Building a Good Combat Control System on iOS

on 02/15/2011 by christopher 1 Comment

For the past few months, we’ve been paying tons of attention to every combat game (dungeon crawler / fighter) we can find on the App Store. Playing these and testing our own combat mechanics have taught us quite a lot about what makes combat fun on iOS. If I were to distill my learnings into golden rules, they’d look something like this:

Don’t Spread Out Your Buttons. Many games (even good ones) place special moves on the top bar of the screen, away from where your thumbs are most often controlling the action. It sucks to have to search and find a power attack when you need it. If buttons are big enough and organized intelligently, they can all be within close reach of your right thumb.

Five Buttons is Too Many. Not including a joystick, four buttons should be considered the absolute ceiling before things get frustrating. Especially if they’re too small or poorly laid out. Two or three buttons is plenty, considering:

Buttons Should Do More Than One Thing. iOS recognizes various gestures that can be used to expand the functionality of a single button. Swiping the joystick can cause a dash. Holding an attack button can trigger a more powerful move. Swiping an attack button in various directions can trigger different directional attacks. Your iPhone is not a console controller, and shouldn’t be approached as if it were.

Buttons Should be Context-Sensitive. With all this talk of screen real estate, keep in mind that irrelevant buttons can be hidden. If you can’t do something, the button for it shouldn’t be visible.

Blocking is Almost Always Dumb. If your game is a side scroller, tapping backwards can be a shortcut to a pretty cool blocking system. Devoting the screen real estate to a block button is almost never a good idea. We’ve tried block buttons with various functionalities, and witnessed our playtesters ignore all of them. Which leads me to my next point:

Dodging is More Fun Than Blocking. Always.

Buttons Should be Bigger Than They Appear. The visual on-screen button should be smaller than the responsive area. Compensate for human error.

One Response to “Building a Good Combat Control System on iOS”

  1. Vithiet says:

    Totally agree on the blocking. I believe I am one of those who didn’t use it even once when I tried :p

    Also I was checking out the pics over on Skitch and I love the “kilhouettes”!

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Good Controller is a small independent video game developer based in San Francisco. We are currently working on Thorn, our first project for the iPhone.