The Challenge of Streamlining the Action in a Mobile Game

Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land info pageSorry all, that’s a bit of a long title to introduce you to one of the biggest challenges in making a games for a mobile phone.  The challenge is that the screen real-esate is very small. As a designer, you dont’ have a huge amount of space in which to display events to the player. Now that is not such an issue if your game has a simple set of parmeters. So take Angry Birds for example; what information does the user need to know while playing the game? Your score and what birds you have yet to fling. That’s about it.  It is quite simple and so the developers can add a few extra bits of information for you such as highscore onto the screen. Then all they need to add is some controls, and again with the simple gameplay mechanism of Angry Brids, it is only really a pause button that is required (which can open a sub-menu to other options). This makes the UI (User Interface) nice and simple:

Now compare that to a game such as World of Warcraft (WoW). Now, WoW not a mobile game and is a much more complex title. You can control mutliple characters, all of who have lots of skills, stats, equipment, weapons and more. The player needs to be able to manage each of those facets of his character, plus his team as well as his relationship to other users in the world. This means you need to offer the player lots of information and controls:

World of Warcraft UI

We’re in an awkward place with The Wasted Land, in that we are adapting a paper RPG which has extensive stats for each character and somehow need to put this information onto a small screen (here’s an example of one). To display these takes a fair bit of screenspace. Yet trying to presesent that on a small 320×480 standard-res screen is hard; you simply can’t fit it all on and make it legable. To display it all means we’d need with scolling or sub-menus at the very least. This threatens to make the game unwieldy. Mobile games, by definition should be, well mobile. (You can see an earlier discission and the screen-space and the issue of scale here.)

So this is what I’ve been thinking about; given we’re making a turn-based strategy, the focus is around the combat. So the most important items of information that a player needs to see are going to be those around these areas; combat. My thoughts on the core stats of Call of Cthulhu are:

  • STR (Strength) – As this impacts on how much damage I do with close combat weapons, I still need this.
  • CON (Constitution) – As it is used to generate the Hit Points (HP) or your character it seems important. So yes, HPs are important and we need them, but given than CON’s other uses are around non-core situations (such as resisting poision) do we need it displayed?  Perhaps not.
  • DEX (Dexterity) – As this is about the speed of your character, this is important for combat. This is also going to be a good way to help us generate the Action Points (AP) that a character has, so doubly important.
  • INT (Intelligece) – Not directly used in combat but I feel that an intelligent character is one who can vary thier tactics and look for blind spots/weak spot in thier foes, so I think this still has a use in combat.
  • APP (Appearance) – This has use in non-combat areas like persuading people to do things, but not reallyt needed in combat.
  • POW (Power) – The Magical power a character has, but in some respects also a proxy for the strnght of will of a character. This is important.

Comments welcome! (We’ve also got a poll on which character stats from Call of Cthulhu are most important going on at the Red Wasp Facebook page…)

About Tomas

Design & Production Director at Auroch Digital. Designer of Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land. Writing and blogging things that surprise, entertain and interest me...
This entry was posted in Call of Cthulhu, character design, game design, paper to video game issues, The Wasted Land and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The Challenge of Streamlining the Action in a Mobile Game

  1. It’s a hurdle for sure. The only other Cthulhu related game on the app store stufferd greatly from this lack of space. It meant the game was shaped and dictated by the screen size. Probably didn’t turn out to be the game the creator really …wanted. This is evident in the HD version they are building now for the iPad which should be (in theory) a much better game. Not just an upscaled game.

    I created a flash game for Kongregate site, but afterwards found out the res allowed was limited, and I was over by about 200 pixels each side. The game I had made didn’t ‘fit’. Had to redesign, scale, and scarifice.

    I’d probably limit the combat related stats as much as you can. Dont use INT or other unnecessary stats for combat if you can avoid it, and so during encounters you shouldn’t need to display those superflous stats.

    Another option is to try to dedicate a small slice of screen (bottom or top in portrait – left or right side in landscape) that remains constant, but is context sensitive. The player will get used to this element if it’s constant and this can eliminate a worry about screen realestate in ‘most’ cases. You could also hide it, yet make it user expandable or pop out when needed.

    (note – I posted this on FB, but which is easier for you to access? Probably this blog )

  2. Tomas says:

    Both is easy for us to access and that is all really great feedback, so big thanks!

  3. No problem. Would like to help however I can. I want to see something worthy of the Call of Cthulhu name appear and be a success. I’m also the QA Manager of a software company. If you need beta testing at some point I’d be more than happy to help.

  4. Dan Gusset says:

    Have you looked at representing the stats graphically rather than alphanumerically?

  5. Tomas says:

    We have and that is something we’ll use a bit. However the numbers in CoC are not too onerous so we’ll also be using those.

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