Apple’s iPad was perhaps the worst kept secret in consumer electronics. Long rumoured – years, in fact, before its reveal – the device had speculators wildly imagining the myriad possibilities that such a machine could enable. And then… well, then it was finally revealed as what seemed to be nothing more than a much larger iPod Touch and was instantly written off by cynical knee-jerk commentators.
If history has proven anything, however, it’s that we should avoid dismissing new technology wherever possible. Anyone who wrote off either the iPhone/iPod Touch or the Nintendo DS at launch now looks very silly indeed, as each platform has more than proved itself a brilliant game-playing device. With that in mind, we’re not going to judge the iPad until a significant number of exclusive games have been released for it. But we are going to canvass the experts on the subject, which is why we’ve gone straight to the independent development community – those who are most likely to exploit the unique functions of a new device – and asked them for their first impressions.
As you might expect, early opinion on the iPad centres on the expanded size of the portable computer, but not always in a negative way. Our respondents see great potential in the large screen size and wide viewing angle, recognizing its ability to change the way we consume videogames as well as the types of game that we play. There are clearly ways for the iPad to expand upon and evolve Apple’s ability to take indie gaming into the mainstream – but will enough unique ideas come out of these conceptual musings to justify spending around £500 on such a machine? Only time will tell…
“To be able to hold a game in your hands and directly interact with it can only be a good thing. And when I say directly interact, I mean without indirect means such as a controller, keyboard, mouse, etc. You’re reaching out and touching the pixels. I also think we’re going to be doing away with having quite so many on-screen buttons laid over the action. We tried to do this a bit in Worms on the iPhone – tapping the worm to jump, for instance, and dragging up to double jump. Unfortunately, the small size of the screen really limited what we could do here. Now we’ve got this big screen with all this real estate, we’re going to be able to look at things in a really new way; there’s no longer that fear of fingers getting in the way of the action.
“We can really draw a lot from Apple’s designers and what makes the iPhone/iPod such a compelling platform. When looking at game design we can now think about what the player has control over and how they would instinctively try to achieve that directly with their fingers. Of course this isn’t just about reinventing control systems for existing titles – games are going to have to come along that lend themselves to this style of gameplay. Perhaps this will turn things on their head a bit. A lot of the traditional console games have you directly controlling an avatar – gamepads are really well suited to this focussed type of play. When you can touch and interact with all that you can see, perhaps it’s going to make more sense to control your avatar indirectly by manipulating the world around them – think Populous, Labyrinth and other such games.
“Lastly, I’m interested in the idea of the iPad as a secondary gaming device that would be supported in other games. It would be very easy to have it as an external screen/controller for a game on another device. Imagine playing an online FPS and having your tactical map displayed on your iPad sitting next to you and then being able to interact and zoom with it, placing orders to your teammates? Or playing a rally game, with your friend sitting next to you giving you directions based on the map displayed on his iPad? A role-playing game where your stats, map and journal are an interactive book on your iPad with a live link to the game in progress. I’m sure there are a lot of better ideas than I have come up with here, but I think you get the idea.”
Trip Hawkins, Digital Chocolate
“The sweet spot for this product class is a convenient, portable browser and app experience. Smartphones have browsers but the screen is too small. Laptops have full operating systems and keyboards but many consumers don’t need such cost, bulk, weight or complexity. These tablets will create a big screen experience for mobile games, be great for watching video, and will be a convenient way to use social networks and social games. Apple Apps run on the iPad and we think it makes many of our games look great.”