Mobile Mavens

Gunning for innovation: Has The Drowning changed touchscreen controls forever?

Our Mobile Gaming Mavens discuss

Gunning for innovation: Has The Drowning changed touchscreen controls forever?

The Drowning

set out to prove that it's possible to tailor an FPS specifically for play on touchscreens. However, feedback for its touch-based control set up so far has been less than positive from many.

So, we asked the Mavens

Is The Drowning proof that certain genres simply won't work on touchscreens? Should developers instead focus on games that make the most of the interface, or should there be more games like The Drowning that look to broaden mobile's horizons?

Will Luton Founder/CPO Village Studio Games Village Studio

Should there be innovation - most certainly. However, I don't think The Drowning's controls should have made it out of prototype.

Someone will crack some form of FPS-like game on a touch screen - it just may be a very different game to console or PC equivalents. That pure experience can't be replicated, I feel.

Andreas Vahsen CEO / CCO / Game Economist MachineWorks Northwest

FPS for touchscreens are perfectly possible and viable. Small doses are advised, though - the risk is high.

The current resistance to The Drowning is coming from the fact that the mainly hard core audience (the most conservative bunch) hasn't got over the touchscreen learning curve yet.

They have keyboard and mouse controls engraved in their memory banks, and the new audience of players that would never use a PC/console to play a a game isn't sick enough of the endless stream of 2D lookalike games.

This dilemma will not go away quickly - probably within 2-3 years- and I can only commend Mobage for trying to keep the flame burning.

Once the above mentioned group either comes to terms with touch controls or goes hunting for more gripping and dramatic entertainment out of boredom, the FPS will shine.

Oscar Clark Chief Strategy Officer Fundamentally Games

Oscar Clark has been a pioneer in online, mobile, and console social games services since 1998. He is also author of the book, Games As A Service – How Free To Play Design Can Make Better Games.

For me The Drowning works pretty well - but there is still room for innovation. We haven't nailed the format yet. Perhaps we are trying too hard to duplicate something that doesn't translate?

The shooting mechanic itself works really well, and I think the criticism is a little unfair. I think it genuinely recreates a sense of how I found shooting a pistol works; not the actions of course, but the effects - I've spent a little time in US gun clubs whilst on trips to conferences.

The closer I am to the target (or zoomed in with a sniper gun) the more accurate I can be. This feels good. It feels pretty consistent with a competent, trained, shooter - indeed arguably better than with a mouse/keyboard.

Of course, like many others I'm still struggling a little with the movement mechanic, which does let down the shooting side a little. I've found a technique that works for me but clicking into the distance, getting me to run ahead, then when I have enough distance between me and the Zees I press the 180 button and shoot away.

I'm still pretty early into the game, so shooting with my Glock is hard (not enough damage despite upgrading it), but the repaired hunting rifle works fine.

The pace of the game is great; intense bursts of combat lasting a few minutes with a target score and payoff at the end is almost perfect for the tablet format. It reminds me of the pace of Counter-Strike, which I loved. Intense play, pause, intense play. All good.

The access to new weapons and equipment is slow, but works well and creates a sense of purpose. However, the fuel mechanic doesn't work for me to be honest. In this form, unlike CSR Racing, it doesn't make me want to come back to the game in the next 20 mins.

I could, but probably shouldn't, spend the rest of this response writing a detailed postmortem of Ben Cousin's game, but it is worth saying that I do think his team have made a step forward in the touchscreen FPS model.

The question for me is not can we do an FPS on tablet, it's how can we make one which is better (or at least more suited to the tablet) than a mouse/keyboard or controller game.

This is a real step closer to that, and I believe nails the shooting mechanic, but we still have a way to go on the movement/targeting.

I suspect we need to use the accelerometer as well; but that's rarely worked so far. Now to go back into the game and get the parts I need to repair that car...

Keith Andrew With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font.

I have to say, I'm the opposite.

I find the movement fine in The Drowning – it's the shooting and the AI that is lacking. The game, for me, still shows promise, but just doesn't feel finished. It feels like an idea.

The bigger problem for me, however, is that I've got no great desire to play an FPS on my mobile. It reminds me of Real Racing – technically impressive, but essentially replicating a genre that I have no desire to play on mobile.

That's not what mobile is for, for me, and I don't think it's belittling the format to state that out loud. If anything, I think it's more respectful.

Dave Castelnuovo Owner Bolt Creative

I personally don't think the control mechanism is bad. I applaud the developer for trying something new.

FPS games don't work very well in general on touch devices and I think there are pros and cons to The Drowning's control scheme versus the typical duel stick scheme.

The more serious problems with FPS games in general on the iPad is that there is no sense of exploration and story like with their big brothers on the consoles. Granted, I only played through a few levels of The Drowning, but the arenas seem really small and the strategy just requires you to run in one direction for a while. do a 180 degree turn, then shoot as many monsters as possible.

Repeat until the end of the level. And the next level was in the exact same arena with the exact same monsters. An on-rails shooter would probably be more exciting.

I do think that The Drowning's control scheme would be great for an RPG, though - something that is more exploration based rather than twitchy combat.

Harry Holmwood European CEO Marvelous Europe

A 20-year veteran of video games and online space, Harry is European CEO of Marvelous AQL, a Japanese developer and publisher of social, mobile and console games, known for console games like No More Heroes and Harvest Moon, but now highly successful in the free-to-play mobile and web space in Japan and Asia.

A games programmer before joining Sony’s early PlayStation team in 1994, he then founded developer Pure Entertainment, which IPO’d and launched a free-to-play online gaming service way back in 1999.

He was also a director of pioneering motion gaming startup In2Games, which was sold to a US group in 2008.

Along the way, he’s been a corporate VP, troubleshooter, and non-exec to a variety of companies and investors in and around the games sector.

I'm certainly less outraged than I was before about them trying to patent the control system as I don't see a lot of people rushing to infringe it.

I was really hoping to be blown away by this game, and (patent attempts aside) any innovation is to be applauded, but I think there's a square peg/round hole problem with this.

FPSs were created because the mouse is such a great device to control one with - they didn't catch on in Japan because PCs were never really used to play games on until very recently. Even (and maybe just because I'm old) console controls compromise the FPS experience for me.

To me, any attempt to take a game intrinsically designed around one controller onto another is always likely to end up with a second rate experience. I don't think it's helpful to think 'how do we make a touchscreen FPS' any more than 'how do we make a Kinect spreadsheet'.

I'm sure someone will come up with a fantastic game/system which gives the user many of the same emotions as an FPS - violence, exploration, accuracy, surprise etc, but it won't be an FPS.

Dave Castelnuovo Owner Bolt Creative

Actually, I think my definition of FPS is rather loose - anything in first person with guns.

I also didn't realise our buddy Ben was seeking a patent for this mechanic. What a load of rubbish. There is no way that something like this should get a patent.

Of course developers should experiment, but they sure as hell shouldn't patent it - and I'm not quite sure that the patent office has the sense of even knowledge to know this is a complete load of crap.

First of all, it's really not at all that innovative. It's derivative of the Infinity Blade mechanic.

In Infinity Blade you have check points that you click to move, but Ben has just opened it up to be able to click anywhere in the 3d world - and I am positive that I've played many games where you click in a 3d environment and move to that location, so he didn't invent that. I

Maybe he thinks that tapping with two fingers to aim a weapon is innovative. Like Harry said, there is probably not a huge rush to infringe on this considering that a two finger tap is incredibly inaccurate. Useless even.

Jon Hare Owner Tower Studios

If you really want to start making claims on game mechanics, then you will find most of this stuff was already defined before the mid 1990s.

There have been many stupid examples of people trying to enforce ownership of things, such as arrows that point the way in driving games, etc.

The short answer is,don't go there...and if you do prepare to die.

Innovation-wise, what is the big deal with what Ben has done? Innovation should be the norm. If you can't innovate, then you shouldn't call yourself a game designer.

With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font.