Will the rev­o­lu­tion be TV?

As a new Ap­ple TV ar­rives, we can­vass the game de­vel­op­ment com­mu­nity for opin­ions on its po­ten­tial


The new Ap­ple TV, that is. We can­vass de­vel­oper opin­ion

Fi­nally re­vealed in early Septem­ber, the new Ap­ple TV isn’t all that far away from a screen­less iPhone that plugs into your tele­vi­sion. That seems damn­ing on pa­per, but it’s a de­lib­er­ate and shrewd move. While this model fea­tures a faster CPU and more RAM than the older spec, where it truly dif­fer­en­ti­ates it­self isn’t the hard­ware up­grade, but that it has been de­signed to play games along­side stream­ing movies and TV. And it’s tap­ping into the ex­ist­ing iOS ecosys­tem to do so: de­vel­op­ers can make their app uni­ver­sal across your phone and the set-top box, while Hand­off ca­pa­bil­i­ties make it pos­si­ble to start a game on one Ap­ple de­vice and re­sume it on an­other.

Ap­ple’s iPhone has had a fa­mously trans­for­ma­tive ef­fect on the na­ture of games, help­ing to pop­u­larise free-to-play and mak­ing play­ers of those who would never have bought con­soles. Ap­ple TV builds on that foundation. It’s not a con­sole per se, and gam­ing on it is largely de­signed to slip in­nocu­ously into daily rou­tines and the short gaps be­tween view­ing ses­sions. The ques­tion is, where does that leave it for those who take a more ac­tive in­ter­est in games?

Jeff Wof­ford, the di­rec­tor of Elec­tric Toy Co, reck­ons the new Ap­ple TV is “some­thing Ap­ple had to do, but not some­thing gamers have to have”. He ar­gues it’s Ap­ple’s re­sponse to ri­vals (Ama­zon’s Fire TV, Chrome­cast) mak­ing a play for the liv­ing room, of­fer­ing lit­tle that’s new or re­mark­able. Oth­ers are more op­ti­mistic. Timo Vi­hola, cre­ative di­rec­tor at Minig­ore creator Moun­tain Sheep, con­sid­ers the new Ap­ple TV an in­ter­est­ing com­bi­na­tion of set-top box, smart TV and mi­cro­con­sole, backed by a com­pany that has a proven track record in cap­tur­ing a large au­di­ence.

No one be­lieves Ap­ple’s gun­ning for Xbox or PlayS­ta­tion’s spot un­der your TV. “This isn’t a de­vice that’s tak­ing on the con­sole mar­ket,” says Snow­man founder Ryan Cash, adding that many of his game-lov­ing friends spend much of their spare time play­ing Clash Of Clans any­way, even in their liv­ing rooms.

In short, the new Ap­ple TV could be a con­sole for the ev­ery­man. This isn’t a new idea, but, as FDG co-founder Philipp Döschl says: “Ap­ple’s strength isn’t in cre­at­ing new mar­kets, but open­ing them up to a large au­di­ence. I hope Ap­ple will do so again here with TV gam­ing, much like Nin­tendo did with Wii.” This line of think­ing might set some teeth on edge, but it ex­cites plenty of de­vel­op­ers. Trick Shot de­signer and Ustwo artist Jonathan Topf mulls that there “hasn’t been a re­ally good ca­sual gam­ing plat­form for the liv­ing room yet”, and reck­ons some­thing low fric­tion could be a boon. “If more peo­ple have ac­cess to games, that’s a great thing. As we’ve seen with mobile, plenty of ‘non-gamers’ want to play games. I can see a whole new group of peo­ple hav­ing the same ex­pe­ri­ence with Ap­ple TV”.

It’s a line of think­ing shared by Jon Carter, Har­monix’s cre­ative lead on Beat Sports, a rhyth­mic minigame col­lec­tion de­signed specif­i­cally for the new hard­ware. “I’m ex­cited about Ap­ple TV’s po­ten­tial to turn an enor­mous amount of peo­ple into liv­ing-room gamers,” he says. “Not ev­ery­one wants to in­vest in a con­sole, but if you’re used to games on your iPhone, an Ap­ple TV can in­tro­duce you to the won­ders of large­screen gam­ing.” He jokes his par­ents might “ac­tu­ally play one of my games when I’m not around”, but this hides a se­ri­ous point: de­vel­op­ers should not un­der­es­ti­mate this kind of un­tapped au­di­ence.

And with a dif­fer­ent kind of user­base comes fresh op­por­tu­ni­ties. Vi­hola is ex­cited about the prospect of smaller games, which rarely get a solid foothold on home con­soles, in part due to strict sub­mis­sion rules. “Plenty of iOS devs have TV gam­ing ideas, but nowhere to pub­lish them,” he says. “It will be in­ter­est­ing to see if they find a home on this plat­form.”

The hard­ware clearly ap­peals to de­vel­op­ers too. “It’s great and quite pow­er­ful,” says Finji di­rec­tor Adam Salts­man, adding that the de­vel­oper tools will be “very fa­mil­iar to any­one de­vel­op­ing for iOS al­ready”. He ported most of Can­a­balt in a cou­ple of days, and es­ti­mates it will feel “fully na­tive” in an­other week or so. Rusty Moy­her re­ports a sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ence, quickly get­ting Astro Party run­ning at 60fps. He says Ap­ple TV is a “fast lit­tle de­vice

“Lack of stor­age is tricky for games us­ing large amounts of per­sis­tent data for gen­er­ated worlds”

[and] at $150, it’ll also be the cheap­est de­vice from Ap­ple with an App Store”.

How­ever, other as­pects of Ap­ple TV de­vel­op­ment ap­pear less wel­come. While Star Seed Ori­gin and Word

For­ward de­vel­oper Shane McCaf­ferty says it’s been “a huge plea­sure to work with only one as­pect ra­tio and screen size for a change,” Wof­ford is con­cerned that “the screen’s only as good as your TV. You don’t di­rectly touch con­tent. And while there’s Wii-style ges­tu­ral con­trol, even Nin­tendo’s down­played move­ment-based game­play of late. Will this be enough to make the new Ap­ple TV a fresh, in­ter­est­ing gam­ing ex­pe­ri­ence?”

Gi­ant Spacekat founder Bri­anna Wu sim­ply sees more work for peo­ple in sup­port­ing Ap­ple TV: “You can’t just add con­troller sup­port and call it a day – playtest­ing re­quire­ments will be a huge timesink.” She’s also con­cerned about Ap­ple lim­it­ing tvOS apps to 200MB of lo­cal stor­age, with fur­ther data needs be­ing han­dled via down­load­able bun­dles that can be purged from the sys­tem when not in use. While it should make those 32/64GB hard drives go fur­ther, it’s a real hur­dle for game de­vel­op­ers. “This is a huge prob­lem,” says Wu. “It’s fine when us­ing Ap­ple’s na­tive tools to build your games, but se­ri­ous [game] de­vel­op­ers don’t — and the en­gines we use just can’t work on tvOS cur­rently.” Punch Quest de­vel­oper Paul

‘Madgar­den’ Prid­ham echoes Wu’s con­cerns: “Lack of stor­age is tricky for games us­ing large amounts of per­sis­tent data for gen­er­ated worlds. It could get tire­some for users if cached data is dis­carded by the sys­tem.” Tree Men Games’ Jussi Pulli­nen won­ders if this “will be a bad thing for great games that would oth­er­wise work per­fectly on Ap­ple TV, such as AG Drive”. Chaotic Box’s

Frank Con­dello goes fur­ther, sug­gest­ing that it could “neg­a­tively im­pact larger

games or con­sole ports, [per­haps] even dis­cour­ag­ing de­vel­op­ers enough to skip the plat­form en­tirely”.

Still, the most con­tro­ver­sial as­pect of Ap­ple TV de­vel­op­ment is its re­liance on the Siri Re­mote. Ap­ple ‘dis­cour­aged’ games that re­quired third­party con­trollers at first, then banned them en­tirely. Now the party line is that Siri Re­mote must be sup­ported for all Ap­ple TV games. The con­troller has plenty of in­puts, but not ones that map eas­ily onto tra­di­tional pads – there’s a small touch sur­face at one end that also ac­cepts a click in­put; ges­ture con­trols, thanks to a built-in ac­celerom­e­ter and gy­ro­scope; and the play/pause key be­comes a but­ton for gam­ing when the re­mote’s flipped on its side.

“This af­fords an incredible amount of in­tu­itive in­ter­ac­tions,” says Carter, whose Beat Sports has taken ob­vi­ous cues from Wii Sports. Salts­man is more guarded, how­ever: “The Siri Re­mote is a re­ally neat piece of hard­ware, but its feel varies a lot from game to game. Taps feel nice on the sur­face. Clicks feel good but are su­per-de­ci­sive – more like a mouse dou­ble-click from a player psy­chol­ogy stand­point. Swipes feel quite good, but the ges­ture recog­niser is lag­gier than for light touches.”

By con­trast, McCaf­ferty is un­happy with hav­ing so few tra­di­tional but­tons to work with. “The re­mote lim­its us,” he says, “be­cause there’s only one us­able but­ton to map – the track­pad but­ton of­ten won’t be us­able when the player’s us­ing the track­pad for move­ment”. Moy­her ques­tions mak­ing Siri Re­mote manda­tory, given that “the liv­ing room is well suited to longer, deeper gam­ing ses­sions, but the Siri Re­mote seems best suited for sim­ple swipe- or turn-based games”. Damp Gnat de­vel­oper Reece Mil­lidge be­lieves Ap­ple’s con­troller won’t work well for “bi­nary con­trolled plat­form games, such as my own Icy­cle”. He does, how­ever, ad­mit that “there is un­cer­tainty re­gard­ing what per­cent­age of own­ers will buy a third­party games con­troller”.

Mil­lidge con­cedes that purely ges­tu­ral games may turn out to be suc­cess­ful, but re­mains scep­ti­cal. Vi­hola reck­ons Ap­ple should have bun­dled a con­sole-style con­troller with the new unit to en­able a big­ger launch li­brary.

That would sug­gest a greater fo­cus on gam­ing than a set-top box with ‘TV’ in the name per­haps war­rants. And while Ap­ple may re­lent on its man­date or the re­mote’s de­sign in fu­ture, it makes sense to en­sure that the day-one buyer isn’t faced with a store full of games that re­quire ad­di­tional hard­ware to play. “This [Siri Re­mote rule] frus­trates de­vel­op­ers but is good for the ecosys­tem as a whole,” says Wu. “You just can’t ask nor­mal peo­ple to buy a sec­ond con­troller to play a game that costs a dol­lar. All they’ll un­der­stand is the feel­ing of be­ing ripped off.”

Nitrome MD Mat An­nal agrees, al­though he says it “would have been nice had Ap­ple put more thought into mak­ing the Siri Re­mote more ver­sa­tile. Would it have hurt so much to have a cou­ple of game-fo­cused but­tons on there in all that dead space?”

De­spite Ap­ple’s rules, sev­eral third­party com­pa­nies are ea­ger to fill any per­ceived void re­gard­ing tra­di­tional con­trollers. Mad Catz global PR di­rec­tor

Alex Ver­rey says his com­pany has long be­lieved mobile will emerge as the dom­i­nant gam­ing plat­form. This in part will be through “peo­ple con­nect­ing de­vices to TVs and sit­ting back to play”. He reck­ons Ap­ple TV will ac­cel­er­ate this process, but still thinks this leaves plenty of space for con­sole-style pads. He also hopes that in time we’ll see Ap­ple “em­brace a wide va­ri­ety of con­trol de­vices, dic­tated by the con­tent avail­able”.

The im­me­di­ate prob­lem, though, ac­cord­ing to iOS in­die lu­mi­nary Zach Gage, is that “it will be very dif­fi­cult for de­vel­op­ers to truly take ad­van­tage of the full set of but­tons on an MFi con­troller, due to Ap­ple’s re­stric­tions”. This won’t, he feels, stop qual­ity games from ar­riv­ing, but will “limit the ca­pac­ity of the Ap­ple TV to com­pete with con­sole-style ti­tles”.

There are work­arounds, how­ever. Con­dello says some de­vel­op­ers are us­ing cut­down con­trol schemes for Siri Re­mote, with auto-fire and other tricks, and then flesh­ing out the in­put va­ri­ety when an

“You just can’t ask nor­mal peo­ple to buy a sec­ond con­troller to play a game that costs a dol­lar”

MFi con­troller is de­tected. As 10tons Ltd pro­ducer Jaakko Maaniemi says, “It’ll be in­ter­est­ing to see how many games go for bare-min­i­mum Siri Re­mote func­tion­al­ity and of­fer the ‘real’ ex­pe­ri­ence with a gamepad, and ul­ti­mately where Ap­ple draws the line re­gard­ing the level of ac­cept­able bare min­i­mum. But I’m con­fi­dent the other end of the spec­trum will have bril­liant Siri Re­mote gam­ing ex­pe­ri­ences — and those are the games to keep an eye on.”

Some de­vel­op­ers nonethe­less

re­main baf­fled by Ap­ple’s de­mands, not least be­cause it im­pacts ex­ist­ing ti­tles. “IOS has great games with MFi con­troller sup­port, but Ap­ple ruled them out with its ridicu­lous de­ci­sion,” says MR Games’

Gary Riches, be­fore ask­ing why Ap­ple didn’t just use prompts to warn users buy­ing games about spe­cific re­quire­ments. Se­cret Exit CEO Jani

Kahrama be­lieves it hand­i­caps en­tire gen­res: “Some will be im­pos­si­ble to im­ple­ment in a sat­is­fac­tory man­ner if the re­quire­ment sticks. Ap­ple TV will be a plat­form held back not by hard­ware, but by pol­icy. It will be chal­leng­ing for de­vel­op­ers to adapt any­thing but the most ca­sual of gam­ing ex­pe­ri­ences.”

Wu sug­gests this is likely de­lib­er­ate: “It’s telling Har­monix’s game that de­buted at the Ap­ple event is a sim­ple one, where you push a but­ton in time to mu­sic. It has sim­ple me­chan­ics and graph­ics, and a low mem­ory foot­print. Th­ese kinds of sim­ple ex­pe­ri­ences will dom­i­nate Ap­ple TV.” She finds this a dis­ap­point­ment, not least be­cause she be­lieves iOS gam­ing’s big­gest short­com­ing is in most games be­ing “sim­ple, for­get­table ex­pe­ri­ences that don’t move you emo­tion­ally”.

The Cod­ing Mon­keys CEO Martin Pit­te­nauer of­fers a dif­fer­ent take: “In the past few years, some ti­tles that moved gam­ing for­ward as a medium did not rely on com­plex, tra­di­tional con­trols, and Siri Re­mote might be a good fit for them.” He adds that Ap­ple’s rules merely pro­vide a “de­sign con­straint that ul­ti­mately im­proves the qual­ity of avail­able games”.

Eighty Eight Games de­signer Luca Red­wood thinks sim­i­larly: “The most in­ter­est­ing things of­ten come from con­straints. Also, I see the Ap­ple TV be­ing com­ple­men­tary to a tra­di­tional con­sole, rather than a re­place­ment. Games that will shine will be quick ex­pe­ri­ences you can get into while some­one pauses the TV to an­swer the phone. If you want a full-on gam­ing ses­sion, use a con­sole.”

Still, with an untested plat­form, it’s likely we’ll ini­tially see a flurry of iOS ports, or at­tempts to re­work known prop­er­ties. Prid­ham, for ex­am­ple, is work­ing on bring­ing his sim­plest, “one-handed” fare, such as Chillax­ian, to Ap­ple TV, and is ea­ger to see how the “heavy-duty launch ti­tles adapt to a 1.5-but­ton re­mote”.

For Gage, the big ques­tion is which mobile orig­i­nals will be bet­ter on the TV than on your iPhone. He does, though, note that TV gam­ing has “a gi­gan­tic cul­tural his­tory of how to solve con­trol and in­ter­face is­sues” that de­vel­op­ers can draw on, eas­ing tran­si­tion prob­lems. This should help de­vel­op­ers get over the ini­tial bump Con­dello de­scribes: “It’s sur­pris­ingly easy to get an iOS game run­ning on tvOS — but there’s a bit of work be­tween ‘run­ning’ and ‘playable’.”

Topf won­ders how many de­vel­op­ers, ea­ger to min­imise costs and cap­i­talise on the fresh au­di­ence of Ap­ple TV, will port games that “shouldn’t be a safe bet and fight Siri Re­mote, re­sult­ing in a crappy ex­pe­ri­ence”. An­nal posits many mobile hits sim­ply won’t be vi­able: “Candy Crush would be much harder to play. Twin-stick shoot­ers are out!” In time, Con­dello reck­ons we’ll see games built specif­i­cally for Siri Re­mote, al­though Riches echoes Gage, ask­ing, “What will drive some­one to turn on the telly, switch to the Ap­ple TV and play a game that will also be on their iPhone?” Go­suen be­lieves a ma­jor re­think is the only way for­ward: “We will have to recre­ate our base. Mario was the base de­sign for con­soles years ago. Can­a­balt is a kind of base for mobile. For Ap­ple TV, we must rein­vent games for the place they were born: the TV.”

The prob­lem is money. Red­wood be­lieves that un­til a stand­out game proves the vi­a­bil­ity of the plat­form and jus­ti­fies all

the ex­tra work, de­vel­op­ers will re­main cau­tious. This is a com­mon con­cern. Con­dello grum­bles about Ap­ple’s push to­wards ‘uni­ver­sal pur­chas­ing’ and a likely back­lash should any­one cre­ate Ap­ple TV-only games, say­ing, “It’s iPad all over again.” Bad Crane de­signer and de­vel­oper Markus Kaikko­nen says he’d be “de­lighted if Ap­ple TV brought life to the paid in­die mar­ket, be­cause even buy­ing a $2 mobile game feels like an in­vest­ment for many”. Vi­hola, though, looks at the cur­rent re­al­ity of iOS: “Free-toplay dom­i­nates. Worse, most top-gross­ing free-toplay games are years old. By com­par­i­son, top-sell­ing PS4 ti­tles con­stantly change as new games ar­rive.”

De­spite the con­cerns sur­round­ing the con­troller, as­so­ci­ated eco­nom­ics, and even the games them­selves, one thing’s cer­tain: we’d be fool­ish to write Ap­ple TV off as a plat­form for gam­ing. Gage warns to “not dis­count how amaz­ing it is to have a TV box that is sim­ple to de­velop for”, while Con­dello jokes that “peo­ple al­ways vastly un­der­es­ti­mate Ap­ple’s abil­ity to sell shiny new things”. While it never reached iPhone’s heights, Ap­ple TV’s pre­vi­ous form was still a suc­cess – it was in the top five brands for stream­ing me­dia de­vices in the US in 2014. If its suc­ces­sor can even equal that achieve­ment, then it will be an at­trac­tive plat­form for de­vel­op­ment, re­gard­less of its short­com­ings.

From an adop­tion stand­point, how­ever, Salts­man won­ders how Ap­ple will fare with hard­ware that’s priced sig­nif­i­cantly higher than the grow­ing pool of HDMI sticks and ri­val boxes. Kaikko­nen sees the value propo­si­tion as rea­son­able: iOS al­ready has ti­tles that feel like full-blown con­sole re­leases, he says, and so “get­ting a con­sole for $150 and new premium games for $5 or less seems like a great deal”. But Riches notes that if you fac­tor in MFi con­trollers for mul­ti­ple users, the over­all cost rises to that of a sec­ond-hand Xbox One.

Fun­da­men­tally, though, it’s the games that count. Wof­ford won’t turn down an op­por­tu­nity, say­ing he’s sup­port­ing Ap­ple TV be­cause “it’s rel­a­tively easy to do and ex­pands my mar­ket”. But he reck­ons few peo­ple will buy Ap­ple TV for games, and that Ap­ple “prob­a­bly doesn’t see it as a gam­ing rev­o­lu­tion, or even an evo­lu­tion. I think Ap­ple sees games on Ap­ple TV as a nec­es­sary fea­ture for a nec­es­sary plat­form. It may be a gam­ing plat­form, but it’s not a gamer’s plat­form.”

Cash urges pa­tience: “I don’t think Ap­ple TV will change every­thing right away, but I be­lieve it will be­come a big part of liv­ing-room gam­ing.” He notes the new Ap­ple TV from a gam­ing per­spec­tive should re­ally be con­sid­ered as a first­gen­er­a­tion de­vice, but as de­vices in­crease in power and de­vel­op­ers have time to ex­per­i­ment with them, we’ll see games im­prove steadily. “We’ve al­ready seen this hap­pen with iOS, and so we’ll even­tu­ally get con­sole-level gam­ing on Ap­ple TV,” he pre­dicts. “In the mean­time, we’ll get lots of fun ca­sual gam­ing — and peo­ple who usu­ally only play games on their iPhones might fi­nally be drawn to the big screen.”

“Get­ting a con­sole for $150 and new premium games for $5 or less seems like a great deal”

FROM TOP Moun­tain Sheep’s cre­ative di­rec­tor, Timo Vi­hola; Snow­man founder Ryan Cash; and FDG co-founder Philipp Döschl

The Ap­ple TV App Store 1 will launch with a few new ti­tles and many ports. The de­vice it­self 2 runs on a new A8 chip and has 2GB of RAM. Siri Re­mote 3 fea­tures two mics for han­dling voice in­put




FROM TOP Zach Gage, Damp Gnat’s Reece Mil­lidge, and Alex Ver­rey, Mad Catz’s global PR di­rec­tor

Trick Shot, a puz­zle game built around try­ing to get a bouncy ball into the goal by ping­ing it around lev­els, re­lies on the kind of sim­ple ges­tu­ral in­puts that suit Siri Re­mote and its glass touch­screen

GalaxyOnFire–Man­ti­coreRis­ing has been an­nounced as an Ap­ple TV ex­clu­sive, and will be a pre­quel to GalaxyOnFire3–Man­ti­core

The Siri Re­mote has a strap to tether it to your wrist while play­ing, but it’s an op­tional ex­tra rather than be­ing sup­plied as stan­dard

Ray­man’s pre­vi­ous games on iOS were fluid autroun­ners, whereas Ray­man Ad­ven­tures hews a lit­tle closer to the plat­form­ing of Ori­gins and Leg­ends

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP LEFT Gui­tarHero Live, Me­tal-Morph, Tran­sis­tor and

Shad­ow­matic were all re­vealed at Ap­ple’s event in Septem­ber

Can­a­balt creator Adam Salts­man is cau­tiously op­ti­mistic about Ap­ple TV

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