Veteran game developer Graeme Devine took the stage at GDC 2011 this week to talk about Apple’s iPad (and by extension, the new iPad 2, of course), and called it “the best gaming machine on the planet today.” He went through his own thoughts on the device, talked a little bit about how developers could use the metaphor of touch to make the best games possible, and then went through a list of what he felt were the best practices for iOS development.
Devine said that the first time he held an iPad, “I felt like I was holding something from science fiction in my hands. It was different from any other experience I’ve had before.” The iPad reverses the trend in gaming to move the screen farther away from the player, and instead puts it relatively close up and personal. Additionally, the joystick is gone, and while a lot of games depend on that virtual joystick (more on that in a bit), the iPad removes any hardware between your fingers and what’s happening on screen. A finger isn’t a mouse, either — rather than selecting and then clicking, fingers on iPad screens just tap and move.
Devine demonstrated an example from the iPad remake of his game, Clandestiny. First, he showed how things were done on the PC — the player could drag a series of bowls around a table, trying to line them up in the right way to solve the puzzle. When the player dragged a bowl that could go in multiple places, the cursor changed to a rotating eye, signifying that the player should look around for where else it could go. Even though Devine himself designed this puzzle years ago, he said it was an awkward and clumsy way to do it.
So he showed off the new version, and it was much clearer — the bowls were seen from a top-down view, and when a finger touched to move the bowl, it grew in size, rising up on the screen, shrinking back down when it was placed in the new spot. Rather than interacting with a cursor or a mouse, Devine said, the iPad user was interacting with the bowl itself, as if he said, the player was “touching the world on the other side of the screen.” He talked about doing some basic playtesting with his Dad, and while Dad put the game down after messing around with the old interface, the new interface had him chuckling at the effect, and even showing it to Mom.
Finally, Devine walked through a list of “best practices” for iOS developers. Most of them were obviously very developer-centric and about user testing. “Hold your tongue” while letting others test your device, Devine admonished. Also he suggested creating quick prototypes, and making sure an app starts up in no less than three seconds.
Devine also challenged developers to make games that fit the device well and to consider games that dealt with pressing the Home button and other interruptions or games that made gestures a viable control choice. Devine ranted against the virtual dual-stick layout that many games, especially ports from other platforms fall back on and he complained that it broke immersion and was a lazy way to have the player interact with whatever was going on in the game world. That was probably his most controversial of points — a game developer in the Q&A afterwards asked Devine how controls should be done, and he unfortunately didn’t have an answer.
But someday, he said, someone would figure it out. When developers do figure out how to intelligently control traditional games on the iPad, Devine said, “we’ll all go ‘ah, so that’s how to do it.’ And then we’ll all copy it.”