Let’s All Say Hello To The iPad

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After much waiting, and after much speculating, the “third pillar” in Apple’s mobile stratagem has finally been unveiled. A device so mind blowing and thought provoking that Apple themselves has called it “magical.” But unlike the last over-hyped piece of Apple hardware, the iPhone, which actually did manage to live up to expectations, this new one… there’s some serious doubts, right out of the gate.

No need to re-state the obvious, since everyone and their Twitter feeds have already laid out the primary talking points: it’s basically a big, fat iPod Touch. The hardcore Apple blogs have been afire all day, with statements like “all those who are bitching will still buy the thing” (umm, such an adage only really works when the item in question is less than half a grand) and “sure the geeks are all pointing and laughing, but it’s not meant for them” (well, gaming and publishing types I’ve spoken with have their own specific reasons for disliking the thing, most regular schmoes I know just think its retarded, period). But we’re not here to talk about how $500 for a device that’s supposed to be the ultimate portable hub for productivity and entertainment, yet cannot multitask, nor handle multiple file formats, let along Flash, is absolutely asinine. Let alone how Apple sticking with AT&T to support their wireless data infrastructure, despite how abysmal they’ve been thus far with just their iPhone using customers, is even more retarded. We’re here to concentrate on the video game end of the spectrum.

Again, it’s a big iPhone/iPod Touch, so expect the same games as before, just on a bigger display, at least initially. The big Apple keynote had reps from EA and Gameloft (okay, I can understand the former, but the latter? their entire catalog of lazily ripped off titles are simply offensive, let alone unimpressive… why couldn’t Apple have gotten someone from ngmoco?) to show off their titles, which already operate on the iPhone/iPod Touch. You’d think Apple would have gone with something like, say, Eliss, which actually feels like an iPhone game, since it actually takes advantage of the platform, instead of two games that are just lame, wanna be PSP offerings. So perhaps those stupid on-screen d-pads and buttons might take up less of the screen, but they’ll be just as awkward to handle.

One primary selling point is how a good deal (but certainly not all) of the games you’ve already downloaded for your iPhone/iPod Touch will work on the new iPad, without the need to pay for them twice (well that’s good at least). You can either play them like this:

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With the game’s visuals retaining their original proportions, which of course looks really silly in this manner. Or you can blow them up to fill the screen:

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With the problem being that all the games thus far were not intended for such a size and ratio, so expect things to look blurry and blocky, and not all pretty. Initial reports seem to indicate that games that utilize polygons are not that bad blown up, but anything featuring 2D art look kinda wonky.

Apple has just released an updated SDK (software developer’s kit, which is basically what everyone used to create games for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and now iPad) that will allow those to properly upgrade their games for the new platform. But whether everyone will do so remains to be seen; most folks who create games are small one to two men operations that were barely able to get their games in the app store to being with. As for original games, expect them to look better, but not that much better. The iPad sports a faster processor and more ram than the iPhone 3GS, but will that translate to better games necessarily? Considering how the DS, despite numerous upgrades, cannot hold a candle to the pure power of the PSP, yet the games are on average a hundred times better, I think we all know the answer to that one.

Another thing to consider is the lack of a camera, which means no alternative reality games for the device, either original or the ability to play the ones that’s already available for the current device. But considering how such gameplay only really works with a truly portable device, and what’s out there currently flat out sucks (trust me, I’ve played pretty much every ARG game for the iPhone that’s currently available) it’s hardly any loss. At least for the time being.

The one thing that concerns me the most is how multi-touch will move forward with this device in mind. One of the games demoed featured an increased number of fingers being used, which makes total sense since; with more screen real estate, there’s more room to move your digits around and manipulate on-screen elements. But the more gestures one adds to the mix, the more complicated these supposedly ultra accessible games are going to become. Many have actually been disappointed that this was a point that was not properly explored, though I would have to simply chalk that up to something that’s still being in development. Bottom-line is how what was once very simple is no longer going to be. The fact that the increase in size makes the very act of holding the thing all of a sudden trickier is also a very bad thing.

And that last point really illustrates the corner that Apple has effective painted itself in. Most have been non-plussed by the lack of innovation the iPad has brought to the table, but this is just the beginning and new bells & whistles can (and will) be added as things more forward. I’m personally looking forward to advances in multiplayer gaming, in which more that one person will be able to play the same game, and on the same screen, at once. Multiperson Eliss sounds like the greatest thing ever! Yet the potential to move forward, primarily on the gaming side, might also mean tossing aside what has brought the iPhone/iPod Touch platform to the dance in the first place, which is drop dead simplicity. And speaking as a self-professed Apple fanboy, who was once extremely excited by the gaming landscape that they had painted, I’m all of a sudden extremely doubtful whether or not this will all stick. But like everything else, time will eventually tell…