Over the last few years much has been said about the potential demise of traditional gaming. Each generation of iPhone, iPad, Android phones and tablets, not to mention new competition from Windows Phone, has brought devices with increasingly impressive specifications.
Far gone are the days where the pinnacle of mobile entertainment was manoeuvring a snake while avoiding your own increasingly lengthy body. We’re now in a time where our dual or quad core devices have the power and storage capabilities to display beautiful 3D graphics coupled with fast paced gameplay.
The variety of choice on offer is staggering. There’s casual games such as the now world famous Angry Birds and it’s various sequels, the award winning physics based puzzler Where’s My Water? and New Star Soccer with its life destroying addictiveness, the games are designed for a quick ‘pick up and play’ when you have 5 of 10 minutes to spare.
These relatively simple games have been joined in the market by those that in the past have been created for consoles and computers. The N.O.V.A. and Modern Combat series are fast paced, first person shooters with the latter hugely influenced by the success of the Call of Duty franchise. Football Manager has made the transition to mobile device with a stripped down but none the less addictive version of the PC favourite. Adventure gaming fans are treated to the stunning Zelda-esque world of Horn while FIFA players can pick up a decent approximation of the all-conquering game. There’s also a large choice of ports of classic games, with Max Payne, Final Fantasy, GTA III and the soon to be released GTA: Vice City.
Let’s jump back to that initial sentence though; does the quickly evolving, genre-encompassing world of mobile gaming signal the death knells for the more traditional gaming formats of consoles and PCs? For me the answer lies not in the quality of the games but in the method of control.
There is something unerringly natural about a game pad. Despite the many different shapes and sizes over the years, from the simple D-pad and two button combination of the NES, to the dual analogue stick, button and trigger examples on the current consoles, the vast majority of gamers can pick up any pad and inherently know where each button is. The same goes for a keyboard and mouse combination. Once you have a favoured layout it’s relatively simple to map the in game actions to the way you prefer to play.
Touch controls simply can’t match the tactility offered by control pads or a mouse and keyboard combination. My fingers instinctively know where each button is. My thumb knows the distance from the right analogue stick to the far reaching B button without me needing to glance down. My middle finger knows the point on the left trigger where I snap into the iron sights on Call of Duty.
Playing a game that requires the use of multiple buttons on a touch screen device can be an exercise in futility. My time playing N.O.V.A. 3 was cut short by constant frustrations when the game decided to do anything other than what I intended. If I wanted to shoot, my character would reload. If I wanted to reload, he’d change gun. If I wanted to change gun…well, you get the picture.
The same issues recur on GTA III. Drive, brake, shoot and other similar commands are all grouped in the same area of the game screen. During gameplay you’ll find yourself accidentally hitting a wrong touch key and flinging yourself out of your vehicle at high speed, rather than applying the brakes as you wanted!
The issue for touch screen luddites is we’re probably not far off touch controls as a key component of gaming. Nintendo have used them since the days of the DS handheld and are now bringing them into the household as part of the WiiU, although to what success is yet to be seen. If the rumours are to be believed, Microsoft are planning some form of touch screen aspect to the successor of the Xbox 360 and no doubt Sony has something touch related up their sleeve.
I can only hope that on future consoles any form of touch control is used as an addition or supplement to the traditional method. The idea of using a touch device as an inventory or mapping system, such as was suggested on the Microsoft Smartglass announcement, could be a fantastic addition but they shouldn’t be needlessly shoehorned into the game, for example to throw a grenade as seen on Resistance and Black Ops Declassified on the Vita, as some form of justification for the technology.
Touch technology needs to advance in order for it to become a genuine contender for controlling a game. Some form of tactile feedback, such as haptic, needs to be added to give the gamer a sensation of connection between the input device and the game. The future may be touch, but until then the control pad is still king.