One of my personal highlights of Eurogamer last weekend was being invited into the Surgeon Simulator ambulance, which was set up outside the front of the convention, whilst in the themed ambulance I spoke with some of the team behind Surgeon Simulator 2013, who hinted that the humorous operation sim may be making its way to tablet devices.
There was a short demo of the game that outlined the sort of mechanics the game would feature if it does ever come to a full release. The game would be instantly recognisable to anyone who has played the desktop version of the game, however there was one key difference.
This large difference to the look of the game, and the gameplay mechanics themselves, is down to the fact that protagonist Nigel Burke’s infamous hand that players usually, and often clumsily, control will not feature in the mobile version of the game.
The decision to remove the arm comes from extensive experimenting with different control systems, and having some issue with the control system more generally, as developer Tom Jackson explained:
“The main problem has been the control system, you know what Surgeon’s like, you know how the game plays. Transferring that over to the iPad is obviously difficult but keeping the feel of Surgeon alive, the awkwardness and the jokey mechanics, [was important].
“So what we’ve done is we’ve just taken the arm out completely, because that doesn’t work when you’re faced with a touch screen. So instead of controlling the arm you are the arm. You pick up the tools as you would expect, you can clumsily rotate things using two fingers, you swipe to attack… I mean save the patient, with your chosen tools.
“We’ve had six control systems that we’ve thought about and we’ve tried a few of them, but none of them really worked and we got to this one and thought, yeah this one could work. It’s quite direct, it’s simple, you only need one or two fingers maximum. We had all these things with virtual controls and sliders and lots of random stuff, even using accelerometers to control the view and things. It was all too fussy, we needed to have it as simple as possible, when you get a touch screen game you expect it to behave in a certain way, so you have to abide by those rules and we’re getting there.”
The decision to stay away from control mechanics that included things virtual buttons and sliders was reiterated by Junior Designer Luke Williams, who told n3rdabl3:
“Most games stick in some virtual buttons and virtual controls and make it like a console game, the original iteration [of Surgeon Sim touch] did have sliders to move stuff around and all that and it just wasn’t that great. It was horrible having virtual buttons. We wanted to have it so a player could get in there and instinctively move stuff around, that lends itself well to what the tablet has to offer.”
The prospect of releasing a tablet version of Simulator Simulator is an exciting one for Bossa Studios, who clearly feel that the tablet version could open the door to a number of new features for the series.
“If necessary we will do more bespoke operations that are more suited to touch. The first thing we realised is that a player could do a surgery in under a minute if they knew what they were doing on the tablet, because the controls are much quicker to navigate. I think we might have to be more precise, Luke was talking about doing some sort of tooth transplant. It would be really horrible pulling some teeth out,” Tom told us.
If a tablet version of the popular surgeon simulation title does get released, there will be an effort to make the game recognisable to fans of the series, with the same graphics and dark humour that is synonymous with Surgeon Simulator 2013 featuring on the tablet version.
This was explained by Lead Artist James Broadley, who said:
“The main thing is we’re trying to get the same experience, the same sense of fun that you get on the PC version, try and carry it over to the tablet version. The same sort of feeling that you get on the PC version, [we want to] capture that and put it on the tablet.”
The game is still not a certainty, however Bossa seem keen to push on with the project and with the control system they were showing off at EGX they seem happy with the way things are developing, as Tom told us:
“I wasn’t convinced at all [about the concept] because the controls weren’t working, then this Monday someone said, ‘we’re going to show off Surgeon Simulator touch in the ambulance’, and we thought ‘but it’s rubbish’, but on Monday we came up with this much simpler control system and you can still navigate tools within a 3D space, which was the problem before. The sliders were really awful. We actually now are happy to say that it could work.”
This control system brings a number of advantages, besides its practicality, as Luke said:
“It’s that interaction of lifting things open, grabbing organs, you can even play with the patients face, it feels really nice because of your direct interaction with it.”
The guys also told us that if the Surgeon Simulator touch did get a full release it would be strictly for tablets, as the screen size on most phones would not be sufficient enough to enjoy the game. They did say however that the game will not be exclusive to a particular OS and that they would release the game on as many tablets as they can get their hands on.
The game certainly looked as though it could work on tablets and here at n3rdabl3 we hope that Bossa do decide to move forward with the project, at this time however the game is probably best described as a “watch this space”. We’ll of course keep you updated with the latest news of Bossa as we receive it.