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Exploring smartphone-controlled browser games with Nitrome Exclusive
Exploring smartphone-controlled browser games with Nitrome
September 28, 2012 | By Mike Rose

September 28, 2012 | By Mike Rose
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    4 comments
More: Console/PC, Smartphone/Tablet, Indie, Design, Exclusive



Times are changing at browser game studio Nitrome, but perhaps not in the way that you might expect. While the London, UK-based company is currently checking out the mobile games space, it's also making sure to stay firmly rooted in your browser -- at least for now.

The studio announced a partnership with Brass Monkey this week, providers of a free SDK tool which allows developers to turn an iOS or Android touch-screen device into a web browser controller for your PC. (The company also was recently named Boston's "Startup to Watch.")

Using Brass Monkey's tech, studios can create specific button configurations on the touch-screen that players can then use to interact with a browser game. Rather than just throwing a virtual d-pad and buttons onto your smartphone, each game can have its own unique control scheme, using any layout the developer chooses.

Brass Monkey hasn't stopped there, however. The company's Mike Kanarek notes that his entire website, as well as the 19 games available to play on it, work via the Brass Monkey tech, providing a sort of web-based TV-friendly setup, similar to Valve's recently launched Big Picture mode for Steam.

Game studio Nitrome is going all-in on this concept, releasing its own app that utilizes Brass Monkey's tech. Nitrome Touchy will offer special controls for dozens of Nitrome's back catalog, and as a side-order, also allow the studio to create multiplayer games, as multiple friends can connect with their Touchy apps and play the same browser game together.

Touchy feely

"We have over seven years experience with browser games and over 100 titles to our name, so we are not about to jump ship on the format that has served us well until this point," explains Nitrome's Matthew Annal.

He continues, "We are keen to explore all areas of interactivity, and the possibility of using your phone as a controller excited the team - we were keen to see what we could achieve through using it. We think the ease of set up will surprise players as you need do nothing other than install the app on your phone and play. It was this ease of use that gave us a lot of confidence in the technology."

nitrome touchy 1.jpgHe points out that Nitrome is currently venturing into iOS games, and that this new Touchy app allows the team is explore the possibilities of smartphones -- it's "a natural fit for us as it bridges the two key areas we are developing on."

Annal admits that the app comes as a solution to a long-standing issue that Nitrome has always had -- that keyboards simply can't replicate proper control pads for the types of games that Nitrome likes to create.

"The limit on the number of simultaneous keys that can be pressed, and the natural space restrictions a keyboard introduces, makes it less than ideal for all play scenarios," he explains.

"This is particularly relevant in multiplayer which realistically limits you to two player. We don't see touch-screen buttons being a replacement for a joypad, but in reality most people have an Android or iOS device and when handled well we believe button based games can be comfortably played on a touch-screen."

Smart Glass for your web browser

Most of the titles that will launch with Touchy app support do not simply plonk a virtual control pad on the touch-screen, says Annal, as Nitrome has looked to explore how it can also use motion control in its games too.

"To give an example, we have taken our game Super Snot Put where we are now giving two new ways to play," he continues. "You can play using the touch-screen itself swiping to fling the snot. This is similar to using the mouse but we would argue more comfortable and easy to use."



"More interestingly though, is that the second option uses the gyroscope to replicate functions very similar to that in Wii's Motion Plus Controller or the PlayStation Move, and lets the user actually swing their arm and uses their actual force to determine the actual throw."

Annal says that the Nitrome team is still only just scratching the surface of what it believes it can achieve using the Touchy app with browser-based games -- for example, it is currently exploring the idea of dual-screen gameplay, with the iOS device showing an interactive map that can be used to order characters around in your browser. He compares the possibilities of the technology to those shown with the Wii U and Microsoft's Smart Glass.

The app will be released soon for iOS and Android. You can also expect smartphone games from Nitrome in the near future -- including Icebreaker: A Viking Voyage -- and a full-blown PC game too which will be appearing on Steam Greenlight in the coming weeks.


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Comments


Ian Fisch
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For 2d action games, a keyboard will always be better than a non-tactile piece of glass.

I could see the appeal of maybe using the gyroscopic abilities of the iphone for a select type of 3d game, but for 1st person shooters, you can't beat a simple mouse.

I think Nintendo would be insulted with the comparison to Wii U. Nintendo has always put controls above all else. They had the good sense to put tactile buttons and joystick on their wii u tablet.

Matthew Annal
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We don't do 3d games so I wouldn't expect a first person shooter from Nitrome any time soon ;) The Nitrome Touchy is not intended as a one stop replacement to existing control methods out there....we see it as a tool to try things that you can't do on a browser using a technology that most people already own!
Nitrome is not claiming that the Nitrome Touchy will do everything that the WiiU will but it does open up possibilities to explore duel screen gaming using your phone or tablet so that's the comparison. We never intended when interviewed to suggest more than that (the WiiU portion of the article does not use any quotes so its not exactly what I said).
With regards to actual virtual buttons on a screen it is true that your not going to match tactile feedback. Some games such as League of Evil on the iPhone though demonstrate well that if you keep the button count down and allow suitably for mistapping that touch controls can be made comfortable. You do get a few advantages over a keyboard in that you can arange buttons to suit a game and do local multiplayer...it's also a plus if you like to play in your living room rather than at a desk :)

Igor Makaruks
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Agree with you, Ian.
How would a smartphone communicate with a flash app? Via internet or locally? If it's former, then lag wouldn't help in case of action games.

Chris Allen
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Hi Igor, you should just try it out and see for yourself. You can download the free Brass Monkey app for iOS or Android and connect to our website: http://playbrassmonkey.com. You are absolutely right that communicating with the browser over the internet would be a terrible experience. The way Brass Monkey works however, is that we route the communication locally over a WIFI connection from the phone to the browser. This allows us to get tremendous speeds for communicating back and forth between the phones and the browser. The Nitrome Touchy app will be using the same technology. If you want to know more of the specifics on how we do it, just send me an email: chris (at) playbrassmonkey.com, and I will be glad to go through it in more detail.


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