Secondary Screen Gaming of the last few years

5 Nov

We are starting to see second screen gaming become more main stream now. It seems that every few weeks, companies are outdoing each other with great expectations and promises towards upcoming console concepts and releases.

With the launch of the Wii U,  Xbox Smartglasses and PC manufactures creating unique gaming hardware, we are seeing the beginning of something truly innovative. What the future will behold? Who knows. I have been fascinated with the second screen experiences for some time, ever since I bought that DS.

At present, tablets and phone are common place. Pairing these devices up with game consoles opens up an immersive experience to players as well as offering up additional contextual information while they play the game. This is whats going on in the current landscape and where I think game developers can start contributing.


Nintendo Wii U (2011)

I’ve been currently researching into the Nintendo Wii U and a handful of games it has. Luckily, my housemate has a console so I got my hands on it and tried it out. Nintendo has been offering up a second screen experience for years now with their DS and 3DS portable systems (etc, talked about earlier) with games using the innovative split screen hardware to varying degrees of success. For the most part, I really liked how the two screens worked in tandem to enhance and augment the gameplay experience. However, trying to recreate the same feeling when the second screen is across the room, such as your TV for the Wii U, is a whole different feeling.

At first, I found that it was a bit of a let down. Games like Super Mario Bros U just mirror the display so you see the same thing on the TV and the Wii U. Then, I switched games and I was back in awe of the console! Games like ZombiU have you switching between screens a lot in the middle of the gameplay. The actions may slow down enough to switch between the main display on the TV to direct you to look at the tablet screen and vice versa. Looting bodies and having to use the touch screen to drag items one by one over to your backpack is interesting but really breaks the flow of the game. Especially since you are never safe from attacks and you are no longer looking at the main screen to see if a zombie is close to you. While this is more realistic, it still breaks the suspension of disbelief you have when playing a game. But all of these games are still testing out the hardware. It took a very long time for the DS to come into its own and eventually companies started exploiting the hardware to its full potential.


Perhaps the biggest limitation right now with the second screen experience on the Wii U is the fact that you can only connect a single Wii U GamePad to the system. If you play with more than one person, the other players are left in the dark from the second screen and have a totally different experience. There are some interesting examples of how to take advantage of this limitation such as the ability for one player to add platforms to Mario U while the other player tries to run through the world with a standard Wii controller.

This allows you have a very collaborative experience which is unique to the console. I am sure this type of play experience will continue to make its way into more Wii U games. One could easily see how other players could work against the main player with the Wii U GamePad. D&D style games come to mind where you have a “dungeon master” and the other players simply try to survive the dungeon while the main player sets up monsters, traps and even changes the level on the fly. Since the Wii U just launched it will take more time for game designers and developers to exploit the hardware. The Wii U isn’t the only console out there offering a compelling second screen experience.

Razer Blade and Deathstalker Keyboards (2012)

PC manufacturers such as Razer, which are known for their gaming peripherals, have been incorporating touch screens into their computers and keyboards. They call it the Switchblade UI.

The effect is amazing, especially when you think about the implications of having a fully configurable touch screen as a second controller/display for your game built right into the hardware. I’ve currently been researching two devices, the Razer Blade laptop and Razer Deathstalker Ultimate keyboard. Both are opening my eyes to the possibility of second screen devices embed in hardware. In addition to the touch screen are 10 digital display buttons with also show contextual information based on the mode of the touch screen. For number mode you are presented with a simple number pad and in games, you can customise the entire look and feel for all the buttons and the touch screen. Razer has an SDK which allows you to develop your own experiences.  I hope to research good examples of this very soon.

As you can see from the examples above, a lot has happened from the first appearances of secondary screen gaming and the likes of the Nintendo DS family.

I will further tell you about what’s being manufactured at the moment along with plans and predictions into the future of secondary screen gaming.


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