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Interview: Indies Weigh In On iPad's Magic Factor

Gamasutra spoke with indie game developers behind Spider, Minigore, Earth Dragon, and Critter Crunch about Apple's latest hype device, the iPad -- and feelings weren't quite as "magical" as Steve Jobs might hope.
[Gamasutra spoke with indie game developers behind Spider, Minigore, Earth Dragon, and Critter Crunch about Apple's latest hype device, the iPad -- and feelings weren't quite as "magical" as Steve Jobs might hope.] Apple chief exec Steve Jobs touted the newly-unveiled Apple iPad tablet as something more intimate than a computer, even borderline supernatural -- or as he put it more than once during yesterday's briefing, "magical." But while game makers in general seem to appreciate and even take part in the enthusiasm and the hyperbole that swirls around the typical Apple product announcement, they have practical questions, even doubts, about the iPad. What about the cost of making games for the iPad? Will the gaming audience be there? Who exactly is the audience? Will it facilitate new types of gameplay? Is this thing just, as some suggest, a giant iPod Touch or iPhone? We surveyed iPhone indie game makers on the new device, and while the excitement was there, it was tempered by real-world concerns. "The iPad is exciting, but it doesn't strike me as 'must have,' not to the extent the iPod and iPhone were," says Randy Smith, co-owner of Tiger Style games and the designer behind the Independent Games Festival Mobile nominee Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor. However, he speculated, "If I'm wrong, and the install base is huge and hungry for games, then that's an exciting opportunity for us game developers. The iPad is positioned closer to a gaming console than any other Apple device, and it makes higher production values possible with its larger screen and other technical specs." Smith notes that the usage of the iPad, with its 9.7 inch multi-touch screen, will be markedly different from the iPhone from a gaming perspective. He expects "more thoughtful, sit-down play," allowing developers to create touch-enabled games that are more than time-killers for use in the grocery store checkout lane. "We can explore a wider range of concepts," with the iPad, he says. The sheer size of the iPad can also give game makers more space for design, says Kimmo Vihola, managing director at Mountain Sheep, developer of the popular iPhone and iPod Touch game Minigore. Local multiplayer is one element that a few developers already have in mind. "Where iPad may just seem like a giant iPod at first, it actually opens up a host of new possibilities for gaming," he says. "It is going to be great for some of the more casual concepts as the bigger screen makes locally-shared experiences more accessible--imagine gathering around the iPad for board or trivia games." He adds, "Also, on the iPod you needed to design for simplicity to keep the visual elements both readable and accessible. The iPad makes it possible to put a lot more detail in and together with better handling of large, sweeping gestures, makes genres such as real-time strategy really come to life." Chaim Gingold, the former Spore team member who released the charming App Store game Earth Dragon, says he has high hopes for the larger touch screen. "The iPhone multi-touch, honestly, was a little disappointing to me as a designer after having played with some larger scale systems, like the perceptive pixel one," he admitted. "Hopefully we can do some more multiple users on the same device multi-touch, see what we're doing, and have more room for playing with stuff. That should be fun to design for, and hopefully lead to some fun software." Vihola expects that with the price being so competitive with netbooks, Apple is shooting for a wide audience, one that he thinks will "undoubtedly" have a significant impact on the App Store market as a whole. But while such excitement about the possibilities of gameplay and widening audiences are present among indie developers, there is still that shadow of apprehension, even some jadedness about App Store development, brought on by none other than the iPhone and iPod Touch themselves. "I'm a bit hesitant about making big statements about the 'revolutionary gaming possibilities' that the iPad may or may not offer for designers," says Kris Piotrowski, creative director and founder of Critter Crunch developer Capy. "When the iPhone and iPod Touch came out, I was absolutely nuts about what the device could do, and what types of games I'd be able to make and play on it." "But I've had the iPhone since day one and I've downloaded around 200 different games on it, and I'm pretty jaded when it comes to games based on touch controls, and games created for a 99 cents-$2.99 marketplace. I hate nearly every app I own, so the idea of playing bigger, more 'touchy-er' iPhone apps on a shinier iPad isn't incredibly appealing to me at the moment. It's still appealing, but not drooling-type appealing." But even somewhat iPhone-jaded indies like Piotrowski can't resist the magnetism of a sleek Apple product. "If the touch controls are actually much more responsive, then the possibilities for game creation are quite exciting. Plus it's so shiny and it has an Apple logo on it, so they had me at 'Hello,' basically." Maybe Jobs really does know a little bit of magic. [UPDATE: Gamasutra has posted an extensive new feature with more impressions from iPhone game makers, from indie to mainstream.]

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