I have no buttons and I must jump

Recently, I’ve been playing a mobile game called ZipZap. It bills itself as a one-button platformer. Platformers are my favorite genre of videogames, so I was immediately intrigued.

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While the game is fun and inventive, it’s marketing push as a platformer got me thinking: how do you pull off a platformer through the clunky controls of an iPhone?

Nintendo also approached such a design problem when it slated Super Mario Run for release. How to take the nimble, portly plumber and move him into a touch-based interface?

Image result for super mario run

The answer for both ZipZap and Super Mario Run was to limit the controls to a single function: touch to jump. It is a brilliant fix to the pernicious problem of gamers’ affinity for buttons. But each game does it differently.

Image result for no controller

Super Mario Run allows for several different types of jumps based on how long you hold down your touch. A quick tap produces a short hop while a held press produces a longer leap. Even while in the air, the player can tap the screen to make Mario twirl and extend the length of his jump. In this way, the player doesn’t have to worry about where buttons are mapped on the touchscreen but she still gets a sense of control akin to using a traditional videogame controller.

ZipZap does something similar. Instead of a jumping avatar, the game uses erector set-like contraptions with joints that bend with each press. Essentially, the game’s movable objects act like springs (though they grow more complex as the game moves on!) where holding down the touch results in a higher jump.

These smart decisions open up a world of possibilities for designers who are seeking to get in on the ubiquity and popularity of smartphone gaming while still giving the player the control they are accustomed to via a console controller or mouse and keyboard.

I can’t wait to see what comes next.

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