Creating iPad games is tough, says veteran developer and ex-id and Apple staffer Graeme Devine, until you think of the app as "a world on the other side of the glass."
Devine, whose work includes '90s casual smash The 7th Guest and Quake III Arena, and also a games-focused role for Apple, considers the iPad to be the "best gaming device on the planet today" and "different than gaming on any other platform, including the phone."
Once he picked up the iPad for the first time at Apple, Devine said that it "felt different to me than any other experience I'd had before" -- "it's really a brand new paradigm."
Says Devine, "Games that use touch are a very different experience, and designing for it is very important to get that just right -- because it's right in front of me." He notes that "Angry Birds was not the first game where you knocked stuff down on the App Store, but it was the first one that felt perfect to people."
In his view, "Games that use touch well stay at the top of the charts."
Importantly, as a developer, "you have to remember the iPad is not an iPhone," says Devine. "This might seem obvious, but a lot of people just take their fabulous iPhone game and upsize it."
This is because people interact with the platforms differently -- they hold them differently and use them in different contexts. "If you want them to play [your iPad game] for more than 30 seconds you have to think about them holding it in their hands," says Devine. "Look at the way people play your games and look at where their hands are at."
When working on your game, don't just play it your development environment -- "sit in an environment where you expect your players to actually play the game and play it."
From Desktop To iPad
Porting PC and Mac games to the iPad is "not as easy as it first appears to be," says Devine. "If you look at Apple's own applications like Pages and Keynote, they are completely different [on Mac] than they are on the iPad."
When porting products over, says Devine, "it's very easy to have a dozen bad ideas right away." The mouse and finger work differently -- in a touch interface, you simply select, rather than navigating and selecting with a mouse.
Working on an iPad version of his 1996 PC game Clandestiny, Devine decided to completely revamp its interface. "The word 'port' is the nastiest word in the dictionary, so what I decided to do was to make it a true touch application," he says.
What lead to this revelation? More interaction with Apple's own apps. "As soon as I saw the photographs app and the pinch and zoom, at that point I realized it's actually acting as if there's a photograph on the other side of the screen. It gave me the impression that I'm touching a world on the other side of the screen, and that's how I approach game design in all iOS games," he says.
The World On The Other Side
One game he particularly enjoyed was Let's Create! Pottery -- which showed the background tilting as he moved the iPad, thanks to the accelerometer input. "That one extra detail gave that game a sense of depth, and a sense of 3D, and made it feel as if I was holding it in my hands."
Meanwhile, Labyrinth 2 HD's decision to fully model the maze as though it were a real wooden box you are peering into "made that game from a simple demo to a toy."
"That one little change adds such a level of polish and realism to your game... Just a little more joy in the player's mind" makes a difference on whether they will continue to interact with your game, Devine says.
All games need to be running at 60 frames per second, "whenever I'm touching the screen", he says, regardless of genre. In the case of Words With Friends, if tile selection didn't move smoothly, "my finger will actually move backwards to try and catch it again."
Some Best Practices
Devine noted that "the way we playtest is just absolutely terrible."
Don't tell your players what to do. "I know it's really really tempting to sit and tell them how to play the game," says Devine, but "you do not come with the game," so "you need to watch playtesters and hold your tongue."
Taking too long on technology development is pointless in the iOS space, says Devine. "The game is playable in week 40, and week 42 is when they are going to ship. But you know what you play? You play the game. The game needs to be running on day two when you're making games for iOS."
The device has also changed the save game paradigm. "The save game slot is gone. Bye-bye," says Devine. "There's this thing called the home button, and the home button is my save game button. If I hit that, that's my save game button right there. That is the only way."
At a maximum, Devine says that players should be interacting with the game in some fashion within 3 seconds of launching the app from the device. "Do what you need to do to have an application start in 3 seconds. Take stuff out. If you want to make people play your game again, that is the only way it will happen."
Details matter. "The thing we need to always do is finish the damn game. We don't go from the great gameplay to the great graphics to get all the polishing we need to do. We so pressure ourselves to get the game out the second we think it's done," says Devine.
"Whenever you hit iTunes Connect [to submit the game] the first time, think in your head 'Have I spent two weeks polishing the game?' No? Then go back and polish the game."
Devine saved some particular vitriol for games that use virtual joysticks. "What you are saying when you put a virtual dual D-pad and you obscure those pixels is 'my game is better with a joystick,' but the iPad doesn't come with a joystick, so why did you do that? Successful games on the iPad do not have virtual D-pads."
He also noted that you must realize your game will be interrupted frequently by notifications. "Think about the fact that I can be interrupted at any point whatsoever by all sorts of things."
Don't spend too much effort making a game realistic. "It's okay to cut corners in games because games are not set in realistic environments," says Devine. On the other hand, "If a game tells me I'm driving 200 miles an hour it better feel like that -- delight your player with feedback."
In his conclusion, Devine urged the audience "above all else, make something fantastic! It's easy to say, isn't it? The games industry is the best industry in the world. There is nothing better than making something that entertains someone else interactively."