The state of serious gaming involves two kinds of players: PC and Console. Despite the widespread adoption of mobile gaming, I’m still hesitate to involve any association of depth with it. Regardless of the popularity of smartphones and tablets, the games remain gimmicky, and the gameplay superficial by the reluctance to stray from the touch-screen. However, there is hope for the mobile gamer who desires a deeper experience. As much as I would have thought it impossible one year ago, the tablet is poised to take a giant leap forward.
Mobile has stagnated in mediocrity for three reasons: poor touch-screen controls, sub-par graphics and terrible multiplayer support. Tapping on glass is not the most pleasurable, nor the most effective way to control. You would think that reaching out to manipulate on-screen elements with your fingers would feel natural, and it most cases it does. However when doing so obscures half of the display, you’re doing something wrong. Low-res, cartoony and jittery graphics, despite their throwback value that remind you of the Saturday mornings you spent on the living room floor with your first console, are boring. These are today’s problems, but the days of mobile gaming occupying the children’s table are numbered.
With the announcement of Tegra 3 and other quad-core processors on the horizon, we’re about to witness an exponential leap in the graphical capabilities of tablets. Even if next year they still lag behind current generation console systems such as the Xbox 360 or the Playstation 3, tablets will have plenty of horsepower to hold their own, and the platform will finally reach the same good-enough plateau that console’s had to reach before they eclipsed the PC. However, as much as gamers may salivate over graphical prowess, it’s hardly the most important piece.
The most detrimental aspect keeping serious gamers away from tablets is obvious: the controls. This is one area where the tablet apologist has no defence. Touch-screen controls are horrific for any of the most popular console or PC games. The terms FPS or MMORPG may very well have never existed in the tablet context. In order for tablets to become a viable platform, bluetooth controllers are going to have to become broadly supported. I know it’s not a native solution, and minimalists may not agree, but they probably haven’t fended off Left 4 Dead zombie hordes, either.
The last key element for serious gamers is competition. What fun is being the best if you can’t rub anyone’s nose in a smelly pile of your excellence? With more competent tablets and tablet games, the next logical step is online support for multiplayer. How soon until we can get a port of Team Fortress or Counter Strike? Call me nostalgic, but one of the things I miss most about the old days were LAN parties: all night warthog-flipping Halo slugfests with 16 of my closest friends. With Xbox Live and the Playstation Network, multiplayer gaming has -ironically- become a solitary activity. I have some very fond memories of the LAN parties of old; there is nothing quite like reveling in the anguish of your opponents when they are right there with to you. With tablets, we could see a revival of the old ways. A lightweight tablet and a controller would be the only requirements, no wires, and best of all, NO DIRTY SCREEN-HOPPERS!
That, in and of itself, is the great strength of the tablet as a serious gaming device. Simplicity. No wires, just the tablet, and a controller. One of the biggest drags of console and PC gaming is the stationary nature of it all, always meeting at someone’s house and always playing in the same dingy room. Yes, I have heard of a thing called a laptop, but its just not the same experience as you would have with the superportable ever-present tablet. With tablets, you could engage in combat anywhere, and not just on a superficial smartphone level. Serious gaming will come to the tablet, and with the quickly iterative pattern of technology, it is going to come soon.