The lights are on
E3 isn’t typically a thriving playground for mobile titles, and this year wasn’t much different. Square Enix offered only a small, cramped row of five iPads for its headline title, Deus Ex: The Fall. EA squirreled away its entire catalog far off the show floor in the JW Marriott, a fifteen minute walk from the Los Angeles Convention Center. The games weren’t the highlight of my mobile experience (though there were some good ones), it was the hardware that got me most excited.
I spent time with two manufacturers that are working hard to bridge the gap between home console experiences and those offered by dedicated portable gaming systems. For iOS, I had the chance to speak with the makers of the Bladepad. This slim-profile device is small enough to fit in one’s pocket. Currently, 50 games are supported, including inXile’s The Bard’s Tale, Wayforward’s Shantae: Risky’s Revenge, and Halfbot’s The Blocks Cometh.
The Bladepad offers zero latency and 18 hours of battery life, and the device is sure to get a bump thanks to iOS 7’s gamepad integration. This also means that new competition is coming.
Last year, I had the chance to test out the first MOGA pocket controller for Android. The small device wasn't the most comfortable, but it certainly increased the viability of shooters and other twitch-based genres in the mobile space. Since then, the company has been innovating and refining for comfort, with a new Pro model and upcoming devices that serve as a battery backup for your phone.
Testing the MOGA Pro last week, which now also supports Windows 8 Phones, was a surprisingly satisfying experience. I played a game of Madfinger Games' Dead Trigger, successfully dodging around the oncoming undead with ease. Headshots were no problem, and the MOGA Pro was extremely responsive. The company is also working on compatibility with iOS devices, and I'm eager to see how experiences on my iPhone and iPad are improved.
Control pad support would further enhance two of the more exciting games I saw at the show. In speaking with Andrew Spinks (creator of Terraria) and David Welch (the iOS version's producer), it was clear that the conversion to touchscreen controls has been painstaking.
In order to deal with a diminished level of precision, an auto-jump has been added, as has the console version's auto cursor for digging and chopping. Crafting has been revamped to make it easier for players to identify necessary ingredients and apparatus. The day/night cycle has been sped, and monster spawns and stats are being tweaked to support a more casual play style.
Because of memory limitations, the generated worlds are likely to be smaller, though the specific sizes are still being figured out. The iOS version will support local multiplayer, Game Center, and Facebook screenshot sharing. Android and Windows Phone versions are being considered. Again, a gamepad would help alleviate some of the precision issues faced by fat fingers on a touch device.
The other mobile title that caught my eye at E3 is Zynga's new "Speed MOBA," Solstice Arena. If you've ever played League of Legends and hoped for a faster experience with less farming and more player-vs-player interaction, this one is worth investigating.
Solstice Arena is a free-to-play title, and it operates much like League of Legends and others in the genre. Real money can be used to unlock heroes and costumes, but more casual players can simply jump and use one of the rotating slate of heroes for free.
Matches play quickly, lasting between 10 and 15 minutes, as players scramble to take out the opposing team to power down towers. Once vulnerable, these are quickly destroyed. While Solstice Arena doesn't need gamepad support, having played Monolith's Guardians of Middle Earth, I can see how some players might prefer it.
With controller integration becoming more prevalent in the mobile space, genres that were previously cumbersome might get new life. Shooters have been attempted, but it's only thanks to a gamepad that they have a chance at success. The big news in mobile out of E3 wasn't new games, but the better ways we can play them.