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Tilt or touch – iPhone game controls?

Sheepteroids is shaping up nicely, with the control systems and UI just about done and we’re now in the process of swapping out placeholders for final graphics and working through the level designs.

One big design decision we’ve had to think a lot about though is the user interface, and specifically the input controls. On a console you tend to have a joypad, for PC/Mac most games the mouse and/or keyboard but an touch screen device like the iPhone requires a very different approach.

For an arcade style game like Sheepteroids there are essentially 2 options – use the accelerometer so the player controls the game by tilting the device (and tapping the screen for actions like shooting) or display “soft button” on screen to form a virtual d-pad.

Both options have their pros and cons, and many gamers prefer one method over the other. So which is the best option to choose?

Well, since the preference is such a personal choice the best option is obviously to enable both and allow the player to choose from an options screen, so that’s exactly what we’ve done.

Personally I love the accelerometer. The analogue control means you can be much more precise with your input, although there is no doubting it is harder to learn and master. It also took a lot of testing and tweaking to get he sensitivity just right – too twitchy and the spaceship zipped around and was hard to control, too slow and the game felt sluggish and boring. Ideally you’re trying to find the “Goldilocks” setting – the one that is “just right”.

We did however end up using a soft button for the thurst control though, even in tilt mode. Too many of our testers found that tilting for thrust was just too fiddly, and they ended up tilting the screen so much it became hard to see. Having thrust as he whole left side of the screen though, and fire on the right, means a nice natural hand position with just the thumbs tapping which makes the game comfortable and intuitive to play.

Soft buttons on iPhone game

A very early rough test of the on screen "soft buttons"

Should have the latest version of the graphics back from the artist early next week so I’ll post again with some pics. In the meantime, for any developers reading this who are working on their own games, I strongly recommend giving users the option of choosing their control methods – it might be a little extra work, but it’s worth the effort!

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