Mobile or Console, the Name of the Game is the Same

Playing Oceanhorn on the new Apple TV, with a Bluetooth game controller like the SteelSeries Nimbus, feels distinctly like a traditional console gaming experience. It’s been compared to a modern Zelda title, and if you’re in the mood to explore, its large world lends itself to leaning back on the couch for a good hour or more.

What’s interesting is that you can pick up your iPhone later and continue your savegame synced over iCloud, at which point its modified-for-touch controls and mini quest structure actually turn it into a modern mobile gaming experience.

What might be undersold by a simple bullet point — “Cloud Saves” — is really significant: one game that can be played in very different contexts, made possible by having the same OS in your pocket and living room (and car, one day). It’s probably the future of gaming.

Much like how we now commonly design for the web, going mobile-first in gaming makes sense for companies looking to the players to come. That means not making the mobile bit just a simplified companion app with minigames connecting back to the “proper” console version. The level of control complexity and engagement can and should scale to the device, all within the same game.

Geometry Wars 3

Many of the guidelines for apps on the new Apple TV force developers to adapt the experience to the available controller. Geometry Wars goes from a dual-analog stick shooter on a regular gamepad to an auto-shooter when on Siri Remote, where the player only has to steer. You get what fits, but never less than the whole story.

The experience of seamlessly jumping from a phone to a 60” TV reminds me of how it felt to play the first iPhone games. I remember Crash Bandicoot, in particular, as a sign of things to come. You could get games like it on the Nintendo DS, but they weren’t downloaded over Wi-Fi in seconds, for mere dollars, or paid for electronically. It made the portable gaming systems of 2008 feel dated. And as Apple added more power, multitasking, social features, and cloud saves to iOS, the iPhone overtook them completely.

Games on the new Apple TV have more than a whiff of that to them. Even if the platform doesn’t come to dominate gaming a decade from now, I believe the winner will work and feel like it.

In a sea of diminished companies out-innovated from changes they didn’t see coming, it’s gratifying to think that Nintendo may have played their cards right with the upcoming NX. It’s rumored to be a home console with a detachable mobile device, playing games that also work with smartphones and networks from its rivals. God knows how they’ll do it, but that describes the right shape to survive: experiences designed to shift context, open to different forms of interaction (hey, even VR), ready to fill varied slices of time, long or short, in a busy user’s day.

Playing Yakuza 3, Six Years Late

I recently got a second-hand PS3 and have been buying up all the games I’d heard about for years but never had access to. Final Fantasy XIII, Heavy Rain, The Last of Us, MGS4, etc.

Yakuza 3 & 4 weren’t on the list for some reason, but when used copies appeared at Qisahn.com, I had a quick look and decided I needed them. It’s kind of a no-brainier, both being set in a virtual open world Tokyo and all. I had a pretty great time running around in the virtual Akihabara of Akiba’s Trip 2 on the PS Vita.

So far, it’s an even more faithful recreation of the atmosphere, albeit without much in the way of atmospheric sounds. They’ve retained a lot of the real world brands and shopfronts, unlike most anime (see screenshot above), and every street feels like it was modeled on a real place. One opening bit takes place on a rooftop that reminded me of the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower, with a vast open view of the city by night below, never mind that the game recreated it with a large repeating texture; it felt right!

A couple of tweets so far:

(And there’s golf with a politician. Let’s not forget about the full-fledged golf simulator built in. I’m hoping for pachinko to show up at some point.)

➟ Turning Paper to Pixels with a New Game Design Tool

From Paper to iPad, Pixel Press Turns Drawings Into Videogames
Bonnie Cha, recode.net

I loved play­ing videogames as a kid, but I can’t say that I ever spent any time sketch­ing out ideas for my own games like my broth­er and his friends did. (My doo­dles usu­al­ly involved cute ani­mals or spelling out my crush’s name in bub­ble…

The core concept is every kid’s dream: designing their own games for friends to play through, or just for the heck of it. But without some serious inspiration, what you can do in a short platformer level is very limited. I remember a D&D game maker tool for PCs in the 90s; that was infinitely better because you could create a STORY, and set up narrative funnels for your players. 20 years later, our idea of imaginative play can’t be restricted to letting kids carve out crude worlds in 3D chunks and 2D lines.

Shadow Cities: The moment a location-based game surprised me

Seth Schiesel’s effusive review for the New York Times:

If you have an iPhone, you simply must try this game. Shadow Cities isn’t just the future of mobile gaming. It may actually be the most interesting, innovative, provocative and far-reaching video game in the world right now, on any system.

I looked up at the sole approaching man, and he looked back at me. I couldn’t believe the first thought in my head: “Could he be one of them?”

I was walking up the street to my home, and had just been playing Shadow Cities when that moment, an experience of virtual world crossover that no other game had ever produced before, hit me. There are few truly new sensations in gaming each year, and that was a whopper. Giving another person in real life a nervous glance, wondering if they’re a player too, sounds like the kind of crap you might put in an ad (sure enough, it’s in Shadow Cities’ trailer), but there it was, happening to me. Sure, the Nintendo 3DS has its StreetPass feature, but the mechanics there are like a coin toss, and largely irrelevant to the games you play on it.

Shadow Cities is a freemium, competitive, GPS-based game of global warfare on a local scale. Essentially, all players are divided into two factions. After picking a side in this MMORPG-style game, you see your surroundings in the form of a glowing map; a parallel world of magic. Your goal is to work, with others if possible, to gain control of territory and harvest energy to put your faction over the top. You’re not limited to where you actually are, either. Creating a beacon will allow friends from around the world to temporarily visit your area.

The side that I picked, the science-based Architects, are total underdogs right now, forced into playing guerilla tactics against a more powerful enemy. All day, my similarly low-ranked colleague (@jeanfinds) and I had been running away from hopeless battles, trying to eke out small victories.

At the aforemention moment when I was walking home, I’d just placed two towers in the neighborhood that would help generate energy as long as no one disrupted them. I needed to protect them. When I looked up at the other man, I could feel my lizard brain actually priming itself with a fight-or-flight cocktail of apprehension and aggression.

But I won’t lie: the game has a steep but short learning curve. I installed it last night at a company dinner party at Jean’s suggestion, and only managed to fully understand its menus, unique vocabulary, and mechanics sometime this afternoon with her help. But it’s worth it. Every gamer and designer remotely interested in multiplayer experiences should try it for at least a couple of days. Level up past 5, and play it with a friend or two (I’m going to convince my office to get together and dominate the central business district), and see where the bar is for location-based games on any platform, free or paid.

There’s a lot of polish in this Finnish game. Unlike other freemium MMO titles, there aren’t long load times between views. It renders its smooth 3D graphics quickly while loading network data secondarily, much like how the iPhone appears to launch apps instantly by going straight to static screens that look like running apps. It’s all quite impressive, and I look forward to getting further with it.

Visit www.shadowcities.com