Was thinking today about how ZiGGURAT kind of just doesn’t work for me as a game. It’s a score attack game! It’s short! It’s got a wonderful charging mechanic and delicious chaining explosions! It’s got an ever-increasing tide of simple enemies that must be managed! It should be right up my alley! But I really hate playing the thing.
I had a similar experience with another iOS game recently. Jeff Minter’s Five A Day is similarly full of good mechanics that work well together, but I hated playing it. But then I figured out how to pause the darn thing and I switched it to tilt controls. BAM! All of a sudden I love the thing! The controls instantly make sense and I am enjoy flying around shooting things and collecting fruit and all is right in the universe.
It’s not like I wasn’t figuring out the controls in these games. I was able to aim/steer my ship just fine. It’s that pane of glass. It just felt terrible.
Let’s do an experiment. Pick up any modern game controller (or even better a Nintendo 64 controller if you haven’t worn out the springs). Don’t turn anything on! Just hold the controller. Move the analog stick. Through the magic of springs, you can instantly feel which direction it is to center and even how far you have moved it. With your finger on a button, you can feel whether it is pressed or not. Press the buttons, move the sticks, it feels nice!
Now grab your iThing. Leave it locked. Hold it like you are playing a game. Slide your thumb across it. It feels unpleasant to do that! Treat it like a virtual joystick. There are no cues for where center is or whether you are at the joystick’s “max”. Tap an imaginary button on its surface. Tap it a few times. Did you tap in the same spot? Could you even tell? What do you do with your fingers when they aren’t pressing something? You have to float them above the device awkwardly.
The sense of touch is really important to the feel of a game! Moving your finger across glass just doesn’t feel good to me, and good grief don’t ask me to be precise about where I put my fat fingers!
Tilt controlled games don’t have this problem for me! You can feel the weight of the device and the proprioception of the larger movement you are making can actually make for a wonderful feel.
But tilt isn’t right for everything. The terribleness of touch controls can be mitigated. It depends a lot on what the game is like, but tricks like these seem to help:
- Don’t require continuous input! Trigger things with taps and swipes, but don’t make them swipe and hold or drag and hold.
- Remove time pressure. Have things more or less paused while they draw a path or aim a shot or whatever.
- Good visual AND audio feedback.
- Use touch for direction OR a magnitude, not both.
- Have the obvious physical relationship between what you see and where you touch. (touch HERE to go to THAT SPOT, swipe ON THIS THING)
- Draw a path like you were finger painting.
- Canabalt-, Tiny Wings-ish the-whole-screen-is-a-single-button
My own iOS game just became available on the app store. It has terrible, terrible touch controls. I’m a hypocrite, you see.