Developer wants iPad to work like video game consoles, iPhones like controllers

Nov 11, 2010
Tech

App developer Big Bucket Studios has come up with an elegant solution to playing games on the iPad: make it feel more like a console. It’s not a bad idea, really, but it is one that caters to gamers instead of the more casual, social gaming market. While the iPad and iPhone’s touch screen controls […]

App developer Big Bucket Studios has come up with an elegant solution to playing games on the iPad: make it feel more like a console.

It’s not a bad idea, really, but it is one that caters to gamers instead of the more casual, social gaming market. While the iPad and iPhone’s touch screen controls often make for some pretty intuitive and interesting new gameplay, in some cases, the touch screen is a drawback rather than a boon. iPhone platformers like Pizza Boy, for example, handle very much like Super Mario Bros. They can be hard to play to the precise degree required without the ability to actually feel controls under your thumbs.

So Big Bucket’s idea is to make the iPad work like a console by hooking it up to a TV. For the 1.3 version update of its game, The Incident, players will be able to plug their iPad straight into their TVs. Of course, players are going to need a special cable to make that connection, but the same process has been going on with the iPhone and iPod Touch for a few years now, and it’s not groundbreaking technology or anything.

After the iPad is plugged in, you’ll need to pair an iPod Touch or iPhone with the iPad via Bluetooth. When you start the app, the iPhone acts as the controller, allowing you to sit on the couch and play just as you would if you were playing an old Nintendo Entertainment System (or even a modern Xbox 360) game. Voila: Big Bucket has created console gaming with touch screen controllers, using all Apple equipment.

This might not seem like a big deal (doesn’t it defeat the purpose of portable gaming?), but I assure you, it is. Big Bucket’s idea could have a seriously huge impact on what game apps are available on iPad and what kind of experience it can deliver to players. In essence, Big Bucket has just turned iPad into a new home gaming machine.

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It’s a little cost-prohibitive, but think about the possibilities in gaming when your controller isn’t just a controller, it’s an iPhone. In the world of multiplayer gaming, the effect is huge — suddenly you have an interface in your hands that can be used to coordinate teams, display maps or call sports plays in secret. You also have an Internet-enabled device that could potentially help facilitate voice communication with other players.

History repeats itself

When the Sega Dreamcast came out in 1999, the console included a similar device, which basically ended up being a memory card with a screen called the VMU. Players could use it to do things in the game without having to display those things on the screen for others to see. When you were done playing, you could take the VMU with you and plug it into other Dreamcasts, or even play mini-games that were exclusive parts of the main game on the memory card’s screen itself. Sonic Adventures, Dreamcast’s flagship title, offered players a Tamagatchi-like virtual pet for their VMU.

This isn’t the first time an iPhone has been used to play a game on the iPad. Face2Face Hold’em uses the system with elegant results. It’s a poker app for iPad, in which the iPad functions as the poker table, and paired iPhones are the cards. This way, the players can each see their poker hands without anyone else seeing them, but you can play with your friends live instead of over the Internet.

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Building a game system out of the iPad is an important first step, but it isn’t necessarily easy. Big Bucket explained in their development blog the difficulties of translating iPad visuals to a TV, which is sized differently. Making apps that work for both isn’t exactly easy — but it’s doable, especially if Apple or developers can find a way to streamline the process.

Nintendo did the same thing more than a decade ago with an attachment for its Super Nintendo Entertainment System called Super Game Boy, that allowed players to plug in its portable Game Boy games and play them on their TV. That translation was easier because the Game Boy screen mimicked the old standard-screen, square TVs. But it might be possible for there to be a one-time solution that reworks iPad graphics for TV play.

But The Incident might be the catalyst for a new trend in iPad and iPhone gaming, and video gaming in general, especially if other developers catch on to the idea and start innovating with it. Imagine downloading an iPad or iPhone app for a PlayStation 3 game that allows the devices to work together, transforming your iOS device into a specific, souped up controller. Or downloading a mess of old-school retro games like Namco and Capcom already make available, and playing them on your iPad and TV as if it were 1991. There are a lot of potential possibilities, and they’re all great ones.

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Phil Hornshaw

Phil Hornshaw is a freelance writer, editor and author living in Los Angeles, dividing his time between playing video games, playing video games on his cell phone, and writing about playing video games. He’s also the co-author of So You Created a Wormhole: The Time Traveler’s Guide to Time Travel, which attempts to mix time travel pop culture with some semblance of science, as well as tips on the appropriate means of riding dinosaurs. Check out his profile.

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