The iPad launched to familiar Apple hype, but very few games have so far lived up to the company’s "magical and revolutionary" product message. While developers increasingly embrace social networks and online play, the iPad’s large touchscreen offers the opportunity to gather players around a single device, bringing social gaming back to the living room. Koduco Games thinks its latest title, PongVaders, will do exactly this.
The game is a cooperative take on two classic concepts – Space Invaders and Pong – players keeping projectiles in play in order to rid the screen of invaders. We chatted with company founders Jon Beilin and Cole Krumbholz to discuss what the iPad can bring to games, the challenges of working with a shared input surface and whether virtual controls will ever usurp buttons.
Koduco founders Jon Beilin (left) and Cole Krumbholz
The positioning of the players, and the iPad’s screen being flat on a surface, is evocative of the old cocktail arcade cabinets. Did their form-factor influence the game’s development in any way?
Jon Beilin: Absolutely. There’s a bar in New York, called Barcade, that has arcade games – I guess that was pretty self-evident wasn’t it? Anyway, I had a good experience there around April 2008 just playing some cocktail-style arcade games with a friend. But what I noticed was that many of the games were turn-based, and the screen would rotate 180 degrees after each person’s turn. I just though It would have been really cool if we could have played together.
Positioning two players on opposing sides of an iPad seems to suggest competition. Why did you decide to create a cooperative experience?
JB: We’ve actually observed some people playing side-by-side on the couch. But part of it follows naturally from the game of Pong itself, and the way the paddles are positioned – we’re definitely trying to get people closer together with our future games.
Cole Krumbholz: Also, when you’re playing with a shared device you’re already pretty close to another person, in their personal space. Even though you’re on opposite sides of the tablet, you’re still close to each other and the coordination, depending on what you’re trying to do, can still be collaborative rather than competitive.
What is it about collaborative experiences that interests you?
JB: One of the challenges of working on a touchscreen is that it’s not as evident who the touches belong to, and a lot of competitive games [on iPad] aren’t designed very carefully – it just turns into a mess of people trying to block off entire sections of the screen or move each other’s hands away. So we are looking at ways to develop more competitive games, but that’s a problem in of itself.
It’s kind of like messing with your friend’s controller while playing on the Xbox, which can at times be very entertaining. Theres a game called Chinanery by an indie game designer called Anna Anthropy [she created the sprites for PongVaders] in which each person gets assigned a key on the keyboard and the players need to continue pressing their key – as soon as they let go, they lose. So the entire game you’re beating each other up until you can’t hold the key down anymore…