A few days ago I bought 9000 BC on a lark. It looked colourful and vibrant, and I thought it was a great idea to style the game after cave paintings. It was also only $0.99, so I figured what the hell?
As it turns out, 9000 BC is yet another entry in a slew of iPhone “Castle Defense” titles. This subgenre of a subgenre is fairly simple in concept: the player’s avatar stands on one side of the screen while swarms of enemies make a bee-line for him/her/it from the other side. The avatar is immobile, but can launch various attacks at his foes, and every so often upgrades become available for purchase.
9000 BC uses this exact same formula with a few little twists (such as being able to throw dead bodies into a volcano as sacrificial offerings), but ultimately it’s not a very fun game. The reason for this is its interface.
Castle Defense games require the player to constantly interact with mobile objects that appear on virtually all parts of the screen. With a touch-based system, this means that the screen is often obscured by the player’s own hand. What makes this even worse in 9000 BC (at least for right-handed individuals) is that the main form of attack requires the player to touch his avatar — who stands on the left side of the screen — and slide his finger in the direction of an enemy. This effectively covers most of the screen, and, combined with the inherent lack of precision when aiming, makes for a hectic and unsatisfying experience.
Letting the player choose his side (or simply flipping to a vertical orientation so enemies come in from the top) would’ve helped, but it wouldn’t have solved the problem altogether. These types of games work fine as online Flash titles, but they’re not well suited to being directly ported to the iPhone.
Mouse-based controls offer pixel-perfect precision and hardly ever obscure anything due to small cursor sizes. Styluses aren’t quite as accurate, but they’re close, and only their thin shafts cover the screen. With pure touch-based interfaces, though, that fine level of precision is lost and the user’s hands often get in the way.
These are all fairly straight-forward points, but, curiously, they’re often ignored by iPhone developers. It’s still a young and evolving platform, though, so hopefully these types issues will become rarer in the future.