For the past few years, every time Apple have released their sales figures for the iPhone, some bright spark has commented on how iPhones/iPod Touches are outselling the PSP and the DS. The latest of these bright sparks was none other than Steve Jobs himself. The implication being that iPhones are better for gaming than traditional handhelds, and that the iPhone is a bestselling games device.
Honestly. The only thing more staggering than that manís arrogance is just how much he resembles a testicle poking out of a turtleneck jumper.
Imagine if Flymo came out with a lawnmower that had an FM radio built in, and it was a damn good lawnmower. More of that lawnmower are sold that year than the combined sales of all FM radios. If the president of Flymo and a shitload of journalists all came out and said that lawnmowers are the future of radio, then weíd laugh. But Steve Jobs does just that, along with stupid articles like this
, and nobody bats an eyelid.
The iPhone, the iPod Touch and the iPad are not primarily gaming devices. One is a smartphone, one is an MP3 player, and the other is, well, a thing. Whereas the DS, the PSP, and all other games consoles are built with gaming in mind from the beginning, gaming is not the primary function of Appleís glossy wonders.
Iíll assume that you wonít argue with me for lumping the iPod Touch and the iPhone together in the following piece. However, before I go any further, I must explain why I wonít be covering the iPad at any great length. There are two reasons:
1) I havenít gone one.
2) I donít understand them.
Theyíre ostentatious slabs, which just look like big iPhones. So, Iím going to assume that the gaming experience that they provide is very similar to the iPhoneís. Apple fanboys, you may begin spitting bile at me.
Not Designed for Gaming
Letís take a look at the iPhone 4ís design. For starters, the speaker is at the base of the unit. Although this is a good design choice for a phone, itís not so great for a widescreen gaming device. Because of the iPhoneís shape, my hands naturally want to rest on the iPhoneís sides, but with a widescreen game this means that I often muffle the sound.
Not that holding it in any particular way is comfortable for very long. The sharp edges of the phone arenít very accommodating for gaming sessions longer than ten minutes. Iíve lost count of the hand cramps Iíve had from playing games on the iPhone, and that tingling sensation running down my arm canít be good eitherÖ
A sharp, rectangular games controller? Címon, Apple. Nobodyís done that since the NES.
I have found these peripherals, designed to make gripping the iPhone more comfortable for gamers, but they look ridiculous
. Can you imagine trying to walk around with one of those in your pocket? Any lads would have to ensure they didnít walk past a playground, or someone would get the wrong idea.
And iPhones donít have any buttons. Surely thatís a big enough clue that theyíre not gaming machines!
Pushing the Wrong Buttons
When Nintendo designed the DS, they were definitely on to something. It can add a new dimension to gaming, but solely having touch controls is very limiting. All you can do with a touchscreen is tap and swipe. Swipe and tap. Maybe even a cheeky swipe-tap.
Having such a limited set of input options will hinder a lot of genres on the iPhone. First-person shooters, for instance.
Call of Duty: World at War Zombies
is an admirable effort to bring the genre to the small, glossy screen. Although the graphics are stunning for such a small device, the game-play is unbelievably frustrating.
Due to the lack of analogue sticks and buttons, little semi-translucent circles appear on screen to approximate their functions. So, my ability to dish out zombie carnage is hindered by the fact that my chubby fingers are blocking half of my field of vision. The equivalent of this in real life would be me needing to poke myself in the eyes every time I wished to perform a basic action.
With a game that requires precision, not having actual, tangible buttons is nightmarish. Yes, the glossy screen looks shiny and lovely, and it does a remarkable job of distinguishing the iPhone from the plebsí phones, but my fingertips slipped around more than a rally car with lard for tyres.
Not all of the iPhoneís games are quite so bad, and Iíll come on to them later. But without some sort of peripheral to enable button input, the iPhoneís games will always be restricted in what they can do.
Wii Will Rock You
"Aha!" I hear you cry, "iPhones donít just rely on touchscreen input. They also have motion sensing controls for games as well." Yes, they do. Well done, have a cookie.
With the Wii and Playstation Move, you have the motion sensor in your hand while you control what happens on a separate screen. Itís another thing entirely when the sensor and the screen form the same unit, as is the case with the iPhone. If you find you have to swerve to dodge a rock in an iPhone driving game, for instance, the screen is now on an angle to you, and youíre struggling to see whatís going on. Not exactly helpful. Sword fighting games would be nigh-on impossible.
I dread to think what would happen if the iPhone really is the future of gaming. Future home games consoles would simply consist of 40-inch touch-screens with motion sensors. Whilst holding the console in your arms, you would have to shift its colossal weight in order to get the sensors to move your character. Because your hands are occupied with holding this monstrosity, you have to tap the screen by beating the unit against your chest. If this happens, Iím shunning society and joining a monastery.
What the iPhone Gets Right
The games that fare better are the ones that donít place you right there in the middle of the action; the games that embrace the simplicity of the iPhoneís control system.
Simple RTS style games and puzzle games are at home on the platform. Since hearing a recommendation for the iPhone version of Plants Vs Zombies
, I gave it a go and am addicted. Here, the controls actually feel more intuitive than they would with a joypad or mouse. Iíve now racked up hours of play time on that beautiful little app.
If this article turns out to be shit, Iím blaming that game... and Joypod
Most of the games in the App Storeís top 25 are simple and fun little items such as Doodle Jump
, Angry Birds
, and Slice It!
Thatís because of how the iPhone is used by people. Itís an on-the-go device, full of little gadgets, games, and phone contacts that you can bring up when youíre bored on the train and you canít be bothered to talk to your neighbour.
What Apple Gets Right
The App Store. How could I not mention the App Store? It has such a unique approach to games distribution. It is streamlined, hassle-free and, most importantly, it's cheap.
Instead of charging, say ten pounds for a game as happens on XBLA or PSN would, the App Store charges as little as 59p. Just this week Iíve bought the special editions of Monkey Island 1
for the bargain price of 59 pence each; on XBLA they cost 800 MS points. The gamble of charging less for games in the hope that more people buy them has really paid off
A system like this helps smaller developers. By allowing them to make smaller games to sell at budget prices, they have a little more financial security. When Free Radical broke off from making Timesplitters
to create Haze
, the company had to fold because Haze
was rubbish. With the app store, developers donít have to have a big-budget hit every time. They can instead make several smaller games. With more freedom for developers to take risks, the App Store could lead to a new era of creativity in game design.
Best of all, the iPhone has got people playing games who otherwise wouldnít. Itís all well and good being elitist dickheads who shun casual gamers, and go on about how they havenít lived if theyíve not played Ocarina of Time
but that sort of attitude isnít going to make us any friends, is it?
None of this makes Steve Jobs any less of a prat, though. Just so weíre clear on that.
The Future of Casual Gaming
Nobody will ever play a game such as Final Fantasy VII
on an iPhone. Immersive games that require 40 hours of game time arenít suited to this platform because every time you have to touch the screen, the illusion is shattered. Not to mention the chronic hand cramps you would get from 40 hours of iPhone gaming.
The iPhone and the iPad (welcome back, iPad) are not THE future of gaming. No one innovation can be THE future of gaming. I can very well see these being the future of casual gaming, but I think there will always be a place for games consoles and their lovely joypads.
The opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and does not reflect those of SPOnG.com except when it does.
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