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theBenni

Addressing Issues with Mobile Gaming Inputs.

8 posts in this topic

My company recently released it's debut game. We're 7 guys working out of a tiny office in the UK. It's also my first credit as a game designer so has a special significance for me. 
 
When I first started on the project, the lead told me about our objectives in developing the game. One of the key ones was to come up with a control system which was more intuitive for a touchscreen platform than virtual sticks and/or buttons. Our issues with these traditional inputs were as follows:
 
  • Virtual Sticks and buttons occupy screen space  which could be used to view the game.
  • Playing with these inputs can be quite uncomfortable on the hands. 
  • Virtual sticks are a legacy concept from different, physical input pad platforms. 
  • Number of inputs is limited by the available screen space for buttons and sticks. 
 
It was our aim to improve on this by providing a range touch and gestural controls to manipulate the character.
 
Our game has been released, and we are pleased with our feedback thus far. However, one thing which seems to pop up quite often, is the request for virtual sticks and buttons. We designed our game controls specifically NOT to implement these traditional modes of control.
 
Some videos of people playing our game have shown them holding the device as though it were to be used with virtual thumbsticks and buttons, and so they have a harder time mastering the movement and camera of the game. 
 
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
And so I ask, 
 
  • Do you think virtual sticks and buttons are the best inputs for touchscreen devices such as tablets and smartphones?
  • Have we overestimated the importance of non-traditional inputs for touchscreen devices?
  • Should we consider adding these methods of control to the game, despite it being contrary to the design philosophy we developed along with the game?
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
I hasten to add, we've appreciated all feedback from our users and only hope to learn from the information and suggestions they provide. 
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Good posts.

 

I'm dealing with a somewhat similar issue now in my (early prototype) tablet game.   Initially feedback has been the game has some nice potential with some polish but right now controlling the spaceship and to a slightly lesser degree weapons fire UI are really bad.  My wife's comment was "the game shouldn't be as difficult as piloting an actual NASA spacecraft"  lol

 

I'm going back to the drawing board including another take at making use of the accelerometer to various degrees as well as some of the simpler, earlier controls like thruster buttons instead of swipe.  

 

Maybe I'm getting a bit desperate  but I'm even considering the nuclear option of support 2-5 different UI's.  Some players may prefer swipe, other movement by thruster buttons/controls, others by accelerometer, others firing by accelerometer etc.   I tend to lean against offering a variety of UI's because it increase design/code/testing complexity, and one approach may be found superior by the hardcore players.    I'd prefer to offer a single UI, but am just not sure if enough players will have a clear consensus on which of these is better.   In other words, if in further testing 80% or more prefer 1 approach, I am fine going with that.  But if 1/3 prefer the accelerometer, 1/3 swipe, and 1/3 traditional buttons perhaps I offer 3 choices and you can choose whatever.  

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I can only express my own experience playing games on the tablet.

 

The problem I often found with games that had no virtual sticks and buttons was that thy did not explain how to interact.

It is true that thy did have some kind of tutorial at the start of the game, but when I played one game and then another I was lost.

In one game touching the screen would fire at the point in a other it would cause the character to walk there, virtual buttons make this a lot easier.

 

My advice is to use similar controls to other touchscreen games, every person I know reaches for the WASD keys and mouse when playing a FPS.

Have some kind of on screen indication, even Xbox games has on screen indication when it isn't needed.

 

The point is that no one wants to constantly think "how do I switch weapons again?" when thy can fire a grenade with one gun and shoot it in mid air with a another.

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The point is that no one wants to constantly think "how do I switch weapons again?" when thy can fire a grenade with one gun and shoot it in mid air with a another.

 

I think this is particularly interesting. Many of the games we see on tablets and smart phones are novel in design, and so players don't have an intuitive grasp of what controls should be there. Developing a WASD for tablets (a touch based alternative standard) seems to be trickier as there's so many different designs for the games. 

 

Perhaps it needs to be more about messaging, like Haps mentions above. We don't really do too much in terms of showing the player how to use the inputs in our game so maybe it's our fault for improper messaging. 

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I ended up switching my UI pretty significantly, it still has bugs and needs a lot of tweaking but so far I'm liking it much better.

 

- turning left and right is via left and right rotation buttons

- velocity is controlled by a thrust lever

- aiming the angle of weapons fire is controlled via the accelerometer.  It moves a crosshairs icon (current 2 green circles)

- firing the weapons/abilities is by pressed any of the 3 ability buttons

 

 

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Seems like an interesting set of inputs. I like that you use a thrust leaver to controller to acceleration of the ship. I imagine that this must feel like the player is really piloting the ship. 

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Thanks!

 

One of the biggest constraints I've found when designing a tablet UI is just the natural position of people's fingers.  At least the way I hold it (and I believe most people), the most natural place to touch is along the sides of the screen sort of towards the center.   Any other place causes you to have to awkwardly lift your hand and position it over the screen and only then touch it.

 

The other thing I quickly discovered on touchscreens that I didn't expect (though very obvious in retrospect!) is just placing your finger on the screen obscures it.  So that throws out the window many of the paradigms you commonly use on PC with a small mouse cursor.   So at this point for example I don't have any things clickable (eg planets, starships) on the main tactical screen as it would take too much of your view away from you and interfere with combat.  There will be some interactions that are less real-time dependent (pinging a location to attack or retreat) that I will allow touches for on that panel, but not much else.  

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I was working on a prototypical asteroids game for android.  The inputs were set up like a typical "twin-stick" shooter, where one stick controls movement direction, and another controls shooting direction.  One trick I did though, was to have the sticks only appear when you have a finger on screen.  For example, the left side of the screen(the whole side) is set for movement, and the right side is for shooting control.  If a finger touches the left side, a stick appears(as a simple circle for now), and then it stays centered there, until you release the finger.  The one on the right does the same, but for shooting direction.  The shooting only happens if you actually have the finger down.  The reason I like the whole "re-centering" thing with this, is that it doesn't matter much what the natural position of the finger is.  Each player can choose what they want, and if they prefer a lower, middle, or higher section of the screen, and it is the same for both moving and shooting.  Also, if the stick gets in the way of something on the screen, the player simply lifts the finger and moves it somewhere out of the way.

 

If I were to design a game that needs more controls, variations could be done.  For example  the lower-left could be dedicated to only movement.  It could vary from the above system, for example the stick could be limited to left/right for a platformer.  Then if you need various buttons for things, like different actions, where a single "shooting" stick doesn't cover it, you could have a set of virtual buttons over there on the right side.  This type of system allows for the best of both worlds.

 

The biggest thing i recommend with mobile controls in games that need "virtual" controls, as in where touch based controls don't work, is that you attempt to cater to the player.  In my example above, I have the control stick go wherever the player wants it to.  This could also apply to the virtual keys.  I've seen console emulators(GameBoy/SNES) that allow you to decide where you want a given set of the virtual buttons on screen, either via a simple "choose a corner" kind of thing, or by actually letting them drag the controls around in a configuration mode.  I don't this would be too difficult to add to a game.

 

As far as designing controls, the reality that we are going to have to accept is this.  Mobile games are not truly suited to the "hard-core" games you can do on devices with physical inputs.  As such, if you could design your game for touchscreens, it may be easier to play.  But the catch is that it has to actually be a touchscreen designed game.  The gameplay itself has to be made that way.  I couldn't play a platformer with tilt controls for movement, though a continous runner could maybe work, as indeed could the movement of an Arkanoid bat.  Games have to be made with "dragging" controls, and similar things.  If your game doesn't work like this, than it needs "virtual" buttons and joysticks.  If you insist on forcing different inputs for a game that works best with traditional controls, then it just won't work well, and you are better of with virtual joysticks, etc...

 

I'm not good at it, but I've seen people play pretty hard-core type games with these virtual inputs, and it looks to me that with practice these controls for some people are almost as easy as actual physical devices(I mean as opposed to touch-screen buttons).  Don't dumb down your game too much if it is supposed to be a "gamer's game" because you would be surprised at how well people actually play games on these devices.

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