Last year we attended a talk given by FuturLab’s James Marsden, in which he said that in order for a game to be any good, you must have the controls honed to perfection, over and above anything else. This sounded like good advice to us, so when we began building Foxtrot we knew that we had to get the controls right.
Because our target platform is mobile, that means that we have to deal with touch screens. Most mobile platform games use on-screen buttons, but they just aren’t going to cut it. The problems we find are that the buttons take up valuable screen space, are tricky to position correctly on a variety of screen sizes and when navigating challenging sections of the game you can accidentally hit the wrong button, or miss it entirely. We have found a better, more elegant way!
The solution we have hit upon comes in two parts. First, we need to simplify the controls as much as possible and so Foxtrot has only 3 controls: Left, Right and Action. In terms of game design that means we have to ditch some things we had considered like ladders, platforms you could drop through and so on. The second part is to use the whole screen as input. Any taps on the left of the screen would count as Left, anything on the right as Right, and both sides together would be the Action. This is something we have not seen in a mobile platform game before.
It took a couple of days to build working prototype which we passed to a few gamers to play test. Most people had a bit of trouble for the first few minutes, but as soon as they got used to them, the controls felt very natural, and they work beautifully! To help with the acclimatisation to the the new controls, we have designed the first few levels to gently ease the player in, and we have put some concise instructions right on the start screen, so players can really hit the ground running. And Jumping. And collecting eggs.
Next Blog: Music!
Foxtrot is our upcoming platform game for iPhone, iPad and Android devices