Thursday, May 27, 2010

Choosing the iPad for indie game development

Pixel iPad, Image Courtesy of SprayerDaYuri

Tomorrow is the day the iPad will officially be launched here in France. Many Apple fan-boys and others are feverishly waiting for it. For indie game developers, iPad is a promising new platform, and after a few months of spreading the US market, 44% of iPad apps are games. How does it impact to indie newcomers in game development? Formerly, my project was to target hardcore gamers, typically Steam users. I didn’t have any good a priori about Apple new device, and it took me a while to understand how the iPad can be a gamer must-have. I admit now that it the iPad has deeply changed all my projects. This is why I didn’t post on this blog the last four weeks: I needed time to digest that information and decide which road to take.

The bigger screen is everything

While I’m really astonished by the gaming potential of the iPad, I can’t say the same thing about the iPhone. I still think it’s a poor gaming device for anything else than small games. Doodle Jump and Panic Parachutes are two great games (and two best sellers) in the action category, and I can’t imagine bigger games for that small screen. Maybe that’s just me, but I have the conviction that Multitouch needs more space to unleash its true power. So, I think different about iPad, especially because its wide playing area. It’s like saying I wouldn’t play soccer in the cubbyhole, but in the garden…

Definitely, I think that the iPhone is doomed to casual games, because its small screen, and it’s no surprise if Nintendo president saw Apple as its new sole “Ennemy” ( since the Wii launch, Nintendo strategy is mainly focused on casual games, see the DSi XL for senior audience now…).

iPad + Desktop projects

iPad is cool and fun, it’s my new toy as a gamer and as a developer, but I’m still attached to PC games. So what? PC or iPad? Both! Because I think these two worlds are compatible, I will take both roads. This is why I’m now looking for a game design I can easily port to PC. The goal is not to mimic PC games (like all those crappy fighting games) but to really take the most out of the Multitouch capabilities. Popcap did an awesome job to make this happen on Plant vs Zombies HD. The game was excellent on PC. It’s nothing but brilliant on iPad, thanks to the multitouch and the cleverness of developers who tuned the gameplay at its best. They didn’t just increase the resolution of the (average) iPhone version and add “HD” in the title. In fact, direct ports from iPhone to iPad (something we could call “the HD syndrome”) aren’t very exciting. As a gamer, what I expect is iPad games which were not possible to make on iPhone. Otherwise, the “HD” suffix only means “nothing else than prettier graphics inside”.

To take the most of the Multitouch capabilities, the iPad version should be developed first. It sounds that the perfect version is the iPad version, and it’s true. That’s what we can see with Plant vs Zombies: the iPad version is superior to the PC version. Why? It’s funnier to play, nothing else, thanks to the multitouch controls… As a consequence, I see now the PC version as a one-touch port from the iPad, even if it was released one year before! So I guess this is what I’m going to do for my game development: 1) get something awesome on iPad 2) expect hardcore gamers to be epileptic enough to simulate multitouch with mouse clicks :-)

I know this is not obvious to build a gameplay which can be fun on both platforms, but that’s another cool challenge for me.

iPad + Multiplayer?

This is the point where I’m not convinced at all. Is iPad comfortable to play multiplayer online games? iPad is rather a toy you want to play alone with, in your world, at home or on holidays, but I’m not sure I want anyone from the outside coming in. I can’t explain this clearly now, it’s a matter of physical perception of things, others and technology.

Strangely enough, I don’t bother if a friend put his hands on my iPad, and I share some privileged moments my friends and family around the iPad running offline multiplayer games. An example: Small World. This is the adaptation of a board game from the same company. The hard part is to know the rules, but once you know them, and once you find a friend to play with, it’s really enjoyable.

My point is: multiplayer iPad games remain in the offline world. Maybe that’s just me. Maybe that’s because there aren’t any online multiplayer game I can enjoy now on the iPad… I don’t know… but I feel that the iPad experience is tight to the personal and physical entourage of its owner.

This impression ruins my previous analysis about making online multiplayer games on PC. But I can still afford to adapt my strategy, and I think that creating something great on iPad is more important to me than creating an online multiplayer game on PC.

In my next posts, I will recount my first steps in the iPad development world as a common PC developer. I know it sounds like a switch :-)