This past Monday I sat down with SteelSeries chief marketing officer Kim Rom at a local cafe to eat barbecue pork sandwiches and check out the company's new Freedom to Play line of mobile gaming products. As Rom explained the intricate details of the Free Mobile Wireless Controller I got further in Temple Run than I ever have before.
The relatively tiny (108 x 55 x 20mm) Bluetooth gaming controller ($US79.99) coming soon from the company known for its PC and console accessories somehow fit comfortably in my oversized hands as I played. I half-listened to Rom as he explained that the pad is the end result of years of development, a project that nearly got scrapped several times in the process. He told me that they worked with Zeemote, the company that put out a one-handed controller for cell phone games back when all the games were Java and the smart phone wasn't very smart.
I was listening, but I was also struck by how easy it was to play Temple Run on the iPad without touching the screen. Instead of flick controls, I used the pad's stick to jump, duck and turn. Suddenly a game that had given me so much trouble in the past was ridiculously easy -- the only time I died was when I came to a spot I didn't recognise and wasn't sure whether to duck or jump.
Touch screen controls work for many games: puzzlers, for certain; adventure games, hidden object titles. They work for Temple Run as well, but only to a point. It's as if a great deal of the game's challenge is buried in its control method. Take it away, and the challenge goes with it.
Rom walked me through the rest of the Freedom to play line as I started in on League of Evil 2, a platformer that requires some tricky jumping. It's the type of game I never played for long periods of time, mainly due to frustration over controls. They work, but not as good as I'd like them to.
Rom showed me the Flux ($US99) headset as I played, the sexy pair of cans that I covered back when the Guild Wars 2 branded versions came out. He showed me the Flux In-Ear Pro headset ($US129.99), a set of ear buds painstakingly engineered to fit like a hearing aid inside the ear. He said it was the best sounding headset the company made. I'm eager to find out if that's the case.
And I was still playing League of Evil. Those difficult jumps? Now I leaped from wall to wall effortlessly. Again it was almost too easy, but I was having too much of a good time to worry about it.
Last up were the Free Touchscreen Gaming Controls ($US19.99), buttons and a control disk that attach to the screen of your mobile device. You cover on-screen buttons with these and suddenly you've got real buttons. Sadly he'd lost the d-pad, but the buttons were nice enough.
Not as nice as the Free Wireless Mobile Controller, however. That tiny beast not only changed the way I played, it changed how much I enjoyed playing a pair of games I had only briefly dallied with before. They're easier, certainly, but I'll take easy comfort and precision over frustrating finger sliding any day.
The entire Freedom to Play line should be available for sale by the end of the year.