A Touchy Subject

I just made a pun in the title. I’m sorry, moving on. Mobile gaming is very different from what it was when I was growing up. Back in my day, mobile games were on devices with buttons! Real buttons! The kind you could feel! None of this airy, fairy touch nonsense! You knew precisely where your fingers were, and because of this, you felt very connected to the game. Your thumb could rest right on the button without having it triggered, which also meant it was easier to hold. This is a problem with phones as gaming devices. Many of the games available, mostly action, feel like they would be better suited to a controller or mouse and keyboard. So what do you do about it? How do you make these kinds of games better on a phone, or at least as good as it can be like the games of yonder? I’m going to step through a few control schemes you can use on your games.

The Dual-Thumb Platformer is something I came up with myself but I’m sure people have used this before. In fact, I think Limbo for mobile has something similar. It’s quite a simple scheme making it perfect for platformers. Basically, the screen is divided in half. Touching the left or right sides of the screen respectively will move the player in that direction while swiping up will also activate a directional jump. There is an action button at the bottom in the middle of the screen which could be used as a generic action button for things like picking up or using an object. A to tie it all off, a simple menu dot for pausing at the top of the screen. Simple setups like this make gripping the phone easy. You could build off this model by adding a swipe down for sliding under obstacles or swipe up on both sides for a non-directional jump.

Now, there might be times where a joystick on a touch screen is just what you need. You know, for 3rd-person-shooters and whatnot. The setup looks something like the below, Analogue Stick with Action Buttons. There are many variations of this layout and it’s usually the go-to layout. Sometimes developers add way too many action buttons. You want to try and avoid that. But the real issue with this layout is, because of the lack of tactile, you can’t feel the joystick, thus you can’t sense how much power you are really applying. Couple things you can do about this. First, you could make the joystick zone smaller, increasing the sensitivity. That’s good and bad. Or, alternatively, you could build a Digital Pad with Action Buttons instead. Something a thumb could rest in the middle of with absolute power values. You might have to modify the way your game works, and it might seem a little old-fashioned, but try it and you might find it easier to use. Depending on the game, you may also want more than just four directions.

This was just a few of many, many other options and variation of those options out there. If you have other great examples you would like to share, post to our Facebook page. Just remember K.I.S.S. Keep it simple, stupid. Easy controls make for better games!