Home > Games, My writing > The problem with touch controls (Article)

The problem with touch controls (Article)

Chrono TriggerRecently I started playing the iOS version of Chrono Trigger, the classic Super Nintendo role playing game. The port is well done, for the most part, the visuals are perhaps a little muddy but not to the extent they detract from the experience. I’m usually wary of iOS ports of games originally played with a controller but being a turn based RPG I expected the translation to touch controls to be a fairly easy one.

For those unfamiliar with the game, depending on how much exploration you do, the first half an hour or so of Chrono Trigger is fairly low on combat. As such this section of the game required use of the bane of many an iOS game, the virtual analog stick. Personally any kind of virtual replacement for physical buttons almost instantly puts me off, but in this case I was ok with it because I knew the majority of the important gameplay would not require it.

Little did I know there were a few instances were precision and speed would be needed, something that is not the virtual stick’s strong suit. The problem with virtual analog sticks, d-pads, and buttons is the lack of tactile feedback. When using an actual analog stick for example you can feel out the directions and know how much give you have based on how easy it is to move the stick and how much the stick pushes back. Current technology on smartphones and other touch devices just can’t give that kind of feedback.

In this particular case the issue could easily have been overcome with, simply by adjusting the few sections that require precise use of the analog stick to compensate. I think developers should always tailor their game to the platform. However it seems Square-Enix decided to keep the port as faithful as possible rather than change things for the sake of the platform it was porting to.

If you look at some of the most popular iOS games, they all use the unique aspects of the platform, rather than tailor an established type of gameplay to platform it wasn’t designed for. DoodleJump uses the iPhones acceleratometer (or gyro) to create an simple yet engaging take on high score orientated games. The beauty of a game like this is that it requires almost no instruction. Give someone DoodleJump for 30 seconds and they will know exactly what they’re doing. If you need a five minute tutorial to explain the ten different virtual sticks and buttons then you’ve failed in making an iOS game. You’ve made a PSP game and released it on the wrong platform.

In the case of Chrono Trigger the touch aspects added to the game just don’t work very well and are not intuitive. Menus can technically be navigated by touch but they do not react the way one would expect, in fact it is often easier to use the virtual stick to navigate them. When using a virtual stick to navigate a menu on a touch screen is the easier option, something is very wrong.

I’m not saying virtual controls can’t work, games like Dead Space managed to get the controls about as right as one could hope. Michael had no real complaints about those in the recent GTAIII port, so they can be done well. It can’t just be a case of shoving a virtual analog stick in there and hoping it all works for the best. Developers need to put a little more thought into the process than that.

Originally published on Square-Go.com

Categories: Games, My writing Tags: ,
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