The iPad as a gaming platform

Apple released their second iteration of the iPad today and the inevitable throngs of Apple fans are drooling to get their hands on the new tablet which boasts better performance and the addition of two cameras.

But is it good for gaming?

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From a practical standpoint it is a powerful piece of hardware that can do just enough to display quality graphics and has a capable interface of which to execute controls. It has a vast variety of games to choose from thanks to the accessibility of the iTunes store and many quality designers choosing to develop games with the iOS  in mind.

Unfortunately, it is a piece of hardware that I find cumbersome to play games upon. I find tablets are best when laid flat where simple touch gestures are all that need to be used. PopCap’s Plants vs. Zombies and Rovio’s Angry Birds are incredible examples of simple games with simple control schemes that manage to be addicting, challenging and incredibly deep.

While tilt sensors work great for mobile phone gaming and the same principles transfer to the iPad smoothly, the weight of the iPad is tiresome and feels cumbersome in the long run. While there are several racing games available for the iPad that really take advantage of the hardware’s strengths, like Firemint’s Real Racing HD, in the end your arms end up getting tired from twisting and turning the tilt steering wheel.

Finally, virtual control pads are something I find to be difficult to gauge from game to game. Each developer chooses a different virtual button layout based on the complexity of their games. Sports games may use a D-pad and three face buttons while a platformer may use two buttons. While the concept is simple enough, many gamers depend on muscle memory and controller familiarity to quickly jump from game to game.

While the iPad and tablets are here to stay, it has yet to make the leap into a full fledged gaming device. With the emphasis on making the iPad 2 slimmer, hopefully the issues surrounding comfort will be addressed. I firmly believe that there is still a place for physical buttons and controls, and virtual controllers do not bridge that gap. Like my criticisms of the Wii, sometimes gaming does not have to involve waggle controls or gestures. Touch screen gaming and tilt controls just aren’t quite there yet.

Engadget – iPad 2 Review


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