idea when they could literally make millions by repackaging "Crush the Castle" or "Bejeweled"?
    I'm not being facetious here: WHY?

    The answer is "there isn't a good reason." As long as consumers are shelling out the big cash on these games, there's little reason to branch out to the risky stuff that explores the boundaries of the medium.

    Truthfully, there have already been several games that were truly clever, but without a big cross-promotional marketing platform, a franchise name, or a REALLY awesome viralization/monetization strategy, they don't make it to the top.

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    fantanoicefantanoice Quiet, please, it's snack time! Registered User regular
    Great episode as always, guys! Would love to hear more about the pitfalls of mobile design and perhaps even something about stylus design.

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    Altik_0Altik_0 Registered User new member
    Their criticism pretty much was of the NES-controller style control scheme. Although a lot of players are okay with that sort of layout, it's still far from pleasant to work with.

    1) The NES controller isn't exactly an ideal to be shooting for. There's a reason new controllers aren't just flat rectangles with buttons. This is exaggerated on a touch device, too, since the buttons have no tactile sense to inform the players their hands are in the correct position. Really, it's a pretty terrible setup as far as ergonomics are concerned.

    2) Cradling the phone in two hands is alright for some of the larger phones - Galaxy S3/4 for example - but get much smaller than that (and I'd contend an iPhone very much falls in that size category) and it gets very cramped behind the phone, even for someone with pretty small hands like myself. Considering people have serious qualms against the Dual Shock because the sticks are too close together, I can very much see people being turned off from that sort of control scheme because of size issues.

    3) Regardless of whether the control scheme CAN work on the platform or not, it still doesn't really take full use of the tool by just saying "let's use it just like any other controller!" The neatness of touch controls is the novelty of being able to touch, and therefore doing something completely different to input into the game. Shoehorning it into a controller is just uninspired, and limits the opportunities of future game development on the platform.

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    DrakkonDrakkon Registered User regular
    I've gone beyond considering games for mobile platforms like smartphones and tablets. I'm looking at the Google Glass and considering how to take Augmented Reality to a whole new level. MMOs based off visual interfaces, linked with smartphones to provide a "keyboard", voice commands, and using geocaching data to plant encounters in real world locations to get gamers off their fat butts and out into the open air. Live events planned to bring players together, not entirely unlike conventions, but with raid bosses. Might even be able to set Guinness World Records for largest boss fight.

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    MachinesMachines Registered User regular
    I just had an idea:
    What about a mobile device that PROJECTS the image onscreen onto a wall or flat surface? Has that been done? Because that would make phone gaming a little more viable for me. Big hands work great on a keyboard but not on a screen :(

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    Sparkles McGeeSparkles McGee Registered User new member
    Interested in that mobile episode!

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    DukenukemxDukenukemx Registered User regular
    While touchscreens are here to stay, they aren't going to ever have that AAA game title. Mainly because the touch screen is a replacement and portable version of the mouse. Not even with a keyboard, as most phones don't have a physical keyboard anymore. Tablets will never have one. As pointed out in the video, will never come close to matching a gamepad.

    For the most part, smart phones and tablets will never be taken serious as gaming devices. Only games with limited need of input will do fine. Though with more devices like OUYA and Nvidia's Shield then we could see games come close to what we see on consoles.

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    themilothemilo Registered User regular
    I think that shoot em ups might have a future on touch screens.

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    DannyDontDannyDont Registered User regular

    Hey C, I would consider myself an EXTREMELY motivated consumer on the iOS platform. The nature of my job has me away from all my favorite consoles, and I don't commute with my DS. So i spend a great deal of time looking for great games. And, to be honest, the best I've found thus far are pretty in-line with EC's assessment. They're just the "best in show" in the classic genres. I'm thinking of Triple Town and 100000 for match-3 genre, Spelltower, PlantsVZombies for grid-based tower defense, Tilt-to-Live for use of the gyro, and then the slew of fantastic boardgame ports like Agricola, Ghost Stories, etc. Other tactile games, like Gasketball round out the field. To me, these titles have found their audience...granted, it isn't the mainstream audience, but then, let's not pretend the mainstream console market is all that more refined either.

    I suppose the point I'm making is that I feel games are actually a quite healthy environment (certainly more than music and books). Critics still have sway, and even though artful games don't break the bank, they do have a motivated audience searching for them. Anyway, that's just my opinion. I may represent the "middle brow" in that I'm completely missing a strata of art-house games.

    I wonder, though, if you had any examples of innovative clever games that simply languish in complete obscurity. I'd love to seek them out, if only as one player.


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    QuiotuQuiotu Registered User regular
    Truthfully, this not only explains a lot of the issues with touchscreen gaming, but why it further complicates game development when you try and shoehorn touch controls in a game that doesn't need it.
    The Vita's a perfect example of this. It has pretty much every input method used in modern gaming, but too many devs were attempting to shove every input method in their games, which made the games clunky and overly complicated. Here's a device where you could easily develop regular games and touchscreen games for, but people kept trying to make some weird hybrid of both which didn't work in either category.
    I'm glad developers are finally figuring out that they don't have to reinvent the wheel to make a Vita game viable. Its best feature is being able to play a game on the go like a home console, without having to change the controls at all. Why they chose to change the controls anyway 'because they could' is anyone's guess. Maybe games like Tearaway will finally show off ways to implement both that feel natural and fun, it doesn't have to happen.

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    TheTinyManTheTinyMan Registered User regular
    I've got a couple of very mild disagreements here.

    Firstly, FPSes were cited as being badly shoehorned into motion control gaming. I don't know if we count the Wii's IR sensor as "motion control," but I played a homebrew port of Quake 1 for the Wii that was *amazing* - the angle I was holding my remote at determined the angle the character held his gun at, the analog stick was almost as good as a gamepad's analog stick, and pointing with the Wiimote was way more intuitive than using a mouse.

    On the topic of FPSes and mice...there are many, myself included, who would say that the FPS genre was invented for a mouse and keyboard, and that gamepads are a poor substitution. Yet, the FPS genre is probably the single most popular one on consoles these days. This relies heavily on all sorts of aiming assistance mechanisms, placed there to adapt a control style to an input scheme developed specifically for a different input scheme, as well as games that are WAY slower than they used to be...and it works. Ultimately, I'm not sure that it's productive to say, "abandon all attempts to adapt one input scheme to another even if it doesn't really fit perfectly." Just because we haven't found the technique or adapted the genre, doesn't mean that we won't be able to. Devs should be aware that they're treading ground that hasn't been navigated successfully, of course, but I'd hate to see innovation stifled.

    (Incidentally, I'm not trying to start a mouse'n'keyboard versus gamepad war here, simply saying that the genre was creating for a mouse and keyboard, and that the act of translating it to a gamepad was non-negligible.)

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    WonderpBreadWonderpBread Registered User new member
    I'd love to see an episode about designing for mobile devices and the mobile device market in general :) I'm currently interning with an indie game company who usually makes online mmorpg Flash based web games that update weekly, however they have recently begun to look into shifting to creating mobile games to keep up with the changing market. The biggest problem is the abandonment of the Flash medium and transitioning to other programs such as Photoshop for artwork and Spine for animation. Do you think there could still be a way for online Flash based mmorpgs to survive in todays market and the near future? Or is this a wise decision to try to break new ground?

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    BloodyguyBloodyguy Registered User new member
    Definately interested in seeing the episode covering further information on the subject. There is one problem with games for touch screen I have no idea how to get around - once you put your finger on the screen, you can't really see what you're doing ( e.g. when I play Angry Birds I can only 'shoot' the bird with full power or it misfires miserably). It would be nice if someone could address this issue.

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    PiggiePiggie Registered User regular

    They aren't saying that FPS games are bad when played with motion controls, but that they are fundamentally different. Quake is more translatable because it's older and simpler than modern FPS games, but there is no way to play a game like Call of Duty or Halo on the Wii and get a 1:1 or better experience, because they weren't designed for the Wii. There are great first person shooters on the Wii, like Metroid Prime Corruption, but it was not ADAPTED for the Wii, it was BUILT for the Wii. The point isn't "don't make FPS games for the Wii," the point is "don't make Xbox 360 FPS games for the Wii" and "don't make PC FPS games for the Wii."

    There's a reason that on PC, high-speed arena shooters like Tribes or Shootmania are what sells, while on consoles it's slower shooters like Halo. I play plenty of FPS games on both systems, and I would rather play Rainbow Six or Gears of War on the 360, but I'd rather play Tribes or Unreal on the PC. But these games are very different, and that's the point. You have to build for the system, not the genre.

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    Thanatos2kThanatos2k Registered User regular
    Oh god, the part about the fingernails is so true. Mine are often some degree longer than the edge of the fleshy parts of my fingers and tapping downwards just doesn't work because almost all touch screens are electrically sensitive now. It's infuriating.

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    IndyComoIndyComo Registered User regular
    Yes, I'm interested in that episode. :)

    Dang, I forgot about the survey! Is it useful to you to keep getting responses?

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