Using the iPhone as a gamer interface

Apple has finally released their new iTunes app store and everyone is racing to release the hot new game for the iPhone. Although I’ve been eagerly watching the results, I have yet to purchase any of these new games. As a matter of fact, I haven’t even upgraded to the 2.0 software yet. As far as I can tell, it’s going to take a few generations of bad games before we really figure out how to design games for the iPhone. To put it simply, you can’t just port Pac-Man to the iPhone and expect it to work. The iPhone is a powerful machine, but it’s lack of tactile buttons is going to make games (particularly platformers) difficult and the accelerometer is just not going to work with every type of game play.

Although developing games for the iPhone may be hindered by it’s lack of controls, the iPhone itself could surprisingly make for an awesome game controller itself. Imagine controlling the avatar on your computer over WiFi with your iPhone. Tilting it to move forwards or backwards, selecting weapons from your touchscreen, controlling your weapon via swipe motions. The iPhone could make a great game controller, hell it’s even got a built in rumble pad!

Below I’m going to explore the “iPhone as a controller” concept slightly further with two fictitious examples. I n the first I’ll describe taking a current first person shooter and creating an iPhone controller for it. After that I’m going to describe the possibility of merging the iPhone with a laptop to create a totally unique game play.

The iPhone as a controller concept

Let’s look at a traditional FPS like World Of Warcraft and see how we could enhance the gaming experience using an iPhone as a controller. The accelerometer would lend itself well to navigating in WOW’s 3D environment. Leaning forward would make your character walk, leaning would turn, etc. The iPhone’s screen could be utilized for various displays. Shown in the picture above is an inventory of spells that could be left open during a fight. Whenever an item is selected, a sound could come from the iPhones speaker. Whenever a player is damaged, the rumble pack will shake in their hands. Another display could display a topographical map with locations of nearby friends. In this screen, the player could drop pins to make it easier to find for later. Different finger motions could be used to trigger different actions. Swiping a finger from left to right on the iPhone’s screen could wield a weapon being held in your inventory. Swiping forward could jump, etc. All of the swipe motions, inventory displays, and maps could be customized by the player to however they feel.


Tank Buggy is a game I made up to demonstrate another type of game play using the iPhone. T.B. is a cooperative 2 player game in which one player navigates a fast moving tank (using a laptop or desktop computer), while another player mans the tank’s turret (using only an iPhone). The 2 players will be synced up by using a WiFi network. To encourage interactivity, the driver will have a radar screen that shows the location of targets and the gunner will have a map to navigate the course with. This will require communication and teamwork. For the driver, the goal will be to navigate the course quickly, while working with the gunner to help get good clean shots. For the gunner, the goal will be destroy any other tanks in the drivers path and help navigate the course. The gunner will have access to 3 weapons; long range, close range, and remote control missile (which will give the player a first person POV while heading towards it’s target).

So there you have it, the possibilities of the iPhone are not just limited to puzzle games or casual games, but can be adapted to all sorts of new game interfaces. The screenshots used  in the WOW photo are from This idea was heavily inspired by the awesome Remote app by Apple for wireless iTunes control. If you are a game developer and are interested in talking more about iPhone UI, leave a comment below or contact me directly if it’s for professional purposes. The controller ideas listed above are free for anyone to use, but if you do use any of them, I would appreciate a mention in the game credits and link to my site (  In case you are wondering, working on or planning on creating any iPhone games or controllers using any of these ideas because I’m too caught up with IgorLabs working on our new X-Box title. The goal of this post was just to give developers some new ideas (with examples) of new ways to use the iPhone with the way we interact with our computers. Again, if you have any constructive comments, please post them below.