WHAT WE’VE LEARNED ABOUT MAKING MOBILE SHOOTERS… SO FAR.

In 2012, we set out on a mission, easiest summarized as mobile to the core. We make games for core-gamers, built from the ground up for mobile platforms. We’ve had a year to reflect on our latest learnings and steer the development on our third major release.

Our aim is to take one of the most popular game genres – first person shooter (FPS) – and bring it to the mobile devices that are everyone’s constant companion, and for many, their primary gaming platform.

The challenges for this ambition are huge, but so are the opportunities.

The challenges:

  • The giant mobile gaming audience is quite diverse. It includes core gamers, but also a lot of other flavors of gamers. 
  • Game sessions on mobile have to reward short sessions, but also be rewarding to players who want to go deep down the rabbit hole. 
  • The number of inputs on a mobile touch screen is basically limited to the number of thumbs on a gamer. That’s a much smaller number than the buttons available on a console controller or keyboard. [Fig 1]
  • The mobile screen, while dense with pixels, is a lot smaller physically than your computer monitor or TV. 
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The opportunities:

  • Deliver core gameplay to a really, really giant and global audience.
  • Define the FPS standard on mobile. Yep seven years in and this is still not done.
  • Ship a best-in-class game with a team of dozens instead of hundreds.

What does ″building for mobile″ mean? It means using the interface native to the platform. In the case of shooters, doing something better than porting over the 16 input controller interface developed for consoles. Players should get a better experience with controls that use the touch screen they already know. And for mobile players new to shooters, deliver controls that are intuitive.

Simplifying shooter controls requires a fine balance. Complexity is not a bad thing when it is an enabler for skill-based play. But when it crosses the line and overloads a players’ ability to be successful it’s a turn-off. Dual sticks in shooters, whether that’s on a touch screen or with a controller, require the player to use their two thumbs to control both looking and moving, and then every action beyond those has to be an additional input. Those extra inputs on a touch screen are a real challenge for most players.

With the first game, Midnight Star, we started with simplifying movement. Let the player concentrate on choosing targets, aiming, and firing, and have the game move the player along a rail.

 Midnight Star prioritized shooting over movement, and not surprisingly, players wanted more control over movement.

Midnight Star prioritized shooting over movement, and not surprisingly, players wanted more control over movement.

Midnight Star prioritized shooting over movement, and not surprisingly, players wanted more control over movement.

The other key feedback was what players valued most, the top of the pyramid of skill, is the ability to aim effectively, and the feeling of mastery in quickly acquiring targets. Renegade’s scheme of pinching to lock on and choose the next target decreased the complexity of manually aiming, but introduced a mental complexity of figuring out which target the targeting system will select for you. By taking some direct control away from the player, we made it more difficult to predict what a specific action would do. Balancing the removal of control complexity with the ability to predict what certain actions will do is something that still needs work. Retaining the reward of skill based play while reducing control complexity is a major goal of ours.

Renegade has more movement control than Midnight Star. Aiming is simple – pinch to select a target – but learning how the system really worked took some time .

 Renegade has more movement control than Midnight Star. Aiming is simple – pinch to select a target – but learning how the system really worked took some time.

Renegade has more movement control than Midnight Star. Aiming is simple – pinch to select a target – but learning how the system really worked took some time.

The final ingredient in providing the mobile FPS mobile players are looking for is PvP. Shooters are most fun with other people, no matter how subtle your AI. 

So, what are we working on now? Version 3 of mobile to the core. Yes, a new game that reflects all we’ve learned. A game that we are already having so much fun playing. And a game that gets back to the basics of, “Kill your enemies, kill your friends’ enemies… kill your friends”!

Much remains to be done – to be continued…