I ran across some interesting news over at Polygon about a recent update to the Destiny companion app. I don’t own a console that can play Destiny so I can’t testify to the usefulness of this particular App but there are a couple of games that I’m playing where I’ve often wished for something just like this.
I’ve logged almost 140 hours since I first discovered this game last year and there are many things I really love about the game. It certainly did not win “Game of the year” for its inventory management though. I played the game on my Mac and every time I pulled up the inventory menu I felt like I was trapped in a UI hampered by its need to work for console controllers and crowded out by pointless eye candy. Going through my loot and figuring out what I wanted to keep and what I wanted to sell was a chore that ate into my quite limited game time (father of two over here). An app that would allow me to evaluate the quality of the various items in my inventory and flag them as sell or keep would allow me to take care of such chores while I’m in line at the deli. Who knows, it might even have a superior user interface though I wouldn’t hold my breath when it comes to game developers.1
Dragon Quest: Origins
I’m only 20 hours into this game and I’m not sure how much longer I will go but I feel this game would benefit even more from a companion app. Not only is the inventory manager even worse than the one in Borderlands 2, no small feat to be sure, but the game has a deep well of written material that not only provides background but can help you complete missions. It also seems as if reading the material can change the gameplay in subtle ways. Having to load up a full 3D gaming engine just to spend 20 minutes reading text seems pretty silly to me. It’s actually one of the things holding me back from playing the game more and it’s a real shame because I want to encourage game developers to add more back story and dynamic plot lines where the choices you make have consequences but I don’t really want to have my CPU fan cranked up full blast just to read about the characters in my game.
Wii U GamePad
The Wii U GamePad controller has its own screen that can display different content from what’s on the TV. While I don’t own one I’m very intrigued by the gameplay options that having a second screen can open up. Whether it be something simple like cleaning up the in-game HUD by moving less critical elements to the second screen or something more complex like displaying information that can be seen by one player but not others using the same TV. It could be anything from a map in a first person shooter to more complex dungeon master details you might find in a D&D type game.
Beyond the controller
It’s a great idea but it’s not one that necessarily requires an expensive controller. At this point most gamers have, sitting in their pockets, a fantastic, high-resolution screen with more processing power than a dumpster full of Wii U Gamepads. Games could take advantage of notifications both on and offline. Perhaps your phone will buzz when you pass by a hidden treasure or you could get notified when a certain friend starts playing. There could be time locked instances that open up at different times for different players and you must have the app setup to find out about them. There might even be mini games or plot lines that could be accessed to further your progress in the game.
Obviously there are a slew of other use cases, some good, some bad, as I’m just scratching the surface of what can be done. When the iPhone was first released in 2007 there would not be an App store until the iPhone 3G was released the following year. To many it was clear, even before the app store, that the multi-touch all screen phone was going to usher in a slew of new applications but it was very hard to imagine the possibilities that lay beyond the limited number of services that our dumb phones provided. To me it seems like we are in the same place with companion apps for games. There is the potential to completely transform how we play games it’s just hard to see what the possibilities are in 2015.
- If we wanted to take this one step further the App could even have more access to information than the game. Players of the game will know that certain weapons have “mystery” stats that can be figured out through either trial and error or a google search. Once I figured out that wiki has all of the weapons and their stats laid out I would often find myself using my phone while playing the game to look up gun stats like this as it would determine whether I would keep the weapon. If this information was baked into the companion app it would encourage more adoption of the app and ultimately more engagement with the game. [↩]