All Your Base Are Belong to Touch

5 Reasons why Real-Time Strategy games will work for the iPhone.

On our last podcast we discussed which EA games we thought should be ported to the iPhone. My choice was very simple: Command & Conquer. This is the first PC game on CD I ever owned, and will forever give warm and fuzzy feelings to old-school RTS fans everywhere. After viewing the results of our front-page poll on the matter, it seems the majority of you agree with me! But what would it take to bring a true RTS to the iPhone, and how would the iPhone suit this genre of game? Read on to be convinced of how the various features of the iPhone will assist in playing a real-time strategy game. I hope the game developers are listening!


Touch Screen
How many of you have been frustrated with the seeming slowness of selecting buildings and units with a mouse or (gulp) a console controller? Wait, you haven’t? Well…

Shut up.

The touch screen on an iPhone will allow for quick selection of units and buildings with high accuracy (if done well). It will also allow you to quickly group units by tapping and dragging your finger to select more than one at a time. Which leads me to…


The ability to use up to four finger inputs at once with an iPhone will be key to controlling and directing your units. Here are some possible uses for each type of multi-touch input from your fingers:

- Finger Tap: Select a unit or base. Make building/spell selections.
- Finger drag: Creates a box to select units.
- 1 Finger held down while tapping a second finger: Set movement waypoints.
- 2-Finger Tap: Tells selected units to move/attack to location you tapped.
- 2-Finger Drag: Creates a box to select all of just a particular unit on the screen (maybe the last one you selected).
- 3-Finger Tap: Hold position.
- 3-Finger Swipe: Moves you around the map.
- 4-Finger Tap: Brings up in-game HUD.

Using multiple finger inputs can really help solve the issue with not having any buttons to press for various functions. It will also allow for some extremely quick manueverings during battle. Right click WHAT?


Finger Pinch
This one is pretty straight-forward. You would be able to pinch to easily zoom in and out of the battlefield. This would be necessary due to the limited screen real estate the iPhone offers. Don’t get me wrong, it’s one of the largest cell phone screens in the industry, but it’s essential to be able to zoom out and evaluate the map quickly.

Honestly, there are many games out there that should use this feature, but don’t. The pinch and zoom feature of the iPhone is something we’ve just kinda come to assume works with apps that appear they could use it. When it doesn’t, it’s quite disappointing. Needless to say, this would make navigated the battlefield quick and easy. Double tapping to zoom in on certain points couldn’t hurt either (like you were viewing a Google map).


WiFi Capabilities
Multiplayer and social interaction is becoming one of the most important features of new iPhone games, and for good reason! When you carry a gaming device with you everywhere, it’s important that it allows you to join up with friends on-the-fly for a quick match or two. While I don’t know why Apple didn’t include built-in adhoc network capabilities with the iPhone, connecting via an existing wireless network works alright, and could provide for some fun RTS skirmishes.

But ultimately, an RTS game really requires a robust online multiplayer engine to work. Look at a game like Starcraft. It was released over 10 years ago, and the online population is more active than ever! Build something like this into an iPhone RTS game, and production in America’s workforce will plumet. Wait maybe that’s not a good idea…



Now don’t go freaking out. Yes, I generally can’t stand tilt control in games. However, with an RTS it could be extremely effect in being used to scan across the battle field. It should at least be an option rather than dragging your finger to the sides of the screen. To me, being able to tilt more or less to scan over the map faster or slower would be a huge help. I don’t need any extra tapping when I’m focused on controlling my units!

There you have it.

Five features of the iPhone that would lend perfectly to an RTS style game on the platform. So why don’t we see more of these? You guess is as good as mine. Perhaps the iPhone doesn’t have the power to render multiple units on screen? Oh wait, there are tower defense games that do that. Maybe screen isn’t clear enough? No no that’s not it. Then what? What is keeping major developers like EA and Blizzard from porting some of their RTS classics onto the iPhone?

Feel free to leave your own thoughts on the matter, especially if you have some developer experience yourself! I want to know why something that sounds so good, has yet to be.

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  • Legend.inc

    Ahh… Finally an intellegent man who understands what gamers want.

  • Jay

    i voted for this!

  • meek

    I voted for c&c also cos i think strategic assault works well but im not sure about all this 4 finger tap stuff. Sounds like a nightmare to me.

  • Diga

    Dune 2 would also be a nice title for the iPhone. It worked fine with the screen resolution of sega megadrive, so it should be a cool port to the iPhone,but the grafics should be pumped up.

  • MikeyBoy

    Totally Agree with this and would love to see some!, also voted for C&C.

  • Deluxe

    IMO, not only Real-Time Strategy but whole Strategy could be awesome on the iPhone/iPod Touch…

    Each I think of Heroes Of Might and Magic on it, my eyes start to shine… Or something like that.

  • Jay

    I remembered what the RTS game I saw was called. It’s Warfare Incorporated

  • http://www.pyrosmile.org iPGN-Matt

    Now that I think of it, turn-based strategy would work well too, and would make it easier on the iPhone during multiplayer games.

  • plaidman

    RTS can be done and has been in the past (Galcon) but not in the same league of complexity as PC-based RTS games are, and it would take a huge amount of interface design before something emerges that’s playable.

    For the first point, mouse pointers click on a very specific pixel point that’s clearly defined – something that’s very difficult, if not impossible to do with a finger. As a result we’d need to make the units (soldiers, buildings, etc) very large to be able to select them accurately, but then the small screen would only fit a small number of units at one time. The screen size of the iDevice is artificially made smaller by the inaccuracy of the pointing device.

    To address the second point, double (and triple, etc) pointing presents a bit of a problem as well. If you’re representing one coordinate to attack with two coordinates on the screen, which of the two is correct. This becomes a huge issue if the screen is zoomed out, and the two finger points are very far apart on the map. Perhaps the geometric center of the multi-touch coordinates, but that can be inaccurate for the user, and difficult to calculate for the iDevice.

    Having to zoom in and zoom out constantly isn’t ideal in a fast-paced RTS game. Though having both parties subject to the mechanic would be fair in competition, I suppose. A minimap could be supplied to traverse the map quickly, but that would detract from precious screen real-estate, and accurately pointing at a location is difficult with our inaccurate pointing devices (fingers).

    Tilting is a good idea for moving across the map, but it would need to be designed with lots of customization options to not be frustrating to the users. Not difficult to implement, but it should be mentioned. And, of course, WiFi is always welcome in games.

  • http://www.pyrosmile.org iPGN-Matt

    Definitely some great points in your response, plaidman. Although, I tend to disagree with saying it’s impossible to get precision with a finger on the iPhone touch screen. There are many apps/games that have been shockingly precise with finger precisions. Take the iPhone Safari browser. I can click a tiny link without zooming, and Safari will know what I clicked on. If developed right, I don’t believe this will be a huge issue.

    As for double/triple tapping. I suppose I’m thinking more along the lines of holding down one finger and tapping with another. Or holding down two and tapping (although that would be admittedly tougher). I would definitely say that any RTS would certainly have to innovate and simplify the concept, but I don’t think it’s impossible.

  • http://www.muggins.com Muggins

    1 reason why rts games won’t work on this platform: battery life. :(

    (yes I own and love my iphone but play fieldrunners for an hour and see how your battery looks)