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Third #GamesWeLike column

Press cutting added by Ste Pickford on Sat, 01 Sep 2012
Subject: #GamesWeLike

Ste Pickford

After launching the #GamesWeLike initiative, to encourage indie game developers to freely promote each others' games (without any reciprocal promotion required in return), John and I were asked by PocketGamer.biz to write a monthly column for them on this theme.

This is the text of the third column we wrote:

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Last month I talked about designing games for touch-screen, and how even very simple control schemes can feed into game design, resulting in games that would never have been designed for a controller based system.

This month I want to expand on that idea and talk about a control scheme that's unique to touch-screen, and how this has led to games that aren't really possible with a traditional controller.

After the most basic touch-screen control of 'tap' (discussed last month), next comes 'drag' - moving your finger or stylus around while staying in contact with the screen. This is sometimes used for swipes or gestures, disconnected from the position of the movement on the screen, but when you actually track the whereabouts of the finger or stylus as it’s being dragged over the screen you get the concept of drawing a line.

It's technically possible to draw lines with a joystick, but it's not an enjoyable experience (I used to draw graphics for a living on the Commodore 64, before the age of the mouse, and I can assure you drawing with a joystick was not fun). It's also possible to draw lines with a mouse or even Wiimote / Move controller, but without the direct physical contact between hand (or stylus) and screen it's difficult for most people to draw lines naturally without a lot of practice.

It's not really practical to make a game based on drawing lines without a touch-screen device.

One of the most celebrated iOS games - and rightly so - is Firemint's brilliant Flight Control. If you're not already familiar with the game it's a 'keep the plates spinning' kind of affair where planes fly onto the screen at random and you have to draw lines for each one to follow in order to land them safely without colliding with each other. It's a beautifully simple concept and very well executed.

Flight Control was one of the first iOS games I ever played and I was immediately knocked out by how original it was. The game was perfectly suited to the platform, and was doing something that wouldn't have been possible on a console or with a regular controller.

I foolishly assumed that all iOS games were going to be as inventive as this, and that iOS was going to be like the early days of coin-op games where almost every new game was packed with fresh ideas.

Sadly a common practice on iOS is not to apply the same level of creativity and imagination as the Firemint's designers, but to take somebody else's successful game and shamelessly clone it, re-skinning the exact same game with a different theme or settings (on iOS you can find the same game as Flight Control but with boats, cars, animals etc.). Firemint taking their formula and setting it in space is A-OK in my book, but other developers doing it doesn't seem right.

Apple themselves even encourage this by setting up categories and collections on the App Store when enough clones of a hit game have been developed, which is dangerously close to the "commoditize your complements" business theory.

Drawing lines on the screen is a strong enough idea to support a whole genre, but that doesn't mean every game has to be a variation of Flight Control. I won't even mention the most obvious use of line drawing - Draw Something (oops, I just did) - but instead I'd like to point you towards another game from our Games We Like list, Sand Slides.

In Sand Slides the player draws lines on the screen which are used as makeshift 'buckets' to catch grains of sand falling from three coloured jars. The player must cleverly draw their buckets in such a way as to pour the different coloured grains into their matching funnels at the bottom of the screen, with the aim being to avoid losing grains or mixing up the colours.

It's a great combination of line drawing and particle physics, and it’s also a completely different game to Flight Control, yet using an almost identical play control system, and, like Flight Control is completely fresh and perfectly suited to the platform it's on.

I'm sure that there are many other iOS games out there that I haven’t stumbled across that use line drawing in new and inventive ways, and I'm certain that this control method has untapped potential that hasn't been invented yet. I just hope more developers put their thinking caps on and try to invent the next Flight Control or Sand Slides, rather than just making clones of them.

 

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