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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.

The wearable nature of the Apple Watch brings some very specific considerations with game design. As Järvilehto's social media comparison hints, it's unlikely that players will want to have their wrists raised for long periods of time — so short play sessions are essential. Pittenauer also suggests that an ideal Watch game should let players stop at any moment and pick back up later, which might not work for many genres in their traditional forms. 

And the tiny screen means that there's no room for in-game excess or interface design: Games must be boiled down to their essential elements, no more and no less. For Letterpad, that meant axing extraneous interactions and focusing on the word-building gameplay. "You don't want to be navigating menus on the watch, unless that is the main functionality of your app," says David Marsh, co-founder and chief pixelization officer at NimbleBit. "The goal was for the Watch to basically be a mirror of the game state on the phone, so that you could solve just a word or two when inspiration strikes." 

It's also the reason why the initial games are largely graphic-lite affairs, most of which seem to require only simple taps for interactions and don't require a ton of focus or concentration. No doubt, some enterprising souls will work out ways to bring high-impact experiences like racing games and first-person shooters to the Apple Watch, if only to prove the case. But it seems like the most ideal games will indeed be simple in design, flexible in demands, and bite-sized in nature.

Ready for launch

Some developers have had access to the Apple Watch to test out their ideas and see their games up and running on the devices, but not everyone. That's been one of the biggest challenges for early Watch app creators, which is surely part of the reason why we haven't seen a huge flood of launch games announced.

Hatchi had already been released on the Pebble, but Portable Pixels was concerned about making a fully-fledged game for a device they'd never played with. "We were cautious about trying to do anything particularly ambitious without ever having used the Apple Watch, and not having one to test with," says owner and developer Greg Plumbly, noting that they plan to add more features once they have hardware. Developing for a software simulator only goes so far, after all, as you can't tell how fast actual communication between the iPhone and Apple Watch will be. 

Monkube encountered its own struggles with developing its Watch game, BlastBall Duo. The game is adapted from BlastBall Max on iPhone — itself a conversion of a board game — and the studio has had to rely on Internet research to pick up design cues. "It's not easy, I can tell you that," says CEO and creative director, Sven Van de Perre. "We have to check online videos and analyze Apple presentations to get a feel for the way Apple does menus, user interface movement speed, and so on." 


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