Recently I corresponded with Rand Miller, co-creator of Myst (with his brother Robyn), and lead developer of realMyst, the new iPad game which takes the original PC classic and converts it into an immersive, 3D animated experience for the tablet age, and I asked if it inspired any thoughts about the future of virtual worlds in this era. Specifically, I asked him this: Based on your experience developing realMyst, do you think 3D virtual worlds like Uru (the Miller's discontinued MMO) and Second Life have a future on tablets?
And Rand Miller answered this way: "Absolutely. In fact I think they provide an more immersive experience by removing another layer of interface. Touching is believing." Miller incorporated tapping on the screen as a means of moving through realMyst, based on player testing. This and other implementations convinced him it is possible to have a 3D experience on a tablet:
"I think the 3D virtual entertainment experience has been relegated to battle and chat," Miller added. "The experience that Myst provided, that resonated with so many people - was the ability to calmly and deliberately explore a fantastic place, and feel like you were there. The gaming market is primed again for that experience, but this time it will be a realtime 3D adventure that takes people to another place. I wouldn't be surprised to see something like that happen soon, and if I'm lucky [the Millers' studio] Cyan Worlds could be part of it."
I actually agree. Related to that, here's a design lesson Miller told me he learned, when translating 3D interaction to the iPad:
"We originally implemented only forward movement - when you touch-and-hold you move straight forward. Then we took the step of adding in the same turning controls while moving forward. What we noticed was that players would immediately grok the swiping to turn while they were standing still, but for some reason their initial inclination was to invert the controls for turning while moving. (We later determined it was because while a player isn't moving the world seems more natural to scroll around like you would a horizontal piece of paper, but as soon as a player begins to move the world becomes 3D, and their first inclination was to move their finger to the path they wanted to take.)
"So being brilliant user interface designers we decided to have the best of both worlds. While standing still -- swipe to turn like scrolling, and while moving -- point where you want to go. Wow, was that a mistake! Good way to strain your brain. In the end we found that players picked up on the turn-while-moving controls very quickly."
Important takeaway for future 3D worlds on the iPad -- which, hopefully, we'll see soon.