Prey on Apple's iPhone in a Week or Two

Prey on Apple's iPhone? You know, Prey. First-person shooter? Vaporware for centuries? (Actually only a decade, but centuries in game years.) Spirit bows? Live "bug" grenades? Guy walks on walls and portal-hops through non-Euclidean space?

It's coming to your iPhone (and, presumably, iPod Touch) in the "next few weeks," according to IGN. Not the original game, if I'm reading the preview correctly (the protagonist starts out in a canyon, not a bar) but something suitably similar inspired by M.C. Escher by way of H.R. Giger.

Good idea? Maybe, maybe not. The original was okay, but approximately 10 years less cool than it would've been had it debuted in 1996. The novelty here's probably less the wall-walking gameplay than market timeliness. How many first-person shooters can you download for the iPhone?

So while I'm not all that interested in the game itself, I am interested in how developer MachineWorks Northwest is doing the controls.

Instead of using a virtual d-pad or lots of clumsy accelerometer tilting to move around, the design team's introduced a series of translucent sliders on the sides and bottom of the screen (tilted on its side in the landscape orientation -- see the pic above). You control the protagonist's motion and view angle using your thumbs on these sliders, while tapping on a couple buttons slightly set off from the sides to execute special abilities or fire. If you don't like where the slides are at, you can apparently reposition them.

The iPhone gets routinely panned as an enthusiast-caliber games platform for its lack of tactile controls. On the other hand, I've been annoyed with Sony for years for refusing to pop a second analog nub on its PlayStation Portable. Without that two-thumbed approach for moving and looking, handheld first-person shooters are entirely off my radar (exceptions made for Metroid Prime: Hunters for Nintendo's DS, but that's it).

If the control scheme here works, and who knows, even excels, who's to say where we might find ourselves in a year or two? I won't play first-person shooters on the PSP without the secondary analog interface. But I might have to rethink my position if MachineWorks' solution pans out.

Matt Peckham remembers when original Prey project lead Tom Hall boasted in a 1996 interview, "We usually call it the Prey engine, but at times it's been called Tears, as in what our competitors will be shedding when they see how cool it is." Matt's still laughing at twitter.com/game_on.

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