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    SpellTower

    Game » consists of 2 releases. Released Nov 17, 2011

    A word puzzle game for iOS, Android, and Mac. Swipe letters to create words in four gameplay modes.

    The Path to Better Touch Controls

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    patrickklepek

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    Edited By patrickklepek
    Spelltower is an incredibly addictive word puzzler for iOS with an equally terrific touch interface.
    Spelltower is an incredibly addictive word puzzler for iOS with an equally terrific touch interface.

    "I'm not a scientist," declared SpellTower developer Zach Gage during his afternoon session at the Game Developers Conference.

    He's done very little research, too. Instead, Gage has made a bunch of games, played a bunch of games, and was now here to tell a bunch of developers how to do make better touch controls.

    Despite what you might assume, Gage's "Controls You Can Feel: Putting Tactility Back Into Touch Controls" talk was not 30 minutes of Gage railing against developers using virtual buttons.

    (He thinks Super Crate Box works pretty well.)

    The key to good controls, whether touch or physical, is player confidence. When the player employs controls in the game, the controls need to work. Developers have to aim for their controls to work 100% of the time, not 80% of the time. "Good enough" is a common standard in iOS development, and Gage argued the remaining 20% is key to success--yes, even commercially.

    Gage pointed to one of the industry's most imitated games: Super Mario Bros. Even if a user has never played Super Mario Bros. before, it only takes a tiny bit of experimentation before everything clicks. When the player presses A, Mario jumps. When the player presses right on the d-pad, Mario moves right. He doesn't jump 80% of the time, and he doesn't run 80% of the time. He runs and jumps 100%. It works.

    "When players make gestures or moves, those things should feel good," said Gage.

    He pointed to the most successful iOS games: Angry Birds, Plants vs. Zombies, Fruit Ninja, Cut the Rope, Canabalt, Flight Control. All of these games feature controls that are are not just "good enough." They work what at least feels like 100% of the game, which ties into player confidence. Good controls create happy, experimental players.

    "Games with unique controls tend to have more success," he said.

    Most iOS successes, he pointed out, were games with great controls or copies of game with great controls.

    The term underscoring Gage's talk was proprioception. No, I hadn't heard of proprioception before, either.

    Virtual buttons in your game aren't bad, but make sure they do what players think they will.
    Virtual buttons in your game aren't bad, but make sure they do what players think they will.
    "proprioceptive |ˌprōprēəˈseptiv|
    relating to stimuli that are produced and perceived within an organism, esp. those connected with the position and movement of the body."

    Proprioception is why game controllers work at all. It's the reason you don't have to stare down at a controller after a few minutes with a game sporting intuitive controls--proprioception informs your ability to stare at a screen with full knowledge of how your hands are interacting with the controller.

    This is a delicate dance between the game, the controller, and the player.

    "There's a reason that the Jaguar sucked," he said. "You have to look at it [the controller] all the time."

    When game controls create a rift between the player's mind and body, prompting them to look down at the controller, it creates issues. Gage pointed to Geometry Wars on an Xbox 360 versus an iPhone or iPad. It's a dual stick shooter on both platforms, but on a console, there's a controller with two physical analog sticks. On Apple's devices, these same sticks are approximated by your right and left thumb. When you lift your thumb, you have to establish the virtual analog stick all over again, and shifting the ship's direction requires awkward repositioning of the thumb. Blargh.

    This is a situation of "good enough."

    "Instead of a situation where we understand everything intuitively, we have to think about it," he said. " [...] Designing for touch interfaces is more than just assigning what key or button."

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    patrickklepek

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    #1  Edited By patrickklepek
    Spelltower is an incredibly addictive word puzzler for iOS with an equally terrific touch interface.
    Spelltower is an incredibly addictive word puzzler for iOS with an equally terrific touch interface.

    "I'm not a scientist," declared SpellTower developer Zach Gage during his afternoon session at the Game Developers Conference.

    He's done very little research, too. Instead, Gage has made a bunch of games, played a bunch of games, and was now here to tell a bunch of developers how to do make better touch controls.

    Despite what you might assume, Gage's "Controls You Can Feel: Putting Tactility Back Into Touch Controls" talk was not 30 minutes of Gage railing against developers using virtual buttons.

    (He thinks Super Crate Box works pretty well.)

    The key to good controls, whether touch or physical, is player confidence. When the player employs controls in the game, the controls need to work. Developers have to aim for their controls to work 100% of the time, not 80% of the time. "Good enough" is a common standard in iOS development, and Gage argued the remaining 20% is key to success--yes, even commercially.

    Gage pointed to one of the industry's most imitated games: Super Mario Bros. Even if a user has never played Super Mario Bros. before, it only takes a tiny bit of experimentation before everything clicks. When the player presses A, Mario jumps. When the player presses right on the d-pad, Mario moves right. He doesn't jump 80% of the time, and he doesn't run 80% of the time. He runs and jumps 100%. It works.

    "When players make gestures or moves, those things should feel good," said Gage.

    He pointed to the most successful iOS games: Angry Birds, Plants vs. Zombies, Fruit Ninja, Cut the Rope, Canabalt, Flight Control. All of these games feature controls that are are not just "good enough." They work what at least feels like 100% of the game, which ties into player confidence. Good controls create happy, experimental players.

    "Games with unique controls tend to have more success," he said.

    Most iOS successes, he pointed out, were games with great controls or copies of game with great controls.

    The term underscoring Gage's talk was proprioception. No, I hadn't heard of proprioception before, either.

    Virtual buttons in your game aren't bad, but make sure they do what players think they will.
    Virtual buttons in your game aren't bad, but make sure they do what players think they will.
    "proprioceptive |ˌprōprēəˈseptiv|
    relating to stimuli that are produced and perceived within an organism, esp. those connected with the position and movement of the body."

    Proprioception is why game controllers work at all. It's the reason you don't have to stare down at a controller after a few minutes with a game sporting intuitive controls--proprioception informs your ability to stare at a screen with full knowledge of how your hands are interacting with the controller.

    This is a delicate dance between the game, the controller, and the player.

    "There's a reason that the Jaguar sucked," he said. "You have to look at it [the controller] all the time."

    When game controls create a rift between the player's mind and body, prompting them to look down at the controller, it creates issues. Gage pointed to Geometry Wars on an Xbox 360 versus an iPhone or iPad. It's a dual stick shooter on both platforms, but on a console, there's a controller with two physical analog sticks. On Apple's devices, these same sticks are approximated by your right and left thumb. When you lift your thumb, you have to establish the virtual analog stick all over again, and shifting the ship's direction requires awkward repositioning of the thumb. Blargh.

    This is a situation of "good enough."

    "Instead of a situation where we understand everything intuitively, we have to think about it," he said. " [...] Designing for touch interfaces is more than just assigning what key or button."

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    BonzoPongo

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    #2  Edited By BonzoPongo

    spelltower is awesome

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    mustachioeugene

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    #3  Edited By mustachioeugene

    show me on the doll where the controls touched you...

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    IAmNotBatman

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    #4  Edited By IAmNotBatman

    @mustachioeugene: Joystick?

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    DeeGee

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    #5  Edited By DeeGee

    @Methodis said:

    are we going to get any actual content this week

    Well it's monday ...

    So I'm going to bet no. I mean, all the content comes out on a monday usually. Why would this week be any different?

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    Insectecutor

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    #6  Edited By Insectecutor

    Great article, more of this

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    fobwashed

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    #7  Edited By fobwashed

    I remember playing Lair with the sixaxis controls. The 180 turn worked way less than 80% of the time. I stopped playing, which was too bad because I heard you fought a mountain at the end of the game.

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    Humanity

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    #8  Edited By Humanity

    @DeeGee: up until your post I was convinced today is in fact tuesday..

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    agikamike

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    #9  Edited By agikamike

    Seems like the best thing for proprioception on tablets and phones is using titl controls. I've also seen short form games with, say, 20 second levels become popular because if the controls DO fuck up that 20% of the time, at least it's only 20 seconds lost.

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    iamjohn

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    #10  Edited By iamjohn

    It's an excellent point and one of the main reasons why I don't like most iPhone games. Most developers need to learn how to design games around a control method that works and go from there rather than building the game and figuring out how it controls later; that's what leads to them controlling poorly, when they realize they have to figure out how to cram every single interface idea and control scheme into a buttonless touch screen. Hell, I get pissed every time Drop7 screws me over by putting a piece in the wrong well, and that's a game that should hypothetically control perfectly.

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    deactivated-5e49e9175da37

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    @patrickklepek: I appreciate the work you do Patrick, don't let these douches frustrate you.

    The theory behind control is probably the most important one in games, because the core, reductionist definition of video games is input that results in feedback. Every company focuses on feedback, it takes someone thinking years ahead to consider input.

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    MordeaniisChaos

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    #12  Edited By MordeaniisChaos

    I agree with the core idea but disagree with Mario as an example. Correct me if I'm wrong but Mario usually didn't just jump, he jumped higher the longer you held it. Something that as a gamer who started with duke nukem 3D and doom, I could never quite get down and never felt confident with the jumping and the momentum of running. I love those games, I loved playing Rayman origins with my friends. But those aren't intuitive games to those who grew up without them.

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    TyCobb

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    #13  Edited By TyCobb

    This is exactly why I own a Kinect, yet never use it for actual gaming (Although, Steel Battalion may fix that). Speech controls, awesome. Motion controls, awful. Still waiting for a good Kinect game with great controls.

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    drjota

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    #14  Edited By drjota
    No Caption Provided
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    Video_Game_King

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    #15  Edited By Video_Game_King

    @patrickklepek said:

    "There's a reason that the Jaguar sucked," he said.

    Bullshit! Surely, he can find more than a reason that the Jaguar sucked.

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    Claude

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    #16  Edited By Claude

    There's a reason why people who play a lot of traditional games didn't like the Wii. When you take a traditional game and try and shoehorn it into a motion device, it just feels alien, plus most of the time it's not 100%. And you know the saying, you can't beat 100%. See above.

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    MisterMouse

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    #17  Edited By MisterMouse

    Enjoying these GDC write ups.

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    ExcessDan

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    #18  Edited By ExcessDan

    The best touch controls are no touch controls.

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    kosayn

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    #19  Edited By kosayn

    Virtual buttons will be good when I can feel them and they feel like a button. But we're more or less talking Holodeck at that point, right? I could be off, but I don't think Haptics get us that far.

    Until then, I don't see why iPhone games can't just be designed to suit the great control method they already have. I already have any number of portables that can play Mario better, and for the most part console style games still aren't as good on them for other reasons. The small screen, for example.

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    fobwashed

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    #20  Edited By fobwashed

    I read the title and thought this article was about this
    http://www.theverge.com/2012/3/5/2847418/skin-stretch-controller-video-game-feedback
    I'm interested in seeing where this tech goes

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    xpgamer7

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    #21  Edited By xpgamer7

    I wrote a blog on better control schemes in games, but this puts the actual controls(which I only touched on) in perspective. Also new word!

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    Retodon8

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    #22  Edited By Retodon8

    It seems I am the only one not impressed by this talk, which surprises me. The title "The Path to Better Touch Controls" suggest a solution, or at least a direction, but the conclusion is that we have to think about it. Well, that's not particularly informative...

    I have to admit I knew the word proprioception, but if you've ever thought about your senses consciously, you should already be familiar with the concept at least.

    Otherwise the main point of this talk was apparently: the controls need to work as you expect them to for a game to be good. Didn't everyboy who played a game with bad controls figure that out already? Isn't it immediately obvious what the problem is with virtual analogue sticks after you've played a few games with them? Gage says games with good controls are succesful, but again the other way around, basically the same thing here, does it surprise any gamer that games with bad controls are not?

    Super Meat Boy is hard, but because the controls are right, it's still a good game. Of course there are examples where the difficulty comes from having the fight the controls, at least at first: QWOP, Enviro-Bear, and Octodad). But those games actually embrace that as a core gameplay mechanic. Of course that doesn't mean they are not still frustrating at times.

    According to Gage games with unique controls tend to have more success, which I didn't know. I'm curious which games he has in mind. Hopefully there will be a video of this talk somewhere.

    @Fobwashed said:

    I read the title and thought this article was about this http://www.theverge.com/2012/3/5/2847418/skin-stretch-controller-video-game-feedback I'm interested in seeing where this tech goes

    That is interesting; thanks for the link!

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    ProfessorEss

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    #23  Edited By ProfessorEss

    There is another level to this though. Practice.

    Most of us have been playing games with traditional inputs (controller, k/m) for years so when we pick up a controller we are instantly comfortable. We already have such an intimate knowledge of the controller that even if a game has different, strange or even bad controls we can adjust pretty quickly to whatever they put in front of us. But for some reason I feel most people pick up an iPad, Wii-mote or Kinect and expect to feel as natural with this as they feel with controller, despite never having used anything like it.

    For example: I'll be the first to admit that Kinect is FAR from flawless. However, after extensive use I have learned what it's looking for (most of the time). I can't tell you how many times I've seen people try and get Kinect to recognize them by floppily waving their arms about, after a few tries they chalk it up to Kinect's shortcomings. I, on the other hand, as a result of practice know that a simple stiff-armed, left-right-left will get it every time.

    Granted these guys have to start making better software, but even when/if they do nothing is 100% intuitive and people are still going to have to spend time with these news input devices before they feel comfortable with them.

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    sirdesmond

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    #24  Edited By sirdesmond

    I'm glad this guy is spreading his knowledge because there is nothing worse than a good iOS or Android game with terrible controls and because Spelltower is awesome.

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    RobertOrri

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    #25  Edited By RobertOrri

    All Apple has to do is release a controller with a few buttons and maybe an analog stick. If such hardware became standard, I could see iOS games becoming better than ever.

    I really hate the virtual buttons in Super Crate Box.

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    jmfinamore

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    #26  Edited By jmfinamore

    @Kosayn: There is a technology where you can mimic texture by just changing the charge of the touch screen.

    Turns out it's called TeslaTouch. Here's a video by the group that made it which explains how it works/what it does. Ever since I heard of this, I've really wanted to see where it will go, because it sounds awesome.

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    probablytuna

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    #27  Edited By probablytuna

    Outside of a few games like Cut The Rope, I haven't really been able to get into mobile games. Perhaps when they fix the control issues they might attract more audiences. Alright, back to Draw Something.

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