September 25, 2012, 8:30 AM — As a so-called 'core gamer' it's been a bit discouraging seeing smartphone and tablet gaming take off, seemingly at the expense of console titles. For instance at the Tokyo Game Show, which ended this past weekend, over 70% of the games on display were for mobile. Check out a breakdown of IGN's figures over at Kotaku.
My beef with mobile games (for the duration of this post I'm using 'mobile' as shorthand for 'smartphone and tablet' and I'm not including games for handheld gaming devices like the Nintendo 3DS or Playstation Vita) isn't that they're mobile per se. A great game is a great game and the platform is irrelevant. My problem is with the controls of mobile games. I just don't find swiping the screen to be a compelling gaming experience, and virtual joysticks are generally crap. I want to see the game I'm playing without my big fat fingers being in the way. It's the controls that often prevent clever mobile games from being great games.
Check out this video of a recent iOS game, Lili. It's a beautiful game and shows that today's mobile devices have the horsepower to offer great gaming experiences. The trailer makes the game seem really promising until about the 1:40 mark when we see the first real action and yup, another swipe-fest.
Anyway a lot of companies are trying to solve this problem by creating accessories that give your device real controls. For a tiny solution check out the iMpulse on Kickstarter. Assuming this project gets funded it'll be a wireless controller designed to act as a keychain fob when not in use. It's got a single circle-pad and 4 face buttons, and via an app it doubles as a way to locate your keys from your phone. Oh yeah, and it can act as a remote control for your camera app to boot.
iMpulse is supposed to support both iOS and Android and it promises an awful lot for a little bit of money (via Kickstarter you can secure one for $30); check out the page for all the promised features.
Another solution is the PowerA's Moga Game Controller. This one is a bit more elaborate and sorry iOS users, it's Android only. The Moga has two analog sticks, 4 face buttons and two shoulder buttons. It's about the size of a standard gaming console controller and is designed so that a phone can be mounted onto the controller, turning the two into something that looks like a handheld gaming console.
The Moga is more expensive ($50) and less portable than the iMpulse but may resonate better with core gamers, particularly those who want to game on their Android phones since the issue of how to prop up the phone while holding the controller is solved.
Both the iMpulse team and PowerA offer an SDK that developers can use to build in support for these devices. iMpulse claims its controller already works with hundreds of games and that they're constantly adding more. In a post at VentureBeat PowerA name dropped Gameloft, Atari, Namco Bandai, Sega, and Remedy Entertainment as companies supporting their controller. (Keep in mind that some Android games natively support controllers and I'd expect those would also work with the Moga).
iMpulse should be here sometime over the winter. Their Kickstarter page suggests backers will get their iMpulses in February 2013 but it seems to be the nature of Kickstarter projects that they always take longer than anticipated.
The Moga arrives at retailers on October 21st.
Give me a good physical controller and HDMI out on my mobile device and I promise to stop whining about mobile gaming, their controls and the apparent 'brain drain' as developers skip consoles and go right for the app markets. I'm not sure either the iMpulse or the Moga will be the ultimate solution but it's good to see progress being made.
Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.