Crispy Gamer

In Defense of the Ipad

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 Let me dedicate this first paragraph to contradicting the title - I think the first generation iPad coming out in about two months is a disaster. A $500+ "netbook killer" that has no keyboard, can't multitask, can't play Flash, has no camera, that's killer feature is scaling up 3.5 inch iPhone apps to a 9.7 inch screen and reading books. I'll pass on its first generation for sure. Apple has a knack for crippling its first generation of new hardware (remember the original iPhone?).


But enough about that - this is about the potential I see in the platform. The obvious comparison to draw is iPhone game development. Thirty percent of all downloads on the platform are from games - to put that in perspective, that's just under a billion downloads. There's a lot of innovation in this space, from accelerometer based games like Rolando to brilliant touch screen based controls in Flight Control. Apple's not taking all the glory, either. Nintendo's got a lot of touch based greatness going on the DS, things like Elite Beat Agents and Kirby: Canvas Curse.

The iPad stands out from other touch screen game devices in one big way: its sizable 9.7 inch touch screen display. This is a form factor that game developers have never had access to in a mass-market way. What I mean is that there are plenty of 9+ inch tablets out there, but none until now have had an easy-to-develop for SDK, solid OpenGL integration, a huge commercial push that will likely sell millions, and a unified store to distribute games on. Not to mention thousands of game developers, big and small, already used to coding for the iPhone.

There's no doubt that tons of games will come to the iPad. The intriguing thing to me is the form factor. A 9.7 inch multi-touch surface brings about a ton of possibilities that would never come to an iPhone or a DS. No longer will on-screen controls or UI elements cram the tiny displays, or be relegated to another screen with the DS. Imagine a turn based strategy where you can flick to navigate the battlefield, tap units to select them, pinch to zoom, the works. On the iPhone this would be difficult with the lack of screen space to display a lot of data. Racing games could have you holding the iPad like a steering wheel (they're even designing a wheel for it already!). Games that require line drawing like Kirby: Canvas Curse and the classic Jezzball would work great with a large capacitive screen. Oh, and if those guys who made Osu ported their efforts to the platform, I would swoon.


 

There may be even more potential in multi-touch with a larger screen. The first example I thought of when I read about the iPad would be a multi-player pong game on the same screen, each player controlling one side of the field. This simple principle could explode into all different genres: games like Slime Volleyball, split-screen RTS games, cooperative tower defense games, the list goes on. With the raw size of the app store's library and the potential of multitouch on a large screen, the iPad could be a killer device for a new kind of multiplayer never before possible.

The biggest barrier, of course, is price. A $500 game console? You could get a DS and a current gen console for less than that. The trump card here is the super-competitive pricing of the app store. iPhone games go from free to $3 and Apple's already pricing competitively for the iPad, with their office suite apps going for $9.99 each. I don't think it's unreasonable that we'll see most quality iPad games in the $5-15 range. While the up-front cost will be higher, over many game purchases the iPad will eventually seem like a bargain compared to $30-40 DS and PSP games. Not to mention all the freeware and demos you'll have access to at no cost.

Apple made a big mistake marketing the iPad as a netbook killer. I really don't buy the argument that it could be a killer productivity device. As a gaming platform, however, it opens a ton of doors and has the fewest barriers to development for its form factor. The iPhone has already managed to rank with the DS and PSP as a formidable rival, and it made it there with just 3.5 inches of touch screen. Its major downfall is that the screen is just too small to accommodate comfortable controls without crowding the screen. The iPad fixes that problem, and I see nothing holding it back from being, a few years from now, will be a serious game platform. I just hope it turns out better than Apple's last attempt at something along those lines...