Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Why I don't enjoy mobile gaming

Mobile gaming is all the rage. It's where the money is. It's where all the hip new games are. And by golly, it sucks.

I should like it. I love having a portable computer in my pocket to play games on. I like firing up a game while I'm sitting around waiting on something. I just don't like the games. Instead I buy all of Robert Broglia's excellent emulators, and only play ancient console games on my phone. I know this has been discussed to death, but hey, it's the internet -- what's the point of the internet if not to soliloquize into the ether?

So here I go, the main reason I don't like mobile gaming?

(And it's not the lack of control pad. I do miss a control bad, as touch controls are awful for certain genres. But this can be worked around with creative games, or with well-design onscreen touch controls (Robert Broglia did a pretty good job!)

Really, the big problem is long load times, and tons of slow menus.. This is the real kicker. When I want to sit down and play a game on my phone, it's because I have a couple minutes of downtime where I want to be entertained. I want to get into my game, play, and get out. The problem is most mobile games have enough splash screens, resource loading, menus, etc, that it takes forever to actually start playing.

I downloaded a cool game, Gravity Guy, from Google's 25cent app sale last week. Great concept for a game -- a simple gravity-reversal twitch game, reminded me of VVVVVV or my favorite mobile game, The Impossible Game. The only control is touching the screen at the right time. It's fun, fast, and great in short bursts. The only problem, (ok, not the only problem, the biggest problem) is that it takes forever to start playing. I timed it yesterday -- from the time I tapped on the icon until I was playing, took 35 seconds. (A splash screen, a title screen, 3 or 4 pages of animated menus, and another loading screen). That may be fine for a console game where you are planning to devote some time to playing a game, but for simple mobile games, hopping in and out, it's a waste.

Another game that I want to like is Highborn, a clever and relatively well-designed turn-based strategy game. I always enjoy it when I actually play it. But the barrier to start playing is just high enough that I never want to sit down and play it. It just takes too long to get started.

It's even worse when restoring a saved game takes me to some predetermined save point instead of exactly where I left off. Playing mobile games, I often end my game extremely suddenly. I want to resume just as suddenly, without replaying stuff.

There are a few other things that I don't like -- the ubiquity of microtransactions, ridiculous use of "unlockable" things, the tendency to repeat the same boring genres (tower defense, run & jump, etc), but these are all minor things.

Now there are TONS of games in all the mobile app stores. I'm sure there are other games that load quickly and aren't annoying. But how do you filter out and find them? There's no search options for "loads quick and doesn't tick you off with stupid stuff".

So instead I play old emulated cartridge-based console games. They load instantly (it takes about 3 seconds at most before I'm resumed to exactly where I left off). They save instantly.  Some still have annoying unlockable stuff, and there's a different uninspired set of genres, but I don't get pestered to buy something when I'm playing.

So what's my point? I guess if you are a mobile game developer, make your game load fast. That's all.

Metatile Designer

For the NES game, I'm building my levels out of 32x32 pixel metatiles.  What is a metatile?  The NES background tiles are 8x8 pixels, bu...