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Due to the increased popularity of the iPhone and iPod Touch platforms for gaming, developers started trying to find ways to bring major game genres to the devices. One of the biggest challenges was the complete lack of buttons, or any sort of tactile feedback from playing games on a touch screen. The most difficult genre to pull off on the iPhone was the first-person shooter, which generally makes use of a dual-joystick control style, using one joystick for movement, and the other to aim/look around.

Initial Use

 While many developers attempted to use the touchscreen for multi-directional movement, the vast majority failed to provide controls that were smooth or precise enough to be used in games that require accuracy. The first major developer to successfully implement the virtual joystick was Gameloft, who used it to critical success with their God of War clone, Hero of Sparta. The game featured the virtual joystick at the bottom left of the screen that allowed for complete 360 degree horizontal movement within the 3D game world. Surprisingly, the controls felt very natural, and the issue of not having real tactile response didn't seem to affect the gameplay.

Use in FPS Games

 While some games made attempts to emulate joystick controls on the iPhone and iPod Touch for first-person shooters, the game that "perfected" the controls (according to press surrounding the game) was Modern Combat: Sandstorm, also by Gameloft. The first major FPS release on the iPhone used a single virtual joystick at the bottom left of the screen for movement, while allowing the player to swipe anywhere on the screen to look/aim. They also allowed the player to hold down the "shoot" button while still sliding their thumb to aim at moving targets. This scheme worked surprisingly well, and is emulated in almost every modern FPS on touch screen gaming platforms to this day. 

Modern Usage

Modern games of many different genres have made good use of the virtual joystick, and response and accuracy has improved in both software and hardware advancements. A game like Geometry Wars was never thought possible on touch screen devices, yet this was one of the launch titles for the iPad! The game features dual virtual joystick controls, and plays the same as it's XBL counterparts. Currently, the virtual joystick is used in thousands of titles on both the iPhone OS, Android, and other platforms that make use of a touch screen.

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