At first blush, the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus may not seem impactful in the world of mobile gaming. The phones haven't seen cosmetic changes, and the processor is more of an evolutionary step than a revolutionary one.
Still, Apple holds the crown for the most powerful smartphone with an impressive App Store library -- but again, at first blush, we were hoping for more of a wow factor. Having used an iPhone 6s for a couple of months now, we uncovered what could be considered that revolutionary feature. Its name is 3D Touch, a technology built into this new suite of iPhone units that allow the user to press onto the glass screen to register a button push.
Actually, it's more sensitive than that, but this depends on the developer of the software. 3D Touch registers more than just a binary on-or-off press. The amount of pressure you apply on the screen allows for different grades of response.
In the OS itself (we're now on iOS 9), tapping a link in Safari takes you to the link, but pressing a bit harder allows for a preview of the linked webpage. Press a bit further and you feel a click that brings the link to your full screen in a feature Apple dubbed Peek and Pop.
This kind of tactile feedback is done without moving the screen itself -- instead, there is a vibrating mechanism that buzzes in such a way to fake you into thinking you pushed down on a button. It's very impressive...and that's using it to preview a webpage.
Naturally, we wanted to see how developers were incorporating this feature in their latest games, so we spoke with Gameloft (Asphalt 8, Despicable Me) to see how they brought the feature into games.
Instantly, they directed us to the latest incarnation of Sniper Fury, one of the tons of sniper-related games you've undoubtedly seen in the App Store, but definitely among the best. Using Apple's gaming-centered engine, Metal, Sniper Fury keeps things focused on the task at hand -- usually a couple of targets you need to pick off, or a series of soldiers.
In the latest update released a couple of weeks ago, Sniper Fury uses 3D Touch in a really interesting, surprisingly immersive way that helps enhance the gameplay.
Speaking with Andrei Bucur, Sniper Fury’s Product Manager, he mentioned the team changed direction once they played around with the mechanic in different ways.
"Our initial thought was to deploy the bullet using the pressure sensitive 3D Touch since that seemed like the most obvious use of the technology," Mr. Bucur explained, "but it didn't work out as expected."
Instead, the game uses 3D Touch to help zoom in and out of the sniper rifle's scope, and it works fluidly, giving you an additional level of control without compromising accuracy or speed -- both obviously important attributes for such an action game.
When asked if all of their games will enable this technology, Gameloft Global Platforms Director Guilherme Lachaut said the company would use 3D Touch "when it makes sense," instead of trying to shoehorn it in to every one of their games.
Mr. Lachaut was quick to also mention that their popular Asphalt 8 game received a recent update to enable 3D Touch to give gamers an easier way to pull off the game's Fast & Furious-style drifts.
An aside: while Apple's iPad Pro and Apple TV do not have 3D Touch built into the hardware, games like Despicable Me Minion Rush will hit the Apple TV App Store any day now, bringing the popular iPhone game to your living room with 60fps and a graphically-impressive landscape mode. Meanwhile, the powerhouse iPad Pro (which we will profile next week) has the impressive Gods of Rome fighter that showcases that tablet's new A9X processor.
In the meantime, we will continue to look at 3D Touch and the ways the technology is incorporated to bring iOS gaming a very tactile exploration of the third dimension.
"[3D Touch] is meant to transcend 2D and bring the user into 3D," Mr. Bucur theorized. "For now, an implementation like [Sniper Fury] may be simple, but it is just the beginning."