From Hollywood celebrities to the guy next door, millions of people have made World of Warcraft a part of their lives. How do you play WoW? We're giving each approach its own 15 Minutes of Fame.
Ahhhh ... An evening curled up on the couch in front of a roaring fire, a glass of wine in one hand and World of Warcraft on the iPad at your fingertips. Wait -- you can't really play WoW on an iPad ... can you? In fact, you can. Allow us to introduce you to everyAir, a new app for the Apple iPad developed by two experienced WoW players and app developers. With group-friendly frame rates and performance plus robust development that's even poised to bring a similar release to the iPhone, everyAir brings the iPad touch to World of Warcraft.
Behind everyAir is the work of two dedicated WoW players, Joe Bertolami and Nicolas Lazareff of pandaelf. We visited with Bertolami, who currently plays an ICC-raiding DK and likes to dual-box with the iPad to keep the pace cranked up, to touch base about the touchscreen approach of playing WoW on an iPad. We'll talk with him after the break about the app and just how effectively it puts the iPad/WoW combo through its paces -- plus, don't miss your chance to win a coupon to download a free copy of the everyAir app for iPad, right here at WoW Insider just a little later on today!
Main character Jingie, level 80 blood/unholy death knight Guild <Clearly Outplayed> Realm Warsong (US-H)
15 Minutes of Fame: Take an app developer, add some gaming ... And come out with some pretty cool apps! Tell us a little bit about your own WoW background and how it all led into creating everyAir for the iPad.
Joe Bertolami: I primarily enjoy playing with friends. Like everyone else, I like raiding and powering up new alts. I'm in a raiding guild, and we've cleared everything except 25 man ICC heroic; we're only missing Lich King there.
I also like playing more than one character at a time, since the pace of play is more exciting that way. I'm a big fan of two-boxing, whether it's in the less difficult raids, farming items, or powering up friends. I first started doing this in EverQuest, which was a much slower-paced game, and I could play up to five characters at once. I'd do so with a combination of multiple screens on two PCs. In WoW, I use two PCs with two monitors and two keyboards and mice. Naturally, my desk used to be quite cluttered.
The ability to easily two-box was one of the main motivators for creating everyAir. Using an iPad as the input device is significantly easier.
OK, let's back up a little bit. What exactly is everyAir?
It's a remote desktop application that we designed from the ground up to be fast enough to handle games. We believe that touch interfaces can be a suitable replacement for mouse and keyboard in some (many?) gaming scenarios. We think that gaming on touch devices has more potential than many of the games out there today, which are just simple touches or shaking your phone back and forth. Admittedly, you're never going to have 500 APM or tank 25-man Lich King heroic using an iPhone, but we're trying to make complex games playable via touch interfaces.
For me, the main "scenario" (in software dev jargon) was being able to more easily play two characters at once. Having a small screen that you can touch to play a secondary character is really nice. For those readers into StarCraft 2, the other thing we've found that is really neat is having the minimap be full screen on your iPad, which makes it way easier to monitor the game.
So how do you yourself play using everyAir?
The way I play with the iPad is that I have it propped up in one of those stands. Then set I set the second character, which is typically a priest or druid, on follow. In terms of the UI, I set it up so that there are several really large buttons (heals, buffs, etc.) that are easy to press. I also set the party's health bars super-large, so they're easy to see. With my main PC, I'll control my DK or the character I'm powering up.
In some raids, this system is actually quite feasible, as well. Both priests and mages typically only need to spam one spell over and over, and the iPad is perfect for allowing me to play one character with full attention on my PC (like my DK), and then another character using the iPad.
What will be different about "multiboxing" with an iPad?
There's no doubt the traditional multi-PC or multi-window, same-PC route gives greater control, but the iPad has two things going for it: form factor and a touchscreen. The form factor removed a significant amount of clutter from my desk and allows me to position the screen where it's convenient. Sometimes, I even lay it right next to my mouse so it's easy to tap the screen for a heal. WoW's UI is completely customizable, so it's easy to make it touch-friendly with really large buttons/health bars and macros/scripts to handle much of the complex targeting.
What are the main differences in controls/UI and response times that players will notice when using everyAir?
There are lots of remote desktop apps out there, but we're fully committed to making ours the best experience possible for gaming. Our two main innovations in this area are our custom dPad and our fullscreen functionality and performance.
The dPad is tailored to let you pleasantly control a desktop game from your touch device. We've also done a ton of work to fully support fullscreen gaming. Games are typically played fullscreen -- and even if you're playing in a window (like is common with so many WoW players), when you're on an iPad, you're going to want that window to be fullscreen. To that, we're the only app that doesn't resize your desktop and lets you play fullscreen games; we even have a feature called snap-to-window that automatically adjusts the iPad viewport to match any window on your desktop.
Just how robust is everyAir in terms of frame rate, lag and gameplay experience?
We consider performance to be one of our strengths, and everyAir is really fast. It's also a fundamental that we're deeply concerned about. In fact, our next release is going to be a massive image quality and perf improvement.
The lag question boils down to three large elements: max frame rate, smoothness, and latency. Currently, the app supports up to 60 FPS (frames per second), with an average around 30 FPS. Our fullscreen performance is amazingly smooth.
The next topic is latency. We've heavily optimized in this area, and the server roundtrips can be as low as 100 ms, and with an average around 200-250 ms. Before releasing any version, the test we hold ourselves by is: "Can you use the iPad as a second monitor while using your main computer's keyboard and mouse?" The answer is that, yes, you absolutely can -- and in a future release, we're going to add the ability to directly turn your iPad into a second monitor.
What have you found to be the typical comfort level in terms of what types of in-game activity is can comfortably accommodate? For instance, can it handle raiding? What about PvP?
This is a great question, and I'll try to give the short version of what is really a longer speech.
Both of us are huge gaming nerds who think that the possibilities for gaming on a touch device are broader than just angry birds crashing into structures or ninjas slicing fruits. We believe that complex and rich gaming can be achieved on a touch device; it's just a matter of finding the right interface.
That said, it's unlikely that a touch device will ever replace mouse and keyboard in terms of efficiency and accuracy -- but then again, who knows? People have grown to love mouse and keyboard, and we're very practiced with them, so with tons of practice, it may be possible to achieve the same or similar level of skill using a touch device.
We'd love to see someone win a WoW or StarCraft 2 tourney using a touch device as part of the computer's input. Maybe keyboard plus touch device? Or maybe mouse plus touch device? We believe there's lots left to be discovered in this area, and part of our motivation for making this app is to start to learn about how to make better touch interfaces for rich games. We've already learned a bunch from our early users, and we hope to continue to learn more as we get more feedback from folks using the app.
Long speech out of the way, the realities of hardcore raiding and PVP lend themselves to direct input to your PC (less latency) and precise control (mouse and keyboard). However, for slower/easier/smaller raids, casual grouping, leveling up, questing, chatting, auction house, or even casual PVP, this type of solution really is great.
Let's get back to something you mentioned earlier. You really mean to say that we're going to be able to play World of Warcraft on an iPhone? I'd expect viable activities will be much more limited there simply due to the screen size. What's been your testing experience like so far?
Yeah, absolutely, we'll have the iPhone version out in a few short weeks. There are actually other apps on the market today that sort of let you do this today, but they lack either the UI (controls) or the performance to really let you play properly. We're working hard to really make this a legitimately playable experience.
There are three things that are required from the app's perspective: fast enough performance to be smooth; dPad/thumbstick to let you navigate in WoW; and pinch/zoom/pan to let you move around the screen. From the perspective of WoW, it also makes great sense to customize your UI to be touch-friendly: big buttons, large health bars, good set of macros, and "click to move" for your character.
We've been testing it for some time now, and it's actually quite playable. Similarly to how I set up my iPad UI, we've set up an iPhone-specific UI with a massive health bar and four buttons: two heals, buff (Mark of the Wild), and Follow/Unfollow. It goes without saying that some WoW classes lend themselves better to this type of play. For example, there's no reason why a hunter couldn't level to 80 on an iPhone with some custom UI.
In terms of customizing WoW's UI, we currently use commonly available mods like Xperl and Bartender with some tweaks at the LUA (code) level we've added ourselves. We've actually thought about writing our own add-on to WoW specifically tailored for editing/creating a touch interface, and if there's enough interest from the community, we'd love to follow through on that idea.
Tell us more about pandaelf, your company.
We've known each other since we were little kids, and we've been building software for just as long. We've both always been computer nerds and have been making software in one way or another since we first got our first computer and 2400 baud modem. Today, we're both professional software developers, and pandaelf is our company. We've got several other iOS apps out there and a whole ton of websites and software we've worked on. As a company, everyAir is our second official product. Frank Caliendo's Knuckleheads, a bobblehead joke app for the comedian Frank Caliendo, was our first official product as a company.
So an iPhone app soon ... and what else coming up ahead for you two?
We're fully committed to making this app the best gaming experience possible. That said, we would love feedback from readers on how to really make games both playable and enjoyable. We take customer feedback very seriously in planning out our development road map.