Apple’s iPad, Social Games and Game Design

04/14/2010

iPad-and-Games-Although it doesn’t officially launch in Canada until April 24th, many social game designers, including us, have already started working on games for the iPad. Although we can’t make an announcement about our project just yet, what we can tell you is that we’re really excited about the iPad’s potential as a gaming platform (less design constraints because of screen real estate for starters). So naturally, when the  Globe and Mail called to get our insight into this topic, we were excited to share our thoughts. I’ve cross-posted the entire article below. As always, you can contact us if you have any questions.

It’s only a matter of time before an episode of The Big Bang Theory opens with Sheldon, Leonard, Howard and Raj playing iPad Scrabble and using their iPhones as virtual tile racks.

Aside from bringing a whole new dimension of geekiness to Hasbro’s word game, it may also be the most expensive way to play: The app is only $9.99, but add an iPad and four (optional) iPhones and the price skyrockets to about $3,000.

Still, old-fashioned board games like Scrabble are what excite me most about gaming on Apple’s new tablet. Its large touch screen, which is big enough for several people to view comfortably and can handle simultaneous interactions by multiple users, is perfectly suited for a classic tabletop experience – especially if you have a few iPhones on hand to conceal cards.

Sadly, not many of these games are available yet. Hundred of interactive games can be found in the app store, but the vast majority are simply higher-resolution versions of games originally designed for the iPhone, maybe with an extra mode or level thrown in.

Not that that’s necessarily a slam.

Real Racing HD ($9.99), big brother to Real Racing for the iPhone, recalls the visual experience of a console racer. As the “HD” suggests, this game has been modified to take advantage of the iPad’s 9.7-inch, 1024-by-768 pixel screen to deliver detailed car models and big, beautiful tracks.

However, the larger screen also introduces some problems. The iPad weighs a pound and a half, and holding it like a steering wheel – players pilot by tilting the tablet left and right – for an extended period is a chore. My forearms requested respite after only a few races.

The weight, combined with the iPad’s curved and slippery backside, becomes an even bigger issue in a game like Command & Conquer: Red Alert ($12.99). This real-time strategy game lets players select units and attack enemies via a series of intuitive taps. However, holding the iPad in one hand while interacting with the screen with my other had me worrying that the hefty tablet would slip from my grip.

Still, game developers – especially those that make casual games, which are in the iPad app store’s $1-to-$15 sweet spot – seem convinced of the iPad’s potential as a game platform.

“The iPad opens a universe of design possibilities,” said Michael Fergusson, chief executive office of Vancouver-based Ayogo Inc., a company currently working on an unannounced iPad game.

“We felt very constrained by the iPhone’s screen real estate,” he explained. “Our new game becomes a comic book at some points, and we couldn’t do that [with the iPhone] because we didn’t have the space. Now we can have high-quality cells, design a menu that contains more than just a few items and have more room to explore and move around. It makes a huge difference.”

However, while the iPad offers clear advantages over an iPhone, it doesn’t bring much new to interactive entertainment on the whole.

Its graphics are superior to other portable platforms, but inferior to current consoles and most computers. And while its touch screen is slick and almost ridiculously natural (Google “two-year-old tries an iPad” for proof of its accessibility), most of us are by now well acquainted with similar interfaces, be they on phones, the Nintendo DS or all-in-one computers.

The iPad is a fun new platform on which to play games, and its large, lovely screen has the potential to enrich portable gaming and local multiplayer experiences. However, if you’re looking for the sort of game-changing innovation delivered by a machine like Nintendo’s Wii, it’s just not here.

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