COMPANION APPS FOR GAMES ARE NOTHING NEW. The larger AAA games have something to download the same day as the game’s release. They’ll feature things like inventory management and maps, but all are missing something that keeps them from being true companion apps: at-a-glance info.
One of the major selling points of the Apple Watch is offering just that for your current apps. So are there ways we can we take this new product with new paradigms and apply it to games in a way that doesn’t detract from the experience? In my recent playthrough of Techland’s open-world zombie thriller Dying Light, I wanted to find out.
Disclaimer: I’m not sure what is outlined below is even possible. In addition, no consideration was made for things like battery life and I don’t have an Apple Watch on hand to see if any of this stuff is even that intuitive. Research when doing any design like this is essential, but consider this just for fun.
To start, Dying Light is the perfect candidate for a no-HUD experience. It’s immersive, first-person, and there is plenty of downtime between the action bits to check your stats. Plus, the Apple Watch also serves as a nice analog to the clock you have in game.
With that in mind it seemed logical to just move everything off screen and over to the watch. This meant just a list of available items in a scrollable menu. To keep things familiar, we’re using Sketch to bring over the icons used in the game.
The first menu option, Time, is possibly the most important in the game. During the day, the zombies are your typical slow, harmless biters. Contrast that with night, which has you crippled with limited visibility and far more dangerous zombies called “hunters”. With this in mind I put the game clock front and center with a time-till-night countdown in the bottom left. Since you’re always working on a mission in Dying Light, I put a quest compass and distance marker in the bottom right.
Since the undead hunters are sensitive to UV light, I made the clock glow a similar color as in-game as a subtle nod. I swapped out the countdown timer with a Survivor XP counter since your skills XP ramp up quicker at night.
Almost as important as time, is where your next quest is. The Quest menu item provides two things: a large display of where to go next and a list of objectives. The objectives screen has a list of both story and side quests and allows you to select which one you want as your primary quest.
The Health and Weapon stats are moved a bit further down because I feel there’s plenty of good visual feedback in game for those. Still, during downtime you’ll probably want to see where you’re at with these. On the Health screen, you get Apple’s default circle representation showing your Health Status, along with the number of medkits you have on hand shown in the bottom right.
Weapons don’t have a numeric representation for their status. Instead the game shows you their level of damage with a bar overlay. Here we’re using a circle again (it really does seem like the best way to show things like this — bars can end up looking like tappable elements) with an icon showing how many repairs are left on the weapon. The bottom right cog tells you how many metal parts you have on hand to make those repairs.
The last menu item, Skills, shows where you are on your current level for each of the three skills: Survivor, Agility, and Power. This particular screen is a page view so you can quickly swipe between them. Again, we’re using Sketch here to create the icons shown in-game to keep things familiar.
We aren’t even in the ballpark of what’s possible with a watch companion app. We didn’t even explore how we could use things like the Taptic feedback or Force Touch. I’d love to see what ideas other people come up with. Dying Light happened to be a perfect candidate to explore this idea, but it’s not hard to imagine how you could implement a similar idea for something like an RPG or an open-world game. We’re really just scratching the surface of what’s possible here. As always, the difficult part will be the implementation. Either way, I’m excited to see what we end up with.