At this year's Game Developers Conference (GDC) in March, much of the buzz was centered on the iPad. Everyone was eager to get in on what Apple executive Scott Forstall called, "a whole new Gold Rush for developers." However, these game developers were encountering a problem: Apple had not provided even the biggest third-party companies with early iPad devices to test their applications. Developers instead had to rely on computer emulation, without the security of knowing how their games would play on an actual iPad.
As a result, games released for the iPad at launch ran the gamut from awkward missteps to great leaps forward. Some games felt out of place on the bigger tablet, with buttons in hard-to-reach places and an overreliance on tilt controls— a problem for a device six times heavier than the iPhone. Other developers took advantage of the iPad's large, high-resolution screen, making games that looked better and felt much more immersive than we had expected. As we spoke to developers before and after the iPad's launch, one thing became clear: They all felt that this new product would permanently alter the gaming landscape.
What follows is an in-depth look at three games that typify the kind of games we'll be seeing. The sidebar looks at our current top five recommendations.
Amazon: Hidden Expedition
Last March, even without a physical iPad to use for development and testing, game developers could easily imagine what their games would play like with greater screen space. During GDC, we saw mock-ups of promising new games like Amazon: Hidden Expedition, a Where's Waldo-style hidden object game from Big Fish Games. In two-player mode, the game splits the iPad's screen space down the middle, allowing two players to work together on solving puzzles.
Hidden object games are a hugely popular, casual games category in the App Store, and Big Fish Games has taken a refreshingly creative route in adapting this genre to the iPad. In addition to the split-screen view, Hidden Expedition will offer much larger viewing areas for more detailed scenes.
"With Amazon: Hidden Expedition, we've essentially turned the iPad into a modern board game," said Patrick Wylie, Vice President of Big Fish Games. "What we're most excited about is multi-touch and the incredible user-interface design— the 11-point touch interface and the large-scale screen will allow for a huge leap in the UI experience. I expect we'll see some games being driven by gestural input controls. The increased resolution will also add to game quality."
Unfortunately, the promise of more detailed graphics isn't fulfilled. The game's cluttered puzzles don't maintain the high resolution of an average digital camera photo when you zoom in close. Still, sharing the iPad screen between you and a friend is a significant development. Amazon: Hidden Expedition's two-player mode is a lot of fun, and several other games take advantage of the iPad's split-screen capabilities.
Maestro Green Groove
Though it doesn't offer nearly the resolution of a HD television, games developed or updated for the iPad will look much sharper than games designed for the iPhone and iPod touch.
One high-resolution version we can't wait to play is Maestro Green Groove, a music and rhythm game from French publisher Bulkypix. The iPhone title was a low-resolution port of a Nintendo DS game. But the game's adorable pink bird and his charming, musical world look more vivid on the iPad. Many other Bulkypix games with improved graphics are coming to the iPad .
Vincent Dondaine, COO of Bulkypix, is feeling extremely confident about the iPad's potential impact on gaming. "The iPad is going to be a revolution, a new market between the Netbook and the PC," he said. "In term of game possibilities, it's really exciting. Now you have a big screen, so having a virtual pad is not a problem anymore. From a graphics perspective, it means more details and HD, and it also means a more efficient heads-up display."
"Possibilities are unlimited," Dondaine said, adding that now there is no doubt that Apple is a real and strong player in the gaming industry. "We are really happy to be part of this great new adventure."
At this year's GDC, Spacetime Studios had a big secret to keep. Their massively-multiplayer online RPG for the iPhone, Pocket Legends, was going to be revealed to the world on the same day as the iPad's launch. They set out to make a killer iPad launch title, which they hoped would become Apple's World of Warcraft.
In a "massively multiplayer online role-playing game" like World of Warcraft, players control avatars that can take quests, fight enemies, and enhance their abilities through continual play. WoW's addicting and social nature has made it one of the world's most successful online games, with millions of subscribers paying every month for more adventures. You can't even beat a game like WoW; at the highest levels, you can continue to go on raids to obtain rare treasure and explore enemy strongholds.
Pocket Legends will follow much of WoW's gameplay style. You choose your avatar from one of three races: A warrior bear clan, an eagle-like archer, or a magical elf with healing powers. You simply tap to move your character, and finding a group to adventure with is as easy as joining an online server. Best of all, the game is free to download and play, with optional map packs available to purchase separately.
Cinco Barnes, Creative Director and Vice President of Spacetime Studios, told us what they set out to accomplish on the iPad. "Developing for the iPad gives us the advantage of a big, beautiful touch-screen," he said. "Game resolution is much higher on the iPad, and we can let you zoom and pan the camera with more freedom. We also allow the main game display to be expanded (to show your full load-out of emotes or your entire spell-book) on the iPad, and we show more info on game menu screens."
It's not just greater visual information that the iPad will show you— it shows detailed game information as well. Games developed specifically for the iPad's larger screen will be able to offer more of the useful information you need to play a game well, like your spell-book in Pocket Legends, without getting in the way of the action.
A potential game changer
Nearly every game developer making money on the App Store will be taking a long hard look at the iPad. Even if they don't make any changes to their existing lineup, they will benefit from that fact that the iPad can and will be used to play their games. And while its larger form can lead to some awkward handling, we think that most gamers easily adjusted to the new platform.
Apple has already made a significant impact in the video game industry with the iPhone and iPod touch. And the features that helped make it a hit—the touch screen, accelerometer controls, digital downloads, and network connectivity—are all found in the iPad. Add to that the iPad's larger, sharper screen and faster processor, and you're looking at a potential game changer. The launch of the iPad resulted in a number of must-have games, and we're expecting even bigger things in the future.
The 5 Best iPad Games
If you're going to spend a minimum of $500 for an iPad, you'd better stock up on some killer games to show off the device. iPad games are more expensive than iPhone games, so choose wisely. Here are our top recommendations:
Scrabble for iPad
$9.99; app2.me/ 2418
One of the most appealing aspects of the iPad is that you can set it down between you and a friend and play a board game on the large screen. Scrabble for iPad is one of the best, and with the iPad, there is no more fishing for tiles from a velvet bag.
Plants vs Zombies HD
This take on tower defense is more like "flower defense." Protect your house from zombies by planting a little garden of horrors. The zombies' heads pop off the screen vividly, thanks to the iPad's gorgeous display.
Mirror's Edge for iPad
This scenic third-person platform game requires rhythm as much as quick reflexes. You guide a free runner through a futuristic cityscape, swiping the screen to leap between buildings and engage guards in hands-to-hand combat.
Real Racing HD
One of the best driving games on the iPhone, the iPad version of Real Racing has jaw-dropping graphics and lets you add more personality to your vehicle by creating a custom skin for your car.
Civilization Revolution for iPad
While the iPad conquers the gaming world, you can conquer a virtual world with Civilization Revolution. In this clever retelling of world history, you must advance your culture from the Stone Age to the Atomic Age and beyond. Civilization Revolution for iPad is a must-have for serious strategy gamers.