Saturday, 6 October 2012

Mobile Gaming

Mobile gaming has become kind of a big thing recently. And I finally have a phone that will let me play those games. So I'm all over mobile gaming, right?


Here's my problem with mobile games in general. They're designed to be played in short sessions on the go, and have only the touchscreen for control input. Designing for short sessions means quick, relatively simple levels that don't hold my interest in a longer session. Touchscreen controls mean either you're obscuring a large portion of the display just to be able to play the game, or very simple controls that require little or occasional input.

So when my favourite games are rich, long, and complex, you'll see my problem with mobile gaming in general.

Now, this is not a problem with all mobile games. I've been assured that there are games that will fit my tastes, though I haven't had enough interest to make an effort to find them (if you know of some, leave a comment!). Even if there were no deep complex mobile games at all, I'd still be sure that they would be coming soon.

For the kind of games I want, Nintendo's and Sony's dedicated handhelds have an advantage: buttons. On the other hand it's not like a great game needs to use all the buttons AND the touchscreen. And I'm not sure about the PSP as I don't own one, but since the DS, Nintendo's handhelds have had a glorious pause-anytime feature where it'll suspend the game when you close the system. That's brilliant. And in fact smartphones can absolutely take advantage of the pause-anytime with multitasking. Simply hit the home button and the game is hidden away. 

My favourite handheld game is the Pokémon series. And in terms of smartphones, it really wouldn't be that hard to make an analogous game to Pokémon. Overworld controls are simple - movement and interaction. And in a battle you could simply use the touchscreen to select your options directly, instead of moving a cursor.

Controls are also an issue. The bigger the screen the better, I guess, but on a display like the iPhone's, there's a huge dilemma when making a game. If the game requires constant control input, that means my fingers or thumbs are on the screen as long as I'm playing, covering up valuable real estate that could be used for display. But if the game requires only occasional input, it likely won't offer much depth in terms of control. Take Angry Birds, for example - you pull back the slingshot and then watch the results. You don't cover up anything important while playing, but then again, you do more watching than playing.

My main problem with most mobile games is that they're nothing more than glorified Flash games. Granted, some of those are really good, but they tend to lack the complexity I'm after. I enjoy games like Robot Unicorn Attack and Angry Birds... for about five minutes. Then I get bored. The core gameplay isn't varied enough, or at least, it doesn't disguise its simplicity well enough, for my tastes. I like to sit down and play a game for a while, and if the game is designed to be played in sessions of a few minutes at a time, I'm not going to stay entertained for an hour.

And to make sure things aren't entirely negative here, I'll point out a mobile game I do actually enjoy. Rebuild is a zombie game where you play as a group of survivors fighting to reclaim and, well, rebuild their city. It was originally a free Flash game, and the current version is an improvement over the original. It's a tactical game where you move survivors through the city, assign guards, look for food and resources, and work on rebuilding the areas you've taken to allow for population growth and sustainability. It costs $1 on Google Play, or can be played for free in a browser here (current version; original can be found on the same site).

Again, though, I've been repeatedly assured that there are mobile games that will hold my interest. But I don't want to buy games until I find one I like - that's a waste of money. So if you have any suggestions I'd love to hear them!


  1. You're most likely right that the interface poses problems for games of any depth. I do see some potential for using mobile devices as peripherals or addons for games/DLC.

    For example, I forget what they're called, but a lot of movies have offered a viral campaign where people had to find specific things, given certain clues, and take pictures of them and submit them to win prizes. When The Dark Knight came out, that was huge, people went crazy over this. I know there is a name and acronym for this type of event, but I cannot recall what it is. If you know, please comment/let me know.

    But, that would be a great first step. Imagine a DLC, or an optional mobile device option which asked you to perform certain tasks to help or complement your game.

    You're playing Deus Ex, and they need you to do some recon. They ask you to enter a city, and then they ask you to get some photos of some things around the city. Or something like that. It's a simple step, and most would argue is nothing more than a peripheral and not a game to itself, but I believe we could take that further; just because there are less options for interfacing doesn't mean we can't mold a great experience out of this!

    1. I believe you are referring to ARGs.

      More integration with some of the big games would be really cool.