One Touch Games Are All The Same – Nope!

Are you also a person who would lump together all existing one touch games? Than read this entry and learn about the differences!

As promised I want to collect some game mechanic characteristics of one touch games this time. In my last entry I analysed the game Marble Drop and so the idea for the current entry came into my mind.

In Marble Drop the player also controls everything with one touch. The difference between the today viewed games: some world objects have to be touched directly with the right timing. So this also is kind of a point-and-click game. Summed up, the main characteristics are a time and reaction based gameplay, a simple one touch/point-and-click control as well as several puzzle mechanics and combinations of them.

After thinking about the games I present this time, I recognized that I lastly might have concentrated more on the point-and-click-mechanic. So, I made a tiny addition in the last entry and want to correct myself now, differentiating between the two terms one touch and point-and-click. Moreover, this time I will make just short game analysis and point out the differences between them to finally have a collection of ideas for creating games (of this kind).

Defintions and Terminology

Point-and-Click Game

In my opinion one of the best known point-and-click games is Monkey Island (btw: happy belated 25th birthday!). As Guybrush Threepwood you move around a pirate world and interact with predefined objects, parts of the screen you actually see. When the cursor hovers over one of the objects, you see a short description and can click on this point. In combination you choose another action, for example “talk to (bin)”.

Screenshot of Monkey Island (© Ron Gilbert (or rather for law and
formality reasons: LucasArts))

So this game genre distinguishes itself through the fact, that you click and interact with particular screen segments. Sometimes, but rarely, you have to solve tasks faster and in time.

One Touch Game

At least after the game Flappy Bird nearly everybody has seen a so-called one touch game. This genre is mainly used for mobile games, because it is the optimized gameplay for this kind of devices.

Screenshot of Flappy Bird (© Dong Nguyen)

Everything you have to do is tap on your screen. No matter on which part of it (well, I only present games of this kind, but I am quite sure that there are games, where the direction (and position of the tap) is important for gameplay). All other actions happen automatically.

Mostly the character is controlled by this touch. Sometimes actions, which control the character, are released. In both cases this actions lead to the possibility to guide a character through a level.

But even if the control mechanic is the same, this games can create really varying game experiences.

Different Game Experiences in One Touch Games

The similarity of this type of games not only lies in the control mechanic of the character. Often the game has objects or borders which stop the character and end the game. Diverging is the speed of the games, so I will categorize them with it.

Fast-Paced GamesOne Touch Games

The following games are developed by BoomBit Games. They catched me for a long time with there fast-paced games and I enjoy playing them. After I got the idea for this entry, surprisingly a very apposite ad-screen of them popped up while I played Bird Climb, mentioning the one touch control. And so I was more convinced about the topic of this entry.

Important to note: Fast-paced games, for me, are games, where the player has nearly no time to think about the next tap and a round ends after a few seconds or maybe minutes (3 minutes would be very long, but it depends on the time you can focus, because you nearly have to uninterruptedly stare on the screen).

Bird Climb
In this game your tap controls a bird flying upwards a vertical level. The faster you tap, the faster the bird flies. If you stop touching the screen the bird falls down till you touch again or it collides with an object.

The game gets more interesting through other influences and constraints:

  • When the bird has contact with a wall (screen border), it changes the direction.
  • Advances (lets call them static enemies) will stop the bird after collision. The player has to time the taps, so the bird flies in gaps of the walls.
  • Moreover, but not fundamental for the gameplay itself, the player can collect jewels to unlock new birds.

Bird Climb      Bird Climb      Bird Climb

The game is optional competitive and you can challenge other players. If your bird got higher, you win.

Spider Square
This game works quite similar to the first one, but the movement is from the left to the right, that means along the horizontal axis.

Spider SquareA tap does not directly control a character, but a thread, which is used by it, to swing forward. As long as the player lets a finger stay on the screen, the character hangs on its thread. If the finger is removed, the thread disappears and the character falls down, following physical rules, till the next tap is detected.

Spider SquareWith this game mechanic one is able to control the speed of the character. Fast successive taps speed the character up, while long touches let the character swing a more circular bend forward.

As difficulty the collision with level walls end a round. The game designers used no further objects. Instead the level itself is the obstacle, the player has to avoid. If the character touches the walls, it shatters into pieces – I love the animation of the pieces falling (also physically calculated) down.

As before, you can also collect jewels to unlock new characters and the challenge is to swing through a higher number of rooms (than your enemy did).

Fast- to Mid-Paced Games

With mid-paced games I mean games, where the player has a few short moments to rest and evaluate the situation.

Running CirclesRunning Circles
The last game of BoomBit differs a little bit. Here the movement happens also automatically, but the character moves along a circle. The tap does not control the speed of the character. It lets the player switch between the inner or outer line of the circle. So, the direction is kind of random in comparison with the two other games. The player has to tap on the right time, so the character switchs between two circles or avoids static/moving (circling) enemies.

Running CirclesMoreover Running Circles is a mixture of fast-paced and mid-paced speed. Of course the reaction has to be very instant, but from time to time players can rest in circles. On one side, you can stay in a circle for 3 or 4 turns. If the timer, a growing circle, grows too big and touches the character, it will end the round. But you also can stay in every 5th circle endlessly (safe zone).

By the way, all levels in the mentioned BoomBit games seem to be automatically generated. So you always have a new challenge to solve.

A very famous and I think kind of complex one touch game from the developer Frogmind is Badland.

Here the character also is controlled to fly forward as well as up or down. More taps lead to faster movement.

The screen automatically goes fordward so the player mostly has no time to lose. But it is not that fast as the movement in the before mentioned games. The problem is, that the player loses when the screen has passed the character.

Another difference is, that power ups and also objects influence the way of the character. Sometimes the character has to overcome heavy or blocking objects – also with the right timing. Sometimes power ups speed the character up, let it grow, become cumbrous or more characters appear and are needed to overcome obstacles.

The game is structured into closed and predefined levels and surprises with many mechanics that come from the game world.

Badland Badland

Mid- to Slow-Paced Games

At last let’s have a look on some slower variations of one touch games. Slow-paced should be games were you often have the possibility to rest at least for a while or even have no time pressure at all.

Crossy Road
In Crossy Road (Hipster Wale, Yodo) a tap lets the character jump one step further. It has to avoid different fast obstacles, but can rest after a few steps. As in Running Circles the character can not wait here for long, otherwise an eagle catches it and the game is over. Another difference in this game is the swipe control into one direction, so the character moves left, right, backward or forward. So this is not only a 100% one touch game mechanic, also a swipe mechanic is included.

So why does this game uses the one touch mechanic anyway? Because it is much faster than swiping. When avoiding the objects in the game, you can make 3 taps faster than 3 swipes.

Crossy Road    Crossy Road

Of course there exist many more games of this genre as you can see in chart lists. I mostly gave an impression of movement based games. But you will find several other games with this mechanic combined with other genres or mechanics.

For example some games overlap with a puzzle mechanic – e.g. word puzzle games. Others force the player to shoot to a special point (e.g. Smash Hit) and so this mixes up with the point-and-click mechanic mentioned in the beginning.

Lessons Learned
Mechanics and Game Design Questions

In general you can say one touch games clearly can have many differences and transport a completely different feeling and game experience. To break the main points of the above introduced games down, they at least differ in:

  • movement control, direction and speed of a character
  • rules and objects ending a game round
  • time based world influences (causing time pressure) or objects/collectables which influence the character
  • combination with other game genres

At last I collected some questions which might be useful to answer for creating a game with one touch game mechanics. This also gives a more detailed look on the differences of the mentioned games. Some of the questions might be also transferred for making games in general.

For all answers you should always ask yourself how you communicate your decision to the player and how the decision fits in your concept!

  • What does a tap control? – character, objects or something else?
  • What happens after one touch? – Does the character go higher, lower, faster, slower or has it a totally different movement result? Does the effect multiply after a specific amount of taps?
  • What happens, if the player releases the tap? – Does the character/object falls down instantly, float a little while, vanish?
  • On the contrary: If the player keeps the finger on the screen, does it have any consequences?
  • Which direction will the character move to? – vertical, horizontal, random…? Maybe also a specific direction where the tap on precise areas of the device is needed?
  • How fast should the game be and how does it feel to play it? – Is the player allowed to think about the situation or is it just possible to react to happenings?
  • Is the movement speed constant or does it behave in another way?
  • If the object/character falls down, in which direction or following which rules does it fall? – Is it physically calculated or straight downwards?
  • Do you need enemies in your game or is the level enough? – If you want to have enemies, should they be static or moving? Do they have abilities? (This questions probably come up in every game development and ideation process.)
  • Do you want to have safe zones in your game? If so, how long could one stay in those areas?
  • What is the border of a level? – the screen? walls? Does the border has an effect on the character or something else, after a collision?
  • Is your level generated or scripted? – think about the challenge and repeatability of the game
  • Does your world has game objects with different properties? – power ups or obstacles for example
  • Are obstacles static or movable?
  • When is the game over?
  • Do you have a meta game? – Here you can add free2play ideas, collectables to collect points or unlock items, and so on.
  • Should your game be a one touch game only or is it combined with other mechanics? – Rethink this very well, maybe another one is redundant.

This game design questions are not complete, but they give an overview of the amount of decisions you have to make, even for a simple game mechanic like this.

“Unfortunately”, I will not write anything about games for the next 3 weeks, because of my tomorrow starting holiday. But, if you want to know more about it and are interested in Japan, just follow the blog I started with a friend. We will update it regularly with great impressions of Japan and its beginning colorful autumn.


One thought on “One Touch Games Are All The Same – Nope!

  1. Pingback: Marble Drop – Let It Roll! | explore game mechanics

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