With the exception of the Razer Edge, Windows 8 tablets are at a disadvantage in terms of gaming. The majority of PC games are built using a keyboard, mouse or a gamepad in mind. While Civilization V and some other games offer multitouch controls that are ideal for Surface Pro enthusiasts, most games simply cannot be played without peripherals. The solution? Find an intermediary.
GestureWorks Gameplay promises that it will solve tablet owners' mobile gaming problems by creating a virtual interface that emulates keyboard and mouse inputs. The program lets users create custom multitouch controllers with virtual joysticks, d-pads, buttons and even mappable swipe gestures. It's an interesting proposition, especially when you consider the effort Android and iOS gamers put in to avoid touchscreen controls. We spoke to the company to get an inside look at the beta version of the program.
Gameplay's menu system is simple. It divides its main screen into profiles which can be downloaded, as well as a list of layouts that have been saved locally. The community currently has approximately 50 profiles that are available for download. Editing or creating new profiles is simple. Spadaccini hit the edit icon on Castle Crashers to pull up a layout identical to the display on his son's slate. With just a few taps, we were able add, move, or resize buttons. You can map buttons to any keyboard input or mouse input. A virtual joystick can also be added to allow control of the cursor. There's also an option for gestures that allows the user to translate commands into swipes, pinches or flicks and we were informed that motion control options will be added in the near future, opening the door for steering based on accelerometers for driving games. The profile can be saved from this page. If the player isn't satisfied with the layout, they can modify it in-game.
After creating a profile users can link the layout with the program it was intended to be used with. This makes it easy to launch multiple games simultaneously with the custom control configuration. Launching Castle Crashers alongside our host's young son was as easy as pressing the play button and the game's basic controls were well-suited to the touchscreen setup. Spadaccini referred to simple side-scrolling games like Castle Crashers the program's "sweet spot," and indeed, they performed like a dream. Portal 2 and Borderlands 2 were a different story -- while GamePad provides a relatively simple access to all the game's main commands managing them all using only our thumbs was heavy. We also ran into some issues with the virtual joypad, which mimics a jittery mouse input rather than an actual analog joystick input. Despite these glitches we were able overcome some of GLaDOS's maniacal tests an ease and were informed by GestureWorks that mouse emulation would improve before the software's final release.
Gameplay isn't perfect, but it does seem to be a decent application. It meets an unmet need and lives up to its promises. The interface is intuitive and simple to use. Gamepads with touchscreens won't replace a physical one however they do provide Windows 8 tablets with a game-like experience that would otherwise be impossible without additional hardware. However there is one compatibility issue -- it only works with games that use DirectX (that means there's no Minecraft, sorry youngsters!) If you own an Windows 8 tablet, a Steam backlog and aren't averse to the compatibility caveat, however, GestureWorks Gameplay just might be the perfect fit for you. You can sign up to be a beta tester on the website of the company, or just wait: the full version will go live on November 5th for $14.99.