360iDev: Designing iPad specific (and iPad-supported) games

Mike Schramm
M. Schramm|09.13.11

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360iDev: Designing iPad specific (and iPad-supported) games

Developer Gareth Jenkins's talk at 360iDev this week in Denver was about designing games specifically for the iPad. He made the distinction early on about two reasons you would design games (or apps) for the iPad. First, they're either iPad-supported, such as a game you designed elsewhere but are bringing to the iPad. Or, second, they're iPad-specific, a game made just for the iPad's unique screen, interface, and use case.

Jenkins said he was sorry that we'd seen very little in terms of iPad-specific games so far. Most games simply borrow their interfaces either from other game systems or from the iPhone's much smaller touchscreen. But, as he reiterated many times in his talk, the iPad is different. It's not a game controller, or a phone, or anything else we've seen yet. The demographics are different, the use cases are different, and the use itself is different.

He used his own game, Hyperion, as an example. Hyperion was developed at the 360iDev game jam last year, and the game involved a hex battle system that plays kind of like Risk with "some Pac Man-esque AI." The game really only works well on the iPad rather than the iPhone, and Jenkins says that's because your fingers don't cover up the tiny screen. Hyperion depends on multiple areas of gameplay, what Jenkins called "independent areas of action and interaction," where you're playing on one part of the screen but watching what happens on the other. Only the iPad's larger touchscreen allows for that type of dual movement.

He also showed off a prototype that his company had worked on, which he called "a cross between Dragon Age and Dawn of War 2" that hadn't been made yet. The game involves guiding a group of four adventures through a top-down world in real time; one action bar on the bottom of the screen corresponds to the four adventurers, while another action bar in the top right deals with their skills and spells. The main part of the screen, as seen above, is used to draw real-time paths for the heroes to take, so players will be watching what happens on the main screen while pressing buttons on the bottom and side of the iPad. The idea sounds wild, but Jenkins said the prototype worked well. Even though the UI was relatively complicated (and he used World of Warcraft's extremely detailed UI as an example), the controls "mapped" well to how the player approached the game, and it's something that could only be done on the iPad's screen.

Next, Jenkins gave examples of games that were "iPad-supported" -- games that started out elsewhere, but came to the iPad in either the same form or a different one. Mirror's Edge, Call of Duty: Zombies, Canabalt, and even the recent Machinarium were cited as games that recently arrived on the iPad, and made (mostly) solid use of Apple's tablet while not diverging too much from their original ideas (though Mirror's Edge was probably the exception in Jenkins's mind -- he said he was disappointed the iPad game played so unlike the console version).

Finally, Jenkins gave some advice to developers thinking about working for the iPad: Just start doing it. He advised prototyping early and often for the iPad, and also consuming and analyzing other developers' work. Jenkins said he will often do things like taking screenshots and drawing all over them to point out what he does and doesn't like. He also recommended developers use the iPad for content creation, both for creating art and for doing things like using the iPad's synthesizer apps to create sound effects and music.

Jenkins's talk offered up a lot of insightful commentary on just what it means to make and play an "iPad game." Here's hoping future developers make even more unique use of this definitely unique device.

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