Tablet ports, smaller screens, and the 7" Aaaaa! experience / by Alec Kubas-Meyer

Aaaaa! Force = Mass X Acceleration

One of the most intense video games I have ever played is Dejobaan Games’s AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! – A Reckless Disregard for Gravity. It’s a skydiving simulator of sorts, and when things start to speed up and obstacles get packed closer and closer together, it becomes a uniquely exhilarating experience. And that exhilaration is something I really haven’t gotten elsewhere. It’s gotten a semi-sequel in the form of AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! for the Awesome (which is easily my most anticipated VR game experience once I get my hands on an Oculus Rift), and as I learned recently, a port to mobile devices. I was looking around the Google Play store and saw that AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! – Force = Mass X Acceleration was on sale for 99 cents. Generally, I don’t buy or play games on either my phone or tablet, but I figured I should make an exception here. So I booted up my first generation Nexus 7 and downloaded the game.

It’s much like I remember, except instead of WASD+mouse it uses tilt controls, which is an interesting choice. Using an accelerometer as the primary method of control can definitely work, but unlike, say, Ridiculous Fishing, Aaaaa! Requires a person to be static and also be hunched over. (The device has to be essentially flat horizontal for the tilts to be read correctly.) Ridiculous Fishing, because it’s only concerned with one axis of motion, can be held any which way, and while playing in a car is not ideal, it’s doable. Aaaaa! Is not. The extra axis being tracked means that any and all little bumps will register and the levels that require perfect precision are nigh unplayable. That being said, even though the tilt stuff is generally good and I’ve gotten into the flow of it a few times, it never feels quite as fluid as WASD. I have somewhat shaky hands, and I felt like a lot of deaths weren’t because I didn’t move in time but because the game didn’t accept my input in time. On the PC, I always felt like it was my own fault. Here, I could blame the device.

But this isn’t about the success or failure of the game mechanically, it’s about the impact of downsizing.

As I said, Aaaaa! On the PC is one of the most intense video game experiences I’ve ever had, and I’d argue it’s probably one of the most intense period. But that was when played on a 23” PC monitor maybe 2 feet from my face. At that moment, the game takes up a massive part of my view. It’s not like I’m at a movie theater or using an Oculus Rift or whatever and it really is covering everything, but I get really physically invested. (Worth noting, the other most intense experience I can think of is Metro 2033. After playing one of the outdoor sequences with the oxygen masks for a half hour, I realized I was hunched over, breathing in time with the character, and getting extremely lightheaded. That was also on my PC.)

A 7” tablet, no matter how close it gets, does not hit the same level of intensity that a 23” monitor does. It can’t. I actually brought the device within six inches of my face (and had to go slightly cross-eyed in the process) to see if jacked up the intensity. At that distance, it effectively takes up more of my vision than my monitor, but it’s just not the same. Even when you’re going extremely fast, needling through tiny gaps, it just doesn’t get the blood pounding in the same way. When that impact comes (and you usually know it’s coming), the hit is less cringe-inducing (and more annoying, see complaints about controls).

I’m usually not one to complain about viewing content on smaller screens. I spend (and this is not an exaggeration, I have a problem) 80-90% of my waking hours staring at at least one screen, whether that’s my phone, tablet, laptop, desktop, or TV (sizes, 4.3”, 7”, 13”, 23”, and 32” respectively). I use all of them frequently for all kinds of things. I read on a small screen, watch videos on a small screen, and am generally down with the proliferation of small screens. That being said, I have watched exactly one movie on a phone in my life, and I’ve watched less than five on a tablet... but I watched basically the entirety of 30 Rock on my tablet and while I agree that some movies need to be experienced in a theater (Gravity), I don’t have problems with the very notion people watching scaled down versions. I’ve talked to filmmakers who lament the idea that people might watch their films on an iPhone, and while I get where they’re coming from, they should accept it and move on.

But with games, smaller sizes can mean more than a loss in impact. If you miss a detail in a movie or a TV show, it’s not the end of the world. Maybe that was an important detail, but so what? You won’t be punished for that. Scaled down, the buildings in Aaaaa! are harder to plan ahead for. It’s a game that requires you to look way ahead, but on a 7” screen, that’s hard. No, it’s not impossible, but it adds an unhelpful extra level of challenge.

But so what? That’s the world we live in... except Aaaaa! didn’t need to be a tablet game, and it wasn’t until January of this year. The reason that games like Ridiculous Fishing work is because they took the limitations of size and built around that. Aaaaa! is an experience that is defined by the thrill of skydiving. It wasn’t made for small devices, and it’s vastly inferior because on small devices because of that. Just to prove the point, I tried playing the game on my phone. To my initial surprise, it actually controls better on a phone (although in retrospect that makes more sense, since you have finer control over ever part of its body)... but all the intensity is gone. It’s no longer an experience. It’s just a game.