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APPLE’S BIGGEST GAMING INNOVATION ISN’T TV, IT’S 3D TOUCH

Apple TV Might represent Apple’s long-in-the-making move into the home TV game space, but it was 3D Touch on the iPhone 6S that represented the biggest potential innovation in game design that it showed at its latest event. 3D Touch brings force sensitivity to the iPhone’s touchscreen. The screen knows how hard you’re pressing, so you could (to name an example that Apple showed) lightly press on an email message to bring up a preview of the contents, then press harder to snap into the email message itself. Vibration feedback will let you know how hard you’re pushing. It then showed how 3D Touch will work in a new iOS game, Warhammer 40,000: Freeblade. In this action shooter based on the classic role-playing game series, players control an Imperial Knight, a giant walking machine of endless destruction, touching things on the screen that they want to shoot. If you press a little harder, it’ll zoom in for more refined aiming.

If you press even harder than that, you can swap to a different weapon — “all without taking your finger off the screen,” noted developer Pixel Toys’ CEO Andy Wafer, on stage. There are two immediate reasons that I can see why this is more than a gimmick. First, it’s a new control option that has clear implications for gaming, in that it may inspire designers to create new types of games. Flappy Bird-type endless action games where pressing just so can lead you to higher scores? Puzzle games in which clues are buried layers deep? You could do previously impossible things with such a method of control, and that is what often leads to breakthrough design innovation. Second, it allows touch-interface games to become more complex, without necessarily becoming unwieldy.

Yes, it’s a little bit cliche to tell gamers that they can easily switch between weapons in the latest shootbang extravaganza, but Wafer is correct to note that the ability to do this while still having one’s thumb in the aiming position, not having to move it, is a big step towards adding complexity without impairing usability. Touch interfaces are great for gaming, as we’ve found out, and adding to the sorts of things you can do with them is paramount to continuing to make them interesting, vibrant places for new types of games. Apple TV is definitely not to be trifled with because Apple’s entry into any space is to be taken seriously. But for those of us who love games, I expect that 3D Touch is more likely than Apple TV to deliver us some games that we never knew we couldn’t live without.

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