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Designing for a Touch Screen – What Games Play Best on Mobile – Extra Credits

Designing for a Touch Screen – What Games Play Best on Mobile – Extra Credits


Desigining for a Touch Screen Touchscreens are – at this point – a permanent part of gaming. An entire generation of players is growing up on touch devices, and the number of games sold on touch devices now arrivals the number of games sold on major consoles. This isn’t a fad or a gimmick: it’s a new way to play. So why aren’t there more great games for touch devices? I mean,after all it’s been six years since the iPhone kicked open the door on the touchscreen market, 9 (years) if you want to include DS as the touchscreen gaming pioneer. Though stylus gaming is a little different, and we won’t be talking about it in this episode. So while there are some incredible games for touch devices, for the most part we’ve just seen a sea of games that don’t live up to the potential that this new input provides us. Why is that? Fundamentally, it’s because many of the people developing games for touch devices don’t seem to recognize that it is actually a new input device. There are some amazing,groundbreaking genre pushing things we can do with the touch screen, things we couldn’t possibly do with a controller or a mouse and keyboard, but at the same time, there are some things which a mouse and keyboard simply do better. Not every genre has to be replicated on every device. It’s essentially the same problem
we have with motion controls. People seem to be expecting and trying to build the first great FPS or action-adventure on these platforms when that’s not the
strength of this input device at all. It’s the same reason we don’t see a lot
of stellar RTS on consoles: the input just isn’t built for it. And that’s ok. We don’t need the same experiences we get on our consoles or our computer screens
ported to a touch device, we need games that are great in their own right. So what DOES work best for touch devices? well first, anything turn-based
translates remarkably well — turn-based RPGs,strategy Games,puzzle Games board Games and card Games. Also touch games tend to work best when they only require one input at a time– which rules out stuff like combos and jump attacks and even
simultaneous moving and shooting. And lastly,controls for touch games are often at their best when they mimic human motions we already understand– flicking,pulling,sliding,etc. Because in the end a game that controls terribly is a terrible game. Let’s go over some of that in more detail. turn-based games are probably our best bet for direct translation to the touch interface because they don’t require precision controls and they allow the player the time they need to operate the game with a control scheme that might be less efficient than inputs they’re originally built on. So, if you’re looking to do a direct port or something in a genre that was firmly established with a mouse and keyboard or a controller, turn-based games are the ones that will feel most satisfying and live up to expectations when converted to touch screen. but that’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of non-turn based games that work fantastically with a single input at a time. I mean everything from fast-paced
puzzles like 10 billion(PS. actually,is 10 million) to on Rails action like Infinity Blade to all the Canabalt clones we’ve seen work great. But if you’re looking to build something outside the turn-based arena, just remember that multiple simultaneous
inputs, especially ones that require two hands don’t work well at all– at least not on our current generation of touch devices. The platform’s the players currently play touch games on often aren’t freestanding devices, the player has to hold them or lay them flat on something and perch over them… neither of which is very conducive to two-handed play. This is compounded by the fact that with touch controls the player’s hand is part of the input device on a more granular level than ever before, so your player has to instinctually
understand the variations in the size of their fingertips and even the length of their individual fingers, which is a lot to ask if most of us. Which leads me to something I think needs saying: if your game requires a virtual joystick or controller on your touch screen, you’re doing it wrong. Emulating a control scheme from another platform is just a backwards way to go about things. Almost all virtual joy pads or sticks require two hands for simultaneous input – after all they are modeling a system where that’s a given. And in every single instance I’ve seen so far where they don’t require two hands, and many of the ones where they do, there’s been a better native touch based solution that could have been used. Uses of these emulated controllers are the number one reason why traditional gamers tend to have the sentiment that touch controls are imprecise and clunky. You should be designing for your platform, not trying to shoehorn in control schemes that are antithetical to the system you’re building on. Next, make sure you think about the amount of the screen that the player’s hand is going to cover as they’re playing your game. This is another reason why double handed inputs and multiple simultaneous inputs tend to be disastrous. For the first time in gaming history, designers have to worry about the input method literally between the player and their game. Especially on smaller screens, this can account for a lot of your screen real-estate, and even on tablet size devices, an input in the center of the screen often means a hand in front of 20% of the action. Also, pro-tip: make sure you have somebody with long fingernails test your game. You might be surprised at how much of your audience has to play with the flat of their fingers rather than their fingertips because their nails get in the way. Often a control scheme that might be viable for someone playing with the tips of their fingers won’t work at all for someone who’s nails prevent them from doing so. Lastly, remember that in some ways touch controls are like motion controls, they’re direct and physical in a way that a controller isn’t. This doesn’t mean that they’re better or worse, just that they’re fundamentally
different from our mouse and keyboard or thumb sticks. The more you can emulate human motions, the better off you are. it’s one of the reasons rhythm games
work so well, tapping with our fingers is something most of us do naturally, much more naturally than pressing a button in sync with music. If you can use that, if you can find a motion that makes sense to us as human beings, it’ll go a long way towards making playing your game instinctual and intuitive. It’s part of the secret to Angry Birds’s success. Also, don’t forget when designing touch screen games that many of these devices have a lot more to offer than just a screen. They’ve have gyroscopes, cameras, microphones and emulated GPS… all of which open up a world of design. Most of those won’t be appropriate for most games, but a designer has to keep all their tools in mind as they work in order to choose the best solutions for the game rather than the most immediately evident. We’re gonna wrap up here, but I do have a question for you: we just discussed some of the pitfalls of touchscreen design, but we didn’t talk about the additional design problems that come up when you’re working on a mobile platform which, to be honest, is where 90% of the touch screen gaming today happens. If you like, we can totally do an episode on the challenges that come up from working specifically on a mobile device. Leave a comment or something if that interests you. Oh, and thanks to everyone who participated in the survey from the JCPenny’s episode a while back! While we knew we were biasing the study incredibly by releasing that episode first, the feedback has been immensely valuable and seems to confirm some of James’ suspicions. He’s actually decided to do a slightly more formal study on his own now, but he just wanted to make sure to say thanks for putting in your time and helping with things like this. We may ask such things again in the future… Anyway, thanks again and see you next week!

100 thoughts on “Designing for a Touch Screen – What Games Play Best on Mobile – Extra Credits”

  1. I don't think I fully agree about not using virtual joysticks and buttons, playing Swordigo (an adventure platformer) on my iPhone felt fantastically well… as long as the game doesn't rely on combos, feels all right… regardless, you do make a great point!

  2. I've been thinking of what I believe to be AMAZING game ideas for a mobile platform that's free and has no in-app purchases since that's something I've always wanted and I'm sure a lot of others do too. Having good in a game and only needing just a little bit more. but then say if there is an energy system. you've gotta wait for your energy to charge up or just buy the gold with real money. but I have no coding experience, or anything gaming related really. in the development standpoint anyway.

  3. Yes, please! A video on mobile development would be great! Have a pet project in mind (inspired by watching your series) and would love to have a more in depth look. One thing immediately comes to mind. Is there a free game engine for smart phone games?

  4. I want to make a survival game for mobile, but my cousin (we work together for our game business) highly dislikes mobile games. I have 2 more business partners, my other cousin and sister. Hopefully one of them will like it

  5. This has probably been pointed out, but Minecraft PE and And Terraria PE both have on screen control, and both work incredibly well, and both are successful and fun

  6. On any platform with a physical controller or a gyroscope of some kind, racing games tend to translate quite well.

  7. please please please do an episode on " game design for mobile platforms "
    it would be a lot of help for many people

  8. While I'll admit I've never played a game in this genre, RTS games seem like they'd translate well to the touch screen, because dragging and tapping with a finger on a touch device is similar to pointing and clicking with a mouse on a PC. Again, there's probably something I'm overlooking or don't know about the genre that would debunk my theory, but I still think it's interesting to think about.

  9. Now this is four years old, would you still stand by it? Especially considering new discoveries and hardware improvments, taking note of some huge games today like Miknecraft PE doing everything you said it shouldn't but still getting big.

  10. When Nintendo decides to go with a crud gameplay design and makes it work. SUPER MARIO RUN, ANYONE?

  11. Wait… Rome Total War is a turn-based RTS (Real Time STRATEGY) game and it was showed with other games that aren't supposed to be on other devices, ( which is rightfully so) and a few seconds later you say that STRATEGY games are good on mobile, which is another device? Yeah, it doesn't make sense.

  12. 1:43 Definitely not true at all. Just look at the Modern Combat series and SF4 Champion Edition.
    Notes for designers alike:
    If you are designing a game for mobile with traditional controls, you do have more precision for one analog stick over the other(essentially having a left analog stick and a mouse), but here are some button rules to follow:
    1: You are allowed a max of 6 buttons and pause at the top, and button 5(top left) cannot have any direction+button commands assigned to it.
    2: Four of those buttons will be your most commonly used buttons.
    3: You cannot have any commands assigned to two buttons at the same time. Instead make that possible command it's own button.

    Other notes:
    Let the player adjust transparency of each button as well as adjusting the position of the stick(that way they can still see the action while allowing for easy access to each button)

    If you are designing a 2D fighter then absolutely no DP motions or double quarter circles.
    Also for 2D fighters: allow for an alternate control scheme with easy special moves set with a direction and the special button.

  13. if you don't think Emulated Joysticks and buttons are a bad idea,
    just imagine having to point a wii remote on a small circle in the corner to move stuff around.

  14. Would be great if you do another episode about that now, 4 years later, with touch screen gaming more stablished, 2 hand gameplay more viable (and some times expected by current 5~6 devices owners), and AR about to take a leap.

  15. Would like to see the episode you promised 5 years ago on designing for mobile devices. I own a 3ds and some of the games on it are sub-par versions of old pc or console games, why is it that they kinda suck? even the good games?

  16. I'm working on a small game using (unity game engine). I placed a virtual joystick almost translucent at the bottom of the screen to control a little mouse running through a Maze.. I can control the mouse really good but everyone else doesn't. After seeing this video.. I will change to a swipe control scheme.. Thanks for this amazing video. I'm a fan of your material (I have learned a lot). Best regards from Latin America.

  17. After watching this episode I’d really like the Extra Credit crew to take a look at VainGlory 😁 it does an excellent job of adapting a moba to the mobile platform. It’s almost scary how natural it feels and makes me question what the hell other moba mobile games were thinking when they implement a virtual game pad.

  18. I mostly play JRPGs on my Kindle. The ones I love most are from KEMCO. You can (kinda) choose where to put a directional pad, a small or large size or even to not use a pad at all and simply use touch controls. I'm terrible at that those though so I almost always use the Pads.

  19. I've always like the Solomon's Keep / Solomon's Boneyard games for mobile, even though they seem to break a lot of the rules you lay out here. They're twin stick shooters, so you have to hold your phone like a controller, but the way it's set up it works surprisingly well, so long as you're not trying to make fire magic work. I'd recommend checking them out.

  20. The reason why I'm really liking Baldur's Gate EE on my tablet. It works with simple pushes of the screen and everything you'd normally do on a tablet.

    And it's a good game…

  21. I think the only mobile games with a virtual joystick that played well were sonic 1 and 2 but I use a tablet not a phone

  22. 4:43 "Tapping with our fingers is something most of us do naturally, much more naturally than pressing a button in sync with music."
    Sitting down, drumming with my hands on my leg and foot to Super Mario Maker music.

  23. i'd disagree with this, because i've played games that require two hands, and not all of them are all that bad. also fighting games work surprisingly well on touchscreens, despite the fact that they often require a lot of input at once

  24. I'm a fan of racing games and I play a game on my phone called Real Racing 3 that works great. It simulates the wheel with your phone and it makes me feel like I'm really driving a car with my phone.

  25. I feel like this is slightly outdated. There are lots of examples of effective joystick emulation, like pubg or fortnite mobile

  26. A game I play called Logical cell has an interesting bit of design.
    there are a bunch of small puzzle pieces, so when you pick it up, it moves up so it shows in front of your finger.
    It took a bit of getting used to, but it's a pretty good system, especially for later levels when the pieces get really small.

  27. Do people think Joysticks are still the wrong way to approach touch screen controls? Or is that idea changing with games like PUBG and Fortnite hitting mobile?

  28. Well I am watching this video in 2019, and I play a lot of PUBG and fortnite on my phone.. So some of your specalutions we'rent correct, but some were 😀

  29. I wish people at Blizzard had seen this video before designing Diablo Immortal. A turn-based Diablo would have been a very interesting prospect, but I can't imagine classic ARPG controls without buttons/keys feeling right. Let's hope I'm wrong…

  30. Hey man very nice video and useful. Good job by-the-way ! ^^

    Anyway, is it fine if i can get some advice on these android app below? I am still a beginner and hope to learn from everyone. Your feedback is greatly appreciated!…

    Just search ' pub:Path Ahead ' in Google Play Store (P & A are case sensitive).

    greatly appreciate !

  31. Whatever creative babble you throw at me Floyd, I will state that touch screen games are inferior and a madness brewed by uneducated masses and greedy schemers with access to technology they neither need not deserve. Thank you

  32. There are games on console that would work just fine on touch screens. Two I can think of right know are Pokémon and Fire Emblem.
    – In Pokémon, ignoring overworld travel, everything is done through menus. Menus can easily be navigated using touch screen, which you often can on 3DS already. The only quirk to solve here is overworld travel, otherwise it works flawlessly on mobile. – Overworld travel could be done through either pressing where to go, and the character will pathfind the shortest route. Alternatively you press down on the screen, and drag in the direction you want to move, like a virtual control-stick, but the center is always where you pressed it down. As the overworld don't have anything that moves (aside from spin-off titles), there's no need for precise controls, and you can take your time to move.
    – In Fire Emblem, overworld travel is done in a grid, and you have to confirm each move. This means you could choose a character, then press where on the grid to move, it'll show the path, and then you confirm it if it's good. More can be added to this system to make it better. – Everything else is done through menus? I haven't played the game myself, but for what I've seen, it should work fine on touch screens. It's also turn based, so there's no hurry making precise moves with a clumsy touch screen.

  33. To be fair, there have been many great games like Oceanhorn and Dead Trigger that use joysticks and the like. It's often neccesary to alllow more games to come onto the platform

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