The Difficulties Of Developing For Touch Screens
If I’m being completely honest, I’m not the biggest fan of touch screens, but a while back I joined a Game Jam with a friend where we had to build a tablet game with the theme of ice. It was my first ever attempt at building such a game and as I don’t use that many apps I didn’t really have anything to draw inspiration from. My first thought was to google images of the theme to get my creative juices flowing and this helped me to settle on the idea of ice fishing, which seemed like it would be simple to do with some obvious choices in mechanics. The resulting game was called Reel It In!
When I first started working with touch screens it seemed like a really exciting – still to be explored – avenue. As they don’t have any rigid controls you have free reign to try and develop your own. I soon came to realize however, that creating a good, solid way for users to provide input was more challenging than I first thought. In Reel It In the user has to move their finger around in a circle to raise and lower the lure. While we were praised for implementing such an idea and came second place in the game jam, I realized afterwards that such a mechanic was awkward and could cause your finger to become sore. I’ve also found that different devices seem to have a different feel to their screen surface – like my finger doesn’t seem to slide across my tablet as easily as it does over my phone. Screen size can also vary drastically. I enjoy developing for my tablet, but I have a lot of trouble with my phone. Not only do I have limited space to display information, but the controls also have to be placed in that same space. You also have to take into account that some people have stubbier fingers or longer nails than others.
The other limiting factor that I have is my aversion to virtual controls; for example I could create an analog stick that appears under where the user places their thumb. The problem with these is the lack of tactile feedback. When I use a real analog stick the feel of it informs me as to its location and how far I can push it. I suppose I also feel like we should be playing to the strengths of the device, rather than trying to mimic what can be done elsewhere. There are certain games that I will always resort back to my PC or consoles to play and I just don’t see touch screens replacing them. I think there are certain genres that touch screens could work really well with though, like strategy, puzzles and interactive fiction (anything that requires a strong interface or simple mechanics.) I never really understood why people argued over devices – claiming that one would replace another – when they all have different strengths and weaknesses.
As I grew up on pc and console gaming I think I will always have a preference for them and this is where much of my inspiration comes from (which is probably part of the problem.) It’s always going to be challenging learning how to develop for new devices and I don’t think we’ve yet fully scratched the surface when it comes to what touch screens can bring to gaming. For a developer It can also be fun to take on such challenges, although I think that when I next build a PC game I will be relieved to have all those buttons back. 😛
- Extra Credits: Designing for a Touch Screen
- Controls – A Huge Problem With Mobile Game Design
- How To Get Started Designing Games for Mobile Platforms
- Designing better controls for the touchscreen experience