So we recently launched a shoot 'em up arcade-type game (think Smash TV or I Made a Game with Zombies in It!). You can move in one direction and fire in another, so the ideal control scheme is probably two analog joysticks (like the Xbox 360 has). We support WASD to move and arrow keys to fire. The best way to control though is to move with WASD and aim with the mouse.

We're getting a lot of people asking for mobile versions of the game (mostly for iPad and Android) and the problem is we just can't come up with a good way to translate the controls over to a touch device.

Interestingly, someone actually hacked an early version of our game a while back to work on Android by overlaying D-pads, and sure enough, it was almost impossible to control. The game gets really difficult later on, and the thought of releasing a game with a crappy control scheme that nobody could possibly ever use to beat the game does not sit well with me.

So I was wondering if anyone has any previous experience or suggestions on how to approach this problem? Overlaying two D-pads on the screen is clearly not the way to go and we're kind of at a loss for other ideas.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Completely unrelated: If you want to sell that game, I think you should make the demo easier, and perhaps also a bit longer. People like games that they are "good" at. \$\endgroup\$ – aaaaaaaaaaaa Dec 12 '10 at 19:45

Virtual dual-sticks are just rough on a touch screen.

Option #1: Movement Stick + Touch to shoot

Put one virtual stick on screen to control the player. The other finger touches on the screen where you want to shoot. This still gives you one virtual stick to deal with, but moving is often less critical than aiming in this style of game so at least the aim is very precise.

Option #2: Drag movement + Touch to shoot

Shoot functions the same as above, just movement is changed.

A finger pressed on the player's avatar and then dragged to a new location sets a waypoint for movement. Players move through the level setting a series of waypoints, setting a new point instantly transitions the player movement. This gets rid of virtual sticks entirely, but depending on your game it might not offer enough fidelity in player control.


For android it might be really hard to implement that control scheme as a lot of devices are not multi-touch.

For the Ipad/iphone, you could have virtual thumb-sticks on each side of the screen reset their position when the users thumbs/fingers are placed down.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I've played a lot of twin stick shooters on the iPhone, and none of them reset their position. Personally I wouldn't like it, since I would prefer to know where "up" is from muscle memory. I have played a game on the iPhone that does that (that isn't a twin stick shooter), Dropship, and it didn't feel like as good a solution. \$\endgroup\$ – Tetrad Dec 11 '10 at 23:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 On a related note, have an iOS twin stick shooter usability feature. The author has a preference for doing it a certain way, but good considerations are brought up regardless. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Apr 23 '11 at 18:06

What if movement was controlled by touch and the shooting was controlled by accelerometer/gyro?

To move, the player would touch the point on screen they want to move to, or the direction they want to move in.

The turn the character around, the player physically would rotate, or they woud turn the device around in their hands.

Obviously there are a lot of situations where this would be unplayable, but it could be fun and unique in the right environment. Definitely the kind of thing that you couldn't do on a non-mobile system. Sometimes things like that can be a big selling point.


Zelda games for Nintendo DS might be useful for inspiration - you hack/slash and shoot by tapping where to attack/shoot, in the general direction or directly on enemies - and then move by holding somewhere on the screen which makes your character start moving towards that point until you stop holding.

  • Move: hold down on a point to start moving towards
  • Attack: tap on a point to attack

Obviously, you can't walk and shoot at the same time - so it might not work in all situations - but it felt pretty useful with a stylus ^^


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