I was today pointed at Benjamin Mayo’s blog post Apple Now Requiring All Apple TV Games To Support Siri Remote Input. As the title suggests, Apple will enforce Siri Remote support for Apple TV games. This is a problem.
On Twitter, I’ve had people argue otherwise, suggesting everything is fine. Developers will just find new methods of control input that work nicely with the Siri Remote. This is more or less what happened on iPhone, when people (including yours truly) initially dismissed it as a games machine, due to its lack of non-traditional controls. In the event, devs worked past perceived limitations, and we ended up with amazing and intuitive titles like Zen Bound and Eliss (most recent versions linked to here — buy them both).
There is a difference, though. iPhone was a blank slate, and developers took — and continue to take — full advantage. The Siri Remote is by design a more conventional input, because you use it to control something on a screen across the room. There isn’t really any comparison between the two, and I fear the Siri Remote’s comparatively basic input options will lead to a glut of iOS games becoming less innovative as a result.
The other angle people are taking is that Apple’s keener on Wii-like gestural input, since the Siri Remote has an accelerometer. Cynics will point out the Wii is a console from 2006 and therefore nearly a decade old, but many of its games are still fun, and gestural input is intuitive. The thing is, Apple’s remote is significantly more restrictive and looks to be more awkward for games than Nintendo’s.
In the initial Apple TV promo video Apple ran at its recent event, someone was shown playing racer Asphalt 8 with said remote (held between two hands), and it looked faintly ridiculous and a little painful. Crossy Road was also demoed, using the remote’s small touchpad as a directional controller. That looked OK, but showcased the kind of title likely to find traction on Apple TV (i.e. very basic casual games), and it still had me thinking of cramp.
But even Wii comparisons don’t really hold up. Nintendo’s controller works fine for browsing menus and app UIs, but flip it on its side and it’s a fairly capable, if slightly basic, games controller. By contrast, flip Apple’s on its side and you see the difference. Buttons are crammed towards the centre, and there’s no physical directional controller. The latter issue can be readily dismissed if you’re not desperate for it to be 1987 all over again, but the former means you’re largely limited to tilt/tap or swiping with your left thumb.
The concern is Apple’s rules will severely limit even remotely complex fare on Apple TV from a control standpoint, or those games will have to figure out an extremely dumbed-down mode specifically designed for the Siri Remote. This will affect more games than you might realise. Games that rely on twin-stick/two-thumb input (commonplace on iOS) will have to revert to single-thumb input, with auto-aim for shooters. Platform games could be very tricky to implement. Flick up to jump? Urgh. And anything requiring directional control and action buttons could be a problem. When your new controller may have trouble supporting games that need anything beyond tilt-and-tap or directional controls alone, that should send alarm bells ringing.
As Andrew Bryant remarked to me on Twitter, it won’t be a surprise if Apple changes tack, on realising a AAA title it wants to bang on about at a keynote cannot come to Apple TV with these restrictions. Additionally, I know plenty of game devs, and they’re often keen to rise to a challenge. I suspect we’ll, despite Apple’s decisions, see at least a reasonable number of innovative titles on Apple TV. Here’s hoping on both counts, because as I recently wrote for Stuff, it would be a crying shame if a piece of hardware that could be broadly transformative for gaming ends up as yet another also-ran.