I controlled a real-time-strategy game with my fingertips for the first time last week. It wasn't as bad as I feared, not yet as good as I now want it to be.
The game was R.U.S.E., the March 2010 real-time strategy game from Ubisoft that will be playable on a PC or Xbox 360, and PS3 without a touch screen.
But with a multi-touch screen is how I would sample it last Wednesday evening. Specifically, I was playing the game on a HP TouchSmart monitor which runs a several hundred dollars.
Imagine your typical RTS, which isn't quite the description R.U.S.E. seems to deserve. As noted before on this site, the game has some good twists involving its battlefield perspectives and emphasis on deception. But for this post, consider it typical, with units spawned and selected from an overhead perspective, directed toward their targets.
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Tapping on a unit with your finger selects it. Pressing your finger and then dragging it diagonally creates a box that selects multiple units. Those controls are simple. Your finger does what a mouse pointer would do.
Now imagine — touching your monitor for this is fine by me — dragging two fingers across your monitor. That makes the camera pan to the side. Drag two fingers the other way and it pans the opposite way. Up and down pans work similarly.
Now take the pointer fingers of each of your hands. Press them to the edges of the monitor and, iPhone-style, drag them toward each other. The view zooms in. Spread your fingers to the edges and the view zooms out.
Place one finger on a spot on your monitor. Start drawing a circle around it with your a finger on the other hand. This rotates the view. (These controls are different from what Ubisoft had demonstrated for R.U.S.E. played on flat table-sized monitors.)
These are functions that any decent RTS player would implement. What might be harder to do with just a mouse, however, would be selecting units that are far from each other on the screen and issuing them commands nearly simultaneously. A Ubisoft developer encouraged me to try this, having me tap and move one tank in the lower left of the screen with my left pointer finger while I manipulated a vehicle on the right side of the screen with my right hand. The developer pantomimed a skilled player tapping furiously with both hands, showing me the potential of two-handed play.
Conceptually, all of this was quite good. Functionally, it wasn't great yet. I had trouble getting the unfinished version of the game to reliably read my zoom commands. But that can improve. I didn't expect to find the touch control meaningful. Once I did, I just wanted it to work. One hopes it will. Then again, one would need to have a multi-touch monitor, and this one writer does not.
Playing games with the latest tech is a Ubisoft thing. In other corners of the hotel room where I played R.U.S.E., Red Steel 2 could be played with Wii Motion Plus and Racquet Sports could be played barehanded using a proprietary Ubisoft Wii camera. The recently-released Avatar game can be played in 3D, only on 3D TVs, which very few people have.
That doesn't stop Ubi. Ever the innovator. This time, with a monitor and my fingertips.