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 early 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 multitouch screen is how I would sample it last Wednesday evening. Specifically, I was playing the game on a HP TouchSmart monitor.
Imagine your typical RTS, which isn't quite the description R.U.S.E. seems to deserve. As noted before on this site, it 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.
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.)
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 room, 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.