Jump! Jump! Come on, jump! No, not that! Argh! On mobile devices, touch controls are frustrating at times. We try so hard to get used to them, but they simply don’t work for some games. We might have to do two things at once or our hands get in the way of the action because we have to press right in the middle of the screen. Who thought this was a good idea? Additionally, motion controls have recently emerged as well, using the motions of our hands and body instead of the typical button presses on a controller. Will these alternate methods of controlling games threaten the traditional controller? Will the traditional controller someday be replaced?
The touch screen, popularized by smartphones and tablets, introduced touch controls to the gaming scene. On the devices in our pocket and in our backpack, we’ve all played games like Words with Friends and Angry Birds, the most popular mobile games of all time. We have down time at some point during the day, and we need something quick to play. These games work perfectly fine for that purpose. Grab the device, load the app, and here we go.
When we play these games, we’re never struggling to do what we need to do on the screen. It’s natural and something that doesn’t require multiple inputs from us to play the game. We just simply slide one finger on the screen to slingshot our angry birds across the stage or hold down a letter and drag it to the game board to make a word. They are one input type games, and this is why they work better than other games. They are made to be simple, and anyone can pick them up and play.
Another example of a game built for touch controls is Infinity Blade II. Released on iOS at the end of 2011, the game has impressive graphics and presentation and allows players to slash, block, and dodge against their enemies simply by touching the screen. If we need to block, we just hold our finger down on the shield icon. If we need to slash, we just swipe our finger across the screen, and the sword does the rest. It works great, and I had no problems pulling off all these moves. When it’s a simple game like this, and we are only doing one thing at a time, touch controls work the best. One of the downsides, however, is that the player cannot freely move around and explore this gorgeous landscape. While I am able to move the camera and see what’s around my character, player movement is done automatically by the game, making it more of a point-and-click adventure with hack-and-slash elements. The experience is not as massive as a console game because of the limitations with the touch controls. Yet, that’s fine because if the game did allow movement, the experience would have been a bit sloppy and more difficult to play. It would probably require multiple inputs from the player, and that’s a no no when it comes to touch controls.
Which brings us to games like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, a title from a traditional console and once played with a traditional controller. It’s one of the games that does not work well with touch controls because of this reason. This version of the popular, open-world flashback to the 80s requires multiple input from the player, making the controls difficult to get down and just plain awkward at times. While it looks and runs great on iOS, the game definitely is best played with a controller in hand. When playing this game on a console, we actually had a physical thumbstick and the physical buttons that weren’t directly on the screen where the action is. Playing the game on both my iPhone and iPad, I found myself able to control what I was doing for the most part, but the virtual controls are simply not as solid as holding a controller. It’s trying to emulate a traditional control scheme that is simply not built for a touch device, and this is why it does not work. The game is simply too ambiguous for these types of devices, and it’s not even close to the same experience I had on the PS2 and Xbox.
Thus, traditional games like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City that are released on mobile devices are going to suffer with the integration of touch controls and are best left on consoles, otherwise it’s going to be an unpleasant experience for the player. This does not happen with games like Angry Birds and Infinity Blade II because they are not too overwhelming and making the player do too much at one time. If it’s more than one input, it’s going to be messy.
Another method of controlling games, which is less threatening if it’s done with a controller, is motion controls. The current generation of consoles introduced this with the Wiimote on Nintendo’s Wii, Move on the Sony’s PS3, and Kinect on Microsoft’s 360. A few years back, when the Wii was selling like hotcakes, I had the opportunity to play Wii Sports with a friend. This was a game that came with every Wii and was created to show off what motion controls were capable of. Overall, the experience was fun but different. It was great to see my hand’s movement reflected on the screen, even though it was not perfect. To be honest, bowling has never been my forte. Also, I was still holding something in my hand, and I did not have to do an extensive amount of movement to get a response with the Wiimote. This, ultimately, is less threatening than full on motion controls like Kinect.
Looking to the future, all next-generation consoles will have physical controllers. They will all have something we can hold in our hands when playing our games. While touch screens are just screens, they still have their place in the gaming industry as long as the games for them are built with touch controls in mind. Ambiguous games work better on consoles because the controller is made for them. It gives us complete control of the game in front of us, and it’s always responsive with the buttons we press and the direction we hold the thumbstick. Yet, touch screens are able to do things that console controllers cannot, and motion controls make for a more interactive experience, but the controller should always be there as an option. In the end, consoles have always had controllers, and tomorrow should be no different.