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Apple Watch gaming: Devs talk early titles and the challenges of wearable fun

Andrew Hayward | April 24, 2015
We've been bombarded by the images and ideas of the Apple Watch transforming the way we communicate and use apps in our daily lives, whether it's receiving notifications on our wrists, paying for coffee, or interacting with loved ones. So much emphasis has been put on the Apple Watch as an essential part of our everyday routine, yet for many of us, there's something we do all the time on our phones that has barely been shown in marketing materials: Play games.

Rules! is one game that's received some marketing love from Apple in the run-up to the Watch release. Not only did it pop up at the big event in March, but it was also the first iOS game to be updated with Watch support, and Apple recently offered free downloads via the Apple Store app. The charming iOS game — which tests your memory with increasingly complex sorting demands — now includes a "daily brain workout mini-game" for Apple Watch, says the Apple Store listing. 

However, while those games might've started as iPhone experiences, original games designed solely for the Apple Watch are also coming at or around the launch date. Eyes Wide Games announced Watch This Homerun, a bite-sized baseball game that'll eventually be followed by other sports titles from the same team. Robot 5 Studios has already beat it to the punch on one sport thanks to Football Twos, plus the team is working on Blackjack Mini and simple puzzler Berry Quest. 

Runeblade seems like the most ambitious of the already-revealed originals — and that's a relative descriptor, of course. Created by Everywear Games, which was established early this year to exclusively develop wearable experiences, it's a fantasy role-playing game that you can play for five to 15 seconds per stretch. That's right: An adventure meant to be played for seconds at a time, not minutes or hours. 

New paradigms 

In any case, whether creating a game from scratch or optimizing and reworking an existing one to fit a new device and style of play, making Apple Watch games before the device is actually available has proven to be a challenging endeavor.

With Runeblade, Everywear attempted to make the gameplay interactions feel "Twitter-sized," says CEO Aki Järvilehto. "Right now, this is one of the most exciting game design challenges out there. Finding the right balance between simplicity, complexity, and depth has taken a lot of iterations and testing," he admits. 

The Finnish studio was founded by industry veterans from big developers like Rovio and Remedy, but the Apple Watch isn't like a smartphone or console. "The most important challenge for us has been to completely change the mindset of how we typically play games," Järvilehto adds. "When you're aiming to create a fun experience on such a new platform like Apple Watch, it is critical to understand how people will actually be using these devices. The game has to fit in with people's daily lives, and playing it needs to feel effortless."

With Rules!, the team at TheCodingMonkeys ultimately settled on having the daily challenge span a smaller grid on the Apple Watch. "It's kind of surprising how much complexity you can fit into a 2x2 playing field, so scaling that down from 4x4 [on iPhone] was a winning solution," says CEO Martin Pittenauer. "Of course, most of the development was trying out ideas and looking at what works and what doesn't. Game development for Apple Watch is still quite the undiscovered country, after all."


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