Don’t panic just yet. Stay calm. But we might…we just might be in trouble.

Apples market share seems to be climbing quite unstoppably. PC sales are sluggish, tablet sales are booming. Whether the future belongs to apple or samsung, it does look like a big chunk of the future may be on tablets. Even my famously non tech-savvy gaming buddy, when told I’d been playing a ‘new’ game (portal 2) asked me immediately if he could play it on his ipad. Not his PC, his ipad.

We might be in trouble.

Ipads are perfectly good for gaming. I’ve wasted a good few hours on fieldrunners. I know some people live and die by their ipads. I think it’s a perfectly good platform. The trouble is, there is an absolutely perfect match between all the downsides of tablets, and all the demands of deep hardcore strategy gaming.

If you had to list tablet downsides as a developer, I reckon they would be small screen size, low memory, no right-click and no mouse hover. For the kind of games I make ALL of these things are a real pain. I *rely* on tooltips. I think they are awesome. I LOVE right-click menus, they are such a handy bit of functionality. And I like deep, complex games with a lot of information on the screen and a big hefty simulation that gobbles a lot of RAM.

Democracy 3, at the start of a new game has 156,000 neural connections in memory. Am I going to fit that on an ipad or an ipad 2? I doubt it. Now I know there are workarounds, some cunning retooling of GUI’s can have alternatives for tooltips and right clicks, but regardless how ‘retina’ the screens get, we aren’t looking at a 20 inch or 24 inch monitor any more, we aren’t able to assume near-pixel perfect mouse selection, and we aren’t about to get 2 gig or 4 gig of RAM in a tablet any time soon.

So that means taking a perfectly good strategy game design, which frankly any modern PC can cope with with one hand tied behind it’s back, and squeezing and compromising and squashing it to fit onto a tablet. Obviously, I don’t want to do that. Obviously, I’m not going to do that. I’m a PC gamer, through-and-through. If I wanted to compromise a PC game design because of a console, I’d go work for EA. Ahahahahahaha….

Anyway… I do worry the more tablet computers get popular. I know I’ll inevitably have to take the idea of tablet ports much more seriously in future, and I can’t help but feel that I may end up looking back at the days of windows dominance as the easy times. Maybe if I simply stick with PC-centric strategy gaming, I can carve out a big gap in an otherwise abandoned niche?

13 Responses to “Touchscreens and deep strategy games”

  1. snow says:

    The answer is obvious.. EA is having so much success at the minute with it – move the calculations serverside and make the game an always-connected-endeavour.
    (Heck, I heard their simulation was so ‘complicated’ they had to take them serverside *from a PC*)

  2. Bram says:

    Oooohhh…. off the mark, Cliff!

    Last year’s iPad has four times (1024Mb) the memory of a Sony PS3 (256Mb).
    And the GPU’s fill rate is many, many times that of the Sony’s.

    I’m pretty sure it can store and compute all the neurons you throw at it.

    And mouse-over is for Flash programmers :-)

  3. mrstarware says:

    get 2 gig or 4 gig of RAM in a tablet any time soon.

  4. SMaton says:

    Well, you can also see it this way: With the main publishers pushing more and more into the mobile market, it opens opportunities for indies to serve the niche markets on the PC even better.

  5. Michael says:

    I hope the future of gaming is not on mobiles and tablets. I’ve been playing video/computer games since the days of the Atari 2600 and I have tried mobile touchscreen games and I am not impressed. Maybe it’s us over 30s holding onto the past? If I had a choice between playing D3 on my now 6 years old Dell Dimension or a mobile/tablet, the choice would always be my PC.

  6. cliffski says:

    How long until 4 gig tablets are the norm though? Can you see all those people with an ipad 1,2,3 going out and buying a new one in the next 3-4 years? I can’t.

  7. John says:

    I agree with you Cliff, but I also believe that a number of those people who own an Apple “i” product, are the same people who buy the latest of these technologies every single time a new version is released. It’s wasteful and downright stupid, but it doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Hence Apple’s market shares climbing at such a ridiculous rate. People keep buying the same crap over and over. It makes Apple a few thousand boatloads of money and makes consumers look just downright dumb.

  8. Polyergic says:

    (Tried to post this earlier and it didn’t appear, but trying again gave a duplicate post error. Trying again without links.)

    Tablets with pens can hover, and have multiple buttons:
    (Links to videos of Samsung’s S Pen and Air View)

    There are tablets with 2GB RAM:
    (Links to lists of tablets with 2GB RAM)

    A typical tablet today is not a good gaming platform, but as tablets get more popular their specs and features are improving. I expect we’ll have gaming tablets long before tablets are more common than PCs, and those tablets will have no problem with deep hardcore strategy gaming. They might even connect to your keyboard, TV, and game controllers, potentially replacing every previous platform that doesn’t fit in your pocket.

  9. John says:

    In terms of gaming, I don’t think the full potential of the tablet has been discovered yet. Snapping on keyboards and attaching a mouse is convenient but also awkward, so you’re not going to see many grand strategy games, yet. Simulation games on the other hand, such as Simcity and Cities in Motion would probably work well on a tablet (never mind specs for the moment). I think the touch screen could be utilized properly to play these types of games with some inventive construction of a user friendly GUI. Strategy games that require use of both a mouse and keyboard would definitely require some serious though and re-tooling on the developers part though. Then there are the games such as League of Legends and StarCraft 2 that, although they are RTS’s, would not succeed (yet) as a competitive multiplayer game on a tablet. I’m not a huge fan of either game, but I know the fanbase for those games is huge and considering the need for a mouse and keyboard to play either game “properly”, I think it will be quite some time before games like this are properly adapted to the Tablet. Who knows, perhaps we’ll see drastic changes over the next year though.

  10. Josh says:

    Touchscreens are uncomfortable to use for long periods of time. That alone makes them useless for in depth strategy games that often require hours of play. And why would I want to give up my mouse, customizable keyboard shortcuts, and large monitor to play on a little touch screen covered in finger grease?

    Touch screens make sense on small portable devices because it is hard to carry a mouse and keyboard. If I’m playing a 4x or grand strategy game I’m probably not standing in line at the super market.

  11. Tau says:

    With kids – PC gaming is very difficult due to the hectic lifestyle and time constrains, so having 2 options:
    1) Notebook
    2) Tablet

    Notebook is becoming clunky, using tablet more and more for gaming…

    That’s why the trend for tablets with anyone over 30 with kids.

  12. K2 says:

    crApples market share is climbing? Where?

    iOS Smartphone market share worldwide is down to about 20% (Android about 70%), iOS tablet market share worldwide will be down under 50% this year.