What do Indie Gaming's All-Stars think of Apple's iPad?


Before Steve Jobs had even brought yesterday's iPad-announcing keynote to a close, I called together a quorum of indie gaming's Justice League — a handful of the best and brightest developers pushing the medium forward across every new device — to ask: what's the iPad going to mean for the future?

Between those that've already staked out a strong presence on the iPhone and iPod Touch (Canabalt's Adam Saltsman, Eliss's Steph Thirion, Rolando's Simon Oliver, Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor's David Kalina and Critter Crunch's Nathan Vella), those that've seen their PC hits brought to the device (Fantastic Contraption's Colin Northway), those that haven't landed there yet but will soon (Fez's Phil Fish and Henry Hatsworth's Kyle Gray), and those that I selfishly hope eventually might (World of Goo's Kyle Gabler), opinions were cautious, but on the whole optimistic.

While it's clear that the past two years of training on the iPhone have taught us that there is indeed a viable future in multi-touch and accelerometer-based gaming, and that the App Store can provide developers with an enthusiastic and sustainable audience, its position as a third-pillar between the phone and the laptop is entirely unproven, leaving many developers in a holding pattern before diving nose-first into an unquantifiable market.

But despite this, with the problems it solves (like: the issue of the Big Fat Thumbs) and the opportunities it opens (its screen is now not necessarily only for a single person), you can already hear the sound of hundreds of collective gears turning to chart gaming's future course.

So below, the thoughts of all the above developers, with — as a bonus where applicable — off-device screenshots that blow up to their iPad-native 2x resolution when clicked, for a preview of what the device's scaling simulator will look like when it lands in March.


Adam Saltsman, co-founder, Semi Secret (Canabalt, Wurdle), creator of Flixel:

I have been forcefully ignoring all the buzz until today, but I have to say I'm a little giddy right now. Pixel doubling means Canabalt is ready to ship right now, and I did all the assets for Wurdle (and our new unannounced game) at 2x resolution, so we can actually very easily ship 'HD' versions of those alongside our iPhone res stuff.

They haven't shown much in this regard, but this device is pretty much begging to be subjugated for all sorts of insane multitouch music composition purposes, and there's also the possibility here to do something pretty special, which is finally getting to do what board games do – a big shared playspace that you interact with in an intuitive way. This would be a pretty big deal in getting people into games that might otherwise be intimidating from a dual-sticks perspective.

We're also making a big tech announcement that will be super extra awesome, very soon I hope!


Colin Northway, creator of Fantastic Contraption:

Two things strike me as interesting about this:

1) is there going to be another gold rush?

And the more interesting:

2) What kind of games are going to work really well on the iPad?

The first question is really just about answering if we can afford to explore the second.

The iPhone's interface has proved itself capable of supporting some great game experiences that wouldn't work nearly as well with a mouse. You could play Flight Control perfectly fine with a mouse but you wouldn't draw the same sweeping natural lines.

At the same time there is a brutal lack of screen real estate which means some game ideas just can't exist on the iPhone or feel shoe-horned onto the iPhone (like Fantastic Contraption). So this is kind of the best of both worlds. We get the wonderful tactile interface but people don't have to squint to see what's going on or wish they had see-through fingers.

There will be some people with game ideas that didn't quite work on the iPhone who will be dusting them off and examining them under this new light. I am definitely one of those people.


Kyle Gray, creator of Henry Hatsworth, Experimental Gameplay Project co-founder:

The Apple Hype Machine never fails to impress. I was in the middle of a meeting when this thing was announced and my inbox practically exploded with talk about the iPad in the interim (mostly from you lot, but some from friends pitching ideas as well).

Most surprisingly was my wife falling in the "do want" category. It's a real testament to Apple's prowess that it can have such a strong pull on someone who's more into purses than processors.

That being said, a buddy and I have been working on an iPhone game in our spare time, so this is pretty damned exciting news.

Now to just make something for it without getting pulled in by its siren's song…


Phil Fish, co-founder, Polytron (Fez and the iPhone's upcoming Power Pill [above]):

It isn't the huge leap forward in terms of multi-touch interface i was hoping for, but it's certainly still a big step forward. It isn't the multi-touch terminal to my MacBook I think it should be. Lack of camera is a missed opportunity for augmented reality overlays that the 1ghz processor would handle a lot better than even a 3GS.

I guess it's up to the developers to make good use of it now.

But I'm still incredibly giddy. "Just a bigger iPhone" is already a huge step forward in terms of multi-touch usability. I don't understand what people are complaining about. A bigger screen here means a lot more than just a bigger screen. It implies so much more.

Backwards compatibility with iPhone apps is good, but is just that. The real meat is going to be in iPad exclusives, designed for the huge real estate.


Simon Oliver, founder, Hand Circus (Rolando and the upcoming Okabu):

The larger real-estate is going to be great, in terms of being able to interact with it without your fingers smothering the screen, and being able to add more functionality without tons of clutter. I think it definitely opens up the iPhone/iPod/iPad range to quite a few genres that a lot of people might have considered verboten previously – you know those games on the iPhone where the screen is covered in UI clutter. Simulation and construction games, MMORPGs (I'm sure Blizzard was watching the keynote with avid interest), and as Adam was saying, this is gonna be awesome for fun music/painting/animation creation tools and games. With that big touchscreen you've got a perfect canvas for creative play. I hope an iPad lands in Toshio Iwai's lap!

I'd love to do a Rolando title with a more "zoomed-out" perspective – i.e. same size characters but you can see 4x the playspace – would definitely be fun to explore what the bigger screen could afford in terms of more elaborate puzzles, more characters and fun multitouch interactions.


David Kalina, co-owner, Tiger Style (Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor):

While the iPad seems like a pretty incredible piece of hardware, I can't help but wonder if there will actually be a viable marketplace for an independent game developer. The iPhone revolutionized the way people thought about cell phones, whereas the iPad seeks to occupy some hole between the laptop and the phone that may or may not actually exist. Of course, the market has a way of working these things out.

As a developer of touch interfaces, more screen real estate really does make a difference beyond allowing us to draw more pixels on the screen. It means that we should be able to communicate to players more clearly when fingers are present, as well as allowing multiple touches to take place without obscuring all of the game content.

Hopefully, this will encourage developers to explore more native interfaces for their games, rather than settling for the awkward and uninspired 'virtual gamepad'. But also, it gives developers the potential to explore interesting new designs for single-device multiplayer. As a designer, this is the aspect of the iPad that I find most intriguing.


Steph Thirion, creator of Eliss:

I just spent the past two hours reading announcements and tech specs and iPad programming guides, so my head is a bit fuzzy, and it's a bit early to come to conclusions. I still have a lot of important questions, but here are some early thoughts and feelings.

Like my girlfriend was just saying, this could be 'the Wii of general computing': accessible to everyone. This is the first device (at an accessible price) that makes web browsing like reading a newspaper: a casual, pleasurable thing, not done on a professional workstation. And for the not so common tasks (like Adam said, music making, etc.), a multitouch screen of this size for $500 is absolutely mad (JazzMutant are officially fucked).

As far as gaming, I think David has a very good point (why go for expensive development for a smaller market), but on the other hand, if the first point holds true, and a couple of these devices start to pop up in every household, then we have a market. What we could potentially see then is the border disappearing between general computing devices and gaming devices!

Any way this evolves, this device opens up a world of possibilities for new interfaces. Even if we don't get rich off of it, we'll still be able to build the coolest shit on it.

But even then, we still need to hold one of these devices. Are they truly responsive? If I'm correct, this is the first time Apple has made their own processor. How many touch points does the multitouch handle? Is multitouch as precise as the iPhone? Following on Apple's history, this device will rock, but that doesn't change the fact that we haven't yet seen it fly.

Finally, is it true that all apps in the AppStore can be run on the tablet, without modifications, without a green light from the developer? I haven't tested Eliss on the iPad, yet Apple has basically announced that it's coming out for this new device I had only heard rumors about. If this is true I find this a bit surprising. We should have the right to decide if we want to allow our apps to be run and stretched on a different device than they were designed for.


Nathan Vella, president, Capy Games (Critter Crunch and the upcoming collaborative Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP):

When it comes down to it, I am really excited to see what people make for the platform. Some of my favorite games of 2009 were iPhone games, and despite the fact that there's an astronomical amount of shit on the App Store, the gems (pretty much exclusively made by indies) really validate it. I sincerely hope the same thing happens with the iPad.

Sure, we'll get our Need for Speeds and our Monkey Balls, but it's the games from Steph Thirion, Hand Circus, Mr. Saltsman/Semi-Secret, Mobigame and the other super-awesome indies that will pull me into the platform as a gaming device. While functionality-wise it doesn't offer an earth-shattering step forward from the iPhone, I think there's a lot of possibilities for insanely creative people to make something special for the iPad.

On the "specs" side, since Capy (and Capy in collaboration with Superbrothers) makes iPhone games with pixel art, I am really interested to see how the device handles its up-scaling. We've always thought of iPhone as a great place to continue our love of pixels, so I am terrified at the thought of muddy anti-aliased pixel art (much akin to what happens when you zoom in Firefox 3+). Here's hoping that they implement it in a way that easily and effectively maintains nice clean pretty pixels. We have our collective fingers crossed.

Capy is working on a WiiWare game called Heartbeat, and we've been toying with the idea of eventually bringing it to iPhone, since games built specifically for the Wii interface have a real good shot at translating well into touch controls. Now that there's another addition to the iPhone "family" – specifically one with a big-ass higher-res screen – it certainly makes that possibility more interesting. The combination of WiiWare and iPad/iPhone might be a powerful thing to consider for future development, especially for small studios making interesting stuff on WiiWare.

I know for sure we'll have a huge push internally to put our Capy/Superbrothers/Jim Guthrie collab Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP on the iPad. Superbrothers would probably sacrifice a limb to get the game on that screen, and rightfully so. It would look mighty pretty at that resolution.


Kyle Gabler, co-founder, 2DBoy (World of Goo):

What? What's an IPAD? Can I install Windows XP on it?

I totally don't follow Apple news at all, but I'm suddenly hungry for Stone Soup!

I am an old man,