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Touch Screens and Genre Barriers

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Touch screens as a all-encompassing user interface is a relatively new concept in game design, and is only now beginning to be taken seriously with the advent of smart-phone gaming. Touch screens themselves present unique problems for each genre of games that attempts to use them. Some, like puzzle games and point-and-click adventure games thrive in such an environment due to their very basic GUI requirements. Others, like platformers and first-person shooters are starting to become more popular as standard control schemes, not too different than what you would use with a traditional controller, are coming into use, letting the genres transition with minimum awkwardness. And then you have some genres, such as real-time strategy games and fighting games that have relied on large arrays of buttons and commands to control them. This makes replicating a traditional control scheme on a touch screen is simply impossible without dumbing it down and removing a lot of the depth that made those games fun in the first place (i.e. Street Fighter IV on the iPhone).

I personally believe that any genre can be adapted to a touch screen if enough effort is put into designing a control scheme to fit that specific game rather than conforming to the standards in control put out by its predecessors (and I am currently designing a game with that in mind). On the other hand, many of these genres are rooted in tradition, and I can see an argument for the fact that fans of a certain genre won't take to a new control scheme very well if it heavily breaks tradition.

What do you guys think about this? Are these genres permanently barred from reaching their full potential on a touch screen, or can clever design overcome that barrier?

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A major barrier with an action game such as a First Person Shooter is the need to use the viewing surface as the control surface combined with the need for constant, precision input. A slower paced game allows the user to take their fingers away and look at the screen, but a FPS doesn't really allow for that, you need to be looking around and moving constantly, causing you to be constantly be blocking what's on the screen with your fingers. I've never used a FPS on a touch-screen device that didn't feel awkward and forced.

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Touch screens as a all-encompassing user interface is a relatively new concept in game design, and is only now beginning to be taken seriously with the advent of smart-phone gaming. Touch screens themselves present unique problems for each genre of games that attempts to use them. Some, like puzzle games and point-and-click adventure games thrive in such an environment due to their very basic GUI requirements. Others, like platformers and first-person shooters are starting to become more popular as standard control schemes, not too different than what you would use with a traditional controller, are coming into use, letting the genres transition with minimum awkwardness. And then you have some genres, such as real-time strategy games and fighting games that have relied on large arrays of buttons and commands to control them. This makes replicating a traditional control scheme on a touch screen is simply impossible without dumbing it down and removing a lot of the depth that made those games fun in the first place (i.e. Street Fighter IV on the iPhone).

I personally believe that any genre can be adapted to a touch screen if enough effort is put into designing a control scheme to fit that specific game rather than conforming to the standards in control put out by its predecessors (and I am currently designing a game with that in mind). On the other hand, many of these genres are rooted in tradition, and I can see an argument for the fact that fans of a certain genre won't take to a new control scheme very well if it heavily breaks tradition.

What do you guys think about this? Are these genres permanently barred from reaching their full potential on a touch screen, or can clever design overcome that barrier?


Well here are some of the problems I thought of using an FPS game as an example, though similar ideas could be used for an action RPG or RTS. Constantly blocking vision of the screen would easily get annoying for me, though I haven't tried playing an FPS (or other fast paced game) on a touch screen if they even exist. Also, I can only imagine that if you are turning around/moving repeatedly that the tips of your fingers would feel a burning sensation from all the friction. Since you wouldn't just be tapping like in a puzzle game; your hands would likely be pressed more firmly on the touch screen. Also, I can't imagine a good layout for any of the faster paced genres as you essentially said. Simplifying the controls would take away too much from the game, but otherwise it would come down to something like... having a jump button, a crouch button, a change weapons button, a fire button in addition to other controls that may be needed. Where would all of those buttons go? Somewhere on the screen which would cover up more of it? If it would be a mobile device, how would you hold it comfortably to press all the buttons quickly without risking dropping it? It would be easier on something like a large monitor that you don't have to hold, but I can still only imagine it would be significantly inferior to a keyboard and mouse or controller no matter what you do, and it would likely be less responsive and comfortable.

I'm not sure how you feel a good layout could save something like an FPS from these problems... so I will have to strongly disagree with the statement "I personally believe that any genre can be adapted to a touch screen if enough effort is put into designing a control scheme to fit that specific game rather than conforming to the standards in control put out by its predecessors." It just doesn't seem feasible for many game types if you want an equivalent amount of speed, comfort and precision.

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Well here are some of the problems I thought of using an FPS game as an example, though similar ideas could be used for an action RPG or RTS. Constantly blocking vision of the screen would easily get annoying for me, though I haven't tried playing an FPS (or other fast paced game) on a touch screen if they even exist. Also, I can only imagine that if you are turning around/moving repeatedly that the tips of your fingers would feel a burning sensation from all the friction. Since you wouldn't just be tapping like in a puzzle game; your hands would likely be pressed more firmly on the touch screen. Also, I can't imagine a good layout for any of the faster paced genres as you essentially said. Simplifying the controls would take away too much from the game, but otherwise it would come down to something like... having a jump button, a crouch button, a change weapons button, a fire button in addition to other controls that may be needed. Where would all of those buttons go? Somewhere on the screen which would cover up more of it? If it would be a mobile device, how would you hold it comfortably to press all the buttons quickly without risking dropping it? It would be easier on something like a large monitor that you don't have to hold, but I can still only imagine it would be significantly inferior to a keyboard and mouse or controller no matter what you do, and it would likely be less responsive and comfortable.

I'm not sure how you feel a good layout could save something like an FPS from these problems... so I will have to strongly disagree with the statement "I personally believe that any genre can be adapted to a touch screen if enough effort is put into designing a control scheme to fit that specific game rather than conforming to the standards in control put out by its predecessors." It just doesn't seem feasible for many game types if you want an equivalent amount of speed, comfort and precision.


The way that I believe that things can be solved with a touch screen interface is by thinking outside of the box and moving past things that seem to be required of a control scheme, but in reality aren't. I'm going to use a fighting game as an example, because that's what I'm working on right now.

Traditional fighters use a 6 button interface with a joystick to control movement. This is because in order to have a deep move set for a character, there needs to be enough inputs to accomidate each and every move that you wish the character to have. Obviously, having six buttons on a touch screen is a bit ridiculous, seeing as Street Fighter IV on the iPhone barely got away with 4. But the key here is that you simply require enough inputs to fulfill a move set, not necessarily buttons. Touch screens can easily recognize exactly where and how you move your finger across the screen, meaning that you can simply replace buttons with gestures, and you solve your input problem while simultaneously removing a lot of UI clutter. For example, my fighting game is using a gesture system that can recognize finger swipes in the 4 cardinal directions as well as differentiating between whether the swipe was short or long. Combined with simply tapping the screen as an additional input, that makes for a whopping nine separate inputs, more than making up for any functionality lost by not being able to press two buttons simultaneously.

Gesture based input systems are one of the primary ways that I believe that most any genre can be adapted to a touch screen. It's just up to the game designers to essentially design their own controller instead of working with the one that they are forced to use like most other game platforms.

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Strategy games, and maybe some simulations games, are ideally suited to touch interfaces. FPSes are not well suited to touchscreen interfaces, particularly because of "gorilla arms". AN FPS is not really a phone game, and using a vertical touchscreen for not even very long periods of time results in physical fatigue. Only a horizontal or moderately inclined surface are at all appropriate for longer-term use of touch gestures.

The limiting factor is not the touch vocabulary, which is large and rich, but the physical constraints of a somatic interface.

On the other hand (heh, see what I did there?) a touch interface is really good for casual games.

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[quote name='Impervious' timestamp='1304791114' post='4807745']
Well here are some of the problems I thought of using an FPS game as an example, though similar ideas could be used for an action RPG or RTS. Constantly blocking vision of the screen would easily get annoying for me, though I haven't tried playing an FPS (or other fast paced game) on a touch screen if they even exist. Also, I can only imagine that if you are turning around/moving repeatedly that the tips of your fingers would feel a burning sensation from all the friction. Since you wouldn't just be tapping like in a puzzle game; your hands would likely be pressed more firmly on the touch screen. Also, I can't imagine a good layout for any of the faster paced genres as you essentially said. Simplifying the controls would take away too much from the game, but otherwise it would come down to something like... having a jump button, a crouch button, a change weapons button, a fire button in addition to other controls that may be needed. Where would all of those buttons go? Somewhere on the screen which would cover up more of it? If it would be a mobile device, how would you hold it comfortably to press all the buttons quickly without risking dropping it? It would be easier on something like a large monitor that you don't have to hold, but I can still only imagine it would be significantly inferior to a keyboard and mouse or controller no matter what you do, and it would likely be less responsive and comfortable.

I'm not sure how you feel a good layout could save something like an FPS from these problems... so I will have to strongly disagree with the statement "I personally believe that any genre can be adapted to a touch screen if enough effort is put into designing a control scheme to fit that specific game rather than conforming to the standards in control put out by its predecessors." It just doesn't seem feasible for many game types if you want an equivalent amount of speed, comfort and precision.


The way that I believe that things can be solved with a touch screen interface is by thinking outside of the box and moving past things that seem to be required of a control scheme, but in reality aren't. I'm going to use a fighting game as an example, because that's what I'm working on right now.

Traditional fighters use a 6 button interface with a joystick to control movement. This is because in order to have a deep move set for a character, there needs to be enough inputs to accomidate each and every move that you wish the character to have. Obviously, having six buttons on a touch screen is a bit ridiculous, seeing as Street Fighter IV on the iPhone barely got away with 4. But the key here is that you simply require enough inputs to fulfill a move set, not necessarily buttons. Touch screens can easily recognize exactly where and how you move your finger across the screen, meaning that you can simply replace buttons with gestures, and you solve your input problem while simultaneously removing a lot of UI clutter. For example, my fighting game is using a gesture system that can recognize finger swipes in the 4 cardinal directions as well as differentiating between whether the swipe was short or long. Combined with simply tapping the screen as an additional input, that makes for a whopping nine separate inputs, more than making up for any functionality lost by not being able to press two buttons simultaneously.

Gesture based input systems are one of the primary ways that I believe that most any genre can be adapted to a touch screen. It's just up to the game designers to essentially design their own controller instead of working with the one that they are forced to use like most other game platforms.
[/quote]

I initially thought about a gesture system specifically for a fighter game, which is why I didn't refer to that genre when responding to your claim that any game can be adapted on to a touch screen. In other words, I just went with an even more concrete example to argue against the point you made. That being said, I still feel that you will be lacking many capabilities.

If you look at Marvel vs Capcom 3, there are many unique combination that can only be done at a reasonable pace if you use a controller, or if you treat the interface as if it were a controller (which goes back to the original argument that it clutters the screen and your hands are always in the way), but of course any actions can be done with a simplified interface... even on a controller with a single button. You can just push the button to cycle through all the possible actions, and then hold it down to confirm the action. Technically you have all the capabilities of a controller in terms of input, but the speed and convenience is greatly reduced.

Of course your example is not nearly as extreme, but when it comes to having quick responses, having the interface wait to detect which direction you are going in, and whether you tap in addition takes more time than pushing a button and holding a joystick simultaneously, which can often matter in fighting games. In addition, you said there are 9 inputs, but there are significantly more on a controller, which means you would have to adapt the interface to account for those as well making the gestures far more complex, and potentially more difficult to execute accurately.

That all being said, I am not bashing your suggestions. If you model a game with a touch screen interface in mind it should be perfectly fine. What I am saying with my argument is more along the lines that you cannot take any game and expect to be able to play it equally as well on a touch screen interface.

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So while we're at it: how would you redesign a platformer for a touchscreen? Not like I'm gonna do that (I have no plans to program for those anytime soon), but it'd be interesting to see what ideas come up.

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So while we're at it: how would you redesign a platformer for a touchscreen? Not like I'm gonna do that (I have no plans to program for those anytime soon), but it'd be interesting to see what ideas come up.


I'd make Canabalt.

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I initially thought about a gesture system specifically for a fighter game, which is why I didn't refer to that genre when responding to your claim that any game can be adapted on to a touch screen. In other words, I just went with an even more concrete example to argue against the point you made. That being said, I still feel that you will be lacking many capabilities.

If you look at Marvel vs Capcom 3, there are many unique combination that can only be done at a reasonable pace if you use a controller, or if you treat the interface as if it were a controller (which goes back to the original argument that it clutters the screen and your hands are always in the way), but of course any actions can be done with a simplified interface... even on a controller with a single button. You can just push the button to cycle through all the possible actions, and then hold it down to confirm the action. Technically you have all the capabilities of a controller in terms of input, but the speed and convenience is greatly reduced.

Of course your example is not nearly as extreme, but when it comes to having quick responses, having the interface wait to detect which direction you are going in, and whether you tap in addition takes more time than pushing a button and holding a joystick simultaneously, which can often matter in fighting games. In addition, you said there are 9 inputs, but there are significantly more on a controller, which means you would have to adapt the interface to account for those as well making the gestures far more complex, and potentially more difficult to execute accurately.

That all being said, I am not bashing your suggestions. If you model a game with a touch screen interface in mind it should be perfectly fine. What I am saying with my argument is more along the lines that you cannot take any game and expect to be able to play it equally as well on a touch screen interface.


I understand what you mean. Heck, just ask anyone who has played FPSs on both a computer using a keyboard and mouse and on consoles using a controller, not all interfaces are created equal. What really matters though is that the interface is both responsive and useable, and all players have the same interfaces available. Unfortunately it's really impossible to tell for sure if this kind of interface is feasible until a game is actually made with it. Maybe I'm just too optimistic, but innovation springs from taking risks in the first place, so I'm going to go for it.

As for platfomers, It really depends on how many features you want in the game. A single virtual button for jumping and a virtual joystick are just fine for a simpler game, I wouldn't go past 2 or 3 buttons though, because of the onscreen clutter that can cause.

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I'm a professional Software QA Tech, and about 90% of my work deals with testing applications on touch screen devices. In the past I have pulled a 100 hour work week doing nothing but testing iPad software that made use of lots of simple gestures for interactions.

Frankly, they suck.

Oh sure, touch screens are interesting, and you can do a lot of fun things with them, but for complex interfaces they are tiring, and honestly can become down right painful.
After one game that had a lot of swiping gestures I actually had to request that I be switched over to a project on PC as I was beginning to form blisters on my finger tips.

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