Embrace the medium

2009-10-27

An obvious but surprisingly under-practiced design principle is to “embrace the medium.”  Applied to software, this means building applications that take advantage of the strengths of the platform instead of trying to mimic the strengths of another platform.

iPhone and Wii games provide many stark abuses of this principle. Call of Duty is perhaps the single best franchise on the XBox and PS3, but the Wii version is almost unplayable.   They basically just did a straight port of the game, with worse graphics and using the Wiimote as a shaky aiming device.  It’s not an accident that the best Wii games are made exclusively for the Wii (and that most of those games are made by Nintendo itself).

iPhone games are perhaps even worse violators of the “embrace the medium” principle.  Recently I was thinking about downloading Madden 2010, but as soon as I saw the screenshots I knew I’d hate it:

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Screen shot 2009-10-26 at 8.03.58 AM

You can see they are trying to force the XBox/PS3 control scheme onto a device with completely different set strengths and weaknesses. The iPhone’s strengths are:  touchscreen, gestures, accelerometer, networked, always with you. Its weaknesses:  no buttons, small screen, poor graphics/processor (compared to consoles).  The best games – Flight Control, Spider, Rolando – are designed from scratch to take advantage of the iPhone’s strengths.  Take Flight Control as an example:

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Screen shot 2009-10-26 at 8.10.04 AM

You guide the planes by mapping their routes with your finger.  It’s such a simple, elegant and fun game, and one that could only exist on the iPhone.  It embraces the iPhone-ness instead of fighting it.

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