3D Touch in Finger Hero

What’s 3D Touch?

3D Touch is a technology introduced by Apple with the iPhone 6S, in September 2015. It was a natural, more sensitive and precise evolution of Force Touch from the Apple Watch. Being the most apparent feature of the new iPhone, it was (and still is) strongly advertised by Apple as being the entirely new way to interact with a phone.

It all sounds amazingly useful and made me buy a 6S right away (the new rose gold color was also a part of it, I have to admit 😉). Unfortunately, 3D Touch turned out not to be as useful as promised. Instead of being a game changing breakthrough, it proved to be “just an extra feature” that you happen to use from time to time.

Hardware — Software compatibility

The awkwardness of 3D Touch largely had to do with iOS 9, which simply wasn’t ready for it. Of course, there were some 3D Touch applications built in, but most of them felt out of place, as if they were squeezed in there, just to make use of the new technology.
On the other hand, I totally understand Apple’s point of view. Had they based iOS 9 interaction solely on 3D Touch, people with older devices would have felt forced to upgrade their phones.

UX in a mobile game

Let’s leave 3D Touch for a while and think about user interaction of a mobile game.
Controlling a character? That’s easy. Use a virtual joystick. — This seems to be the most straightforward and easiest way of controlling something in a game, right? As d-pads and joysticks are a great way of interaction on platforms like PlayStation, they truly feel out of place on a mobile device. Why? You’re losing most of the benefits that they had in the first place, like real direct feedback under your finger of which direction you’re pushing. Not to mention that you’re covering a part of the screen in an awkward place. I could go on and on about virtual joysticks, but the point is that it doesn’t provide the best user experience on a mobile device.
All platforms have their interface and interaction idioms, that feel out of place when moved directly and without second thoughts to a different platform. Computers have the mouse and cursor, consoles have joysticks and d-pads, and mobile devices have multi-touch screens.

Direct manipulation

In Finger Hero (our game that was in development at the time) you use your finger to control your character’s position on the screen. This is the basic feature of the game — the feeling of direct manipulation. But there was a problem — we wanted to include a way of controlling speed that you’re moving as well. A virtual joystick was not an option for us (good enough is not good enough here), and there was no easy way to introduce it. There were a couple of solutions that we had tried out, but they had never felt as direct as we wanted. So we kept ignoring the problem and focused on other parts of the game, even have been considering removing speed control from Finger Hero.

The introduction of 3D Touch

As game developers we love new technology, new ways of interaction, and mostly we love extending our games with new capabilities. So right when 3D Touch was introduced and we got our hands on the new iPhones, we started wondering: How to make use of it? Can it make our projects even better? And thus began the brainstorm 🌩

Hey, what if we save that direct manipulation feeling and introduce speed control with the pressure from 3D Touch? It seemed a perfect fit as soon as we thought of it. The implementation and migration of previous controls to 3D Touch only took a couple of hours, since new iOS APIs are mostly well thought out. After some sensitivity adjustments we were pretty confident that it was the right way. It felt totally at place and Finger Hero became a much better game with controls which are natural and provide a native platform experience. Once you come up with something new and it feels so right that everyone else says it’s obvious and anybody would have thought of it, you know you’re doing it right.

Being innovative in a mobile game

With 3D Touch direct manipulation we’ve introduced something that had never been done in a game before. Each time you do such thing, you need to show it and explain it to your users. You need a tutorial, so players become familiar with the new way of interaction. It turned out to be the hardest thing in Finger Hero — to make the tutorial perfect. But that’s a story for another time.

Finger Hero on the App Store

Finger Hero was released on the App Store on March 31st earlier this year. We got lots of great feedback, especially from users that can take advantage of 3D Touch features ✌️ You can download Finger Hero here. I hope you love it as much as we do 😁

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