How 3D Touch could make iPhone the dominant mobile gaming device


The Apple Watch’s Force Touch feature has been repurposed for the iPhone 6s with added layers of sensitivity. Could such a small addition revolutionise mobile gaming?

One of the most notable features of the iPhone 6s is 3D Touch, its enhanced system for interpreting how hard you press the screen. Although a similar appeared on this year’s Apple Watch and MacBook as Force Touch, Apple has assured punters that 3D Touch is not the same technology. While Force Touch could simply distinguish between a light tap and a hard press, 3D Touch has different layers of sensitivity and varying levels of pressure can activate a range of different commands. Essentially, 3D Touch is a more complex, more reactive version of the Force Touch technology.

This has all the obvious benefits that Apple showcased at its keynote launch, such as the ability to access quick menus for apps on the home screen, but it's the implications 3D Touch has for mobile gaming that have us really excited.

What Apple demonstrated with 3D Touch

What we saw at Apple’s presentation was a glimpse of Warhammer 40k: Freeblade, a third-person shooter where the player is tasked with causing destruction by piloting an Imperial Knight (a giant mech) through the ravaged Warhammer universe. It's an interesting and gorgeous-looking game by mobile standards. This is standard for Apple keynotes. Each year a new game is demoed to show off the visual fidelity and graphical performance of a new device (In 2014 it was Vainglory, and the year before showcased adventure game Lili). One of the additional purposes of this year's gaming demo was to show off another application of 3D Touch.

The demo showed the player using three grades of pressure on the touchscreen to achieve three different results.Pressing lightly sprayed bullets at the enemy, pressing a little bit harder achieved a more focused aim, and pressing harder again allowed the player to switch to some heavier artillery as the mech unloaded a torrent of rockets. This kind of engagement might not seem impressive to console purists or dedicated PC gamers but for mobile gamers, it’s a huge step forward.

Many games have tried to make shooters work on mobile. Gameloft titles like Modern Combat and N.O.V.A litter smartphone displays with on-screen buttons and joysticks, while last year’s Midnight Star (which was a significant improvement) ditched those controls for an on-rails experience with gesture-based shooting. Unfortunately, neither managed to earn the respect of console gamers. The Warhammer demo at Apple’s keynote was an exciting display for action game enthusiasts, mobile and console alike, but just one modest example of how 3D Touch can be used in a gaming context.

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What the future holds for 3D Touch gaming

Not only does 3D Touch add another level of gameplay previously unachievable with mobile shooters on standard smartphones and tablets, the 3D Touch puts the iPhone on a higher plane than its mobile rivals when it comes to gaming, at least for now. Think about the evolution of home console controllers. What started with two knobs for vertical and horizontal movement on the Magnavox Odyssey 100, slowly added more and more buttons and eventually became the fleshed out controllers of today. The upcoming Xbox Elite controller boasts a whopping 14 buttons (not including the two joysticks and d-pad).

Evolution and improvement in gaming is often a result of more control, which is one reason PC gamers don't find consoles appealing – even 14 buttons can't compete with a full keyboard and mouse. 3D Touch doesn't offer that much scope, but the added versatility it promises will evolve mobile gaming once creative game developers begin to toy with the possibilities.

Pleasure in new gaming technologies comes in that aha! moment when you first get cornered in a game and then realise you can use the new option to solve your conundrum. One example that comes to mind is when players first realised they needed to use the microphone on the Nintendo DS to solve a puzzle in The Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass.

Puzzles, rhythm games, endless runners and even those free-to-play management simulators your colleagues play are all going to adopt this new technology and whether you’re a fan of these game genres or not, that’s exciting. 3D Touch doesn’t just open the door to more options, it creates more problems for gamers to solve, which is the very thing that drives us to keep our heads buried in our smartphones while the world buzzes with excitement around us.

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