Half of the fun in Surgeon Simulator 2013 is trying to grapple with the oddly intuitive, but simultaneously abstracted control scheme. Taking a keyboard and mouse, and turning these simple input tools into a method of controlling a hand in three dimensions, but with nothing more than visual inputs, is no mean feat. For good idea of how it feels, try sitting on your arm until it goes numb, and then perform a heart transplant.
Translating this gameplay to a different interface is naturally going to require a whole reworking of the controls. This is something that Bossa have been working on for their port to iPad, trying to figure out how to keep a hold of that same wacky style of gameplay, but in a logical fashion for a tablet sized touchscreen.
The most noticeable difference is that Nigel Burke’s hand has gone, with your own fingers and thumbs acting as the grabbing implement for all of the surgical equipment. It should be quite an intuitive experience, with a single touch and hold to pick up and drag tools around the screen, two fingers used to rotate them, and then just swipe around on screen to smash ribs, hack away at arteries and so on.
In many ways, this should actually be a much more precise method of input, but the whole point is that you are a terribly clumsy surgeon, so Bossa have been careful to try and keep that feel.
“We still want to translate some of that into the game,” explained Tom Jackson, who was demoing the game for us. “When you’ve got that very precise control using your fingers, you might lose that, so we have it so you don’t quite touch the objects exactly, and it acts as if you’re sort of brushing your hand across the surface. You can just be knocking things out of the way, the same way you do in the PC game.”
However, that same added precision, even with the clumsy feeling controls, should allow them to explore different and new areas which would be difficult or near impossible for the PC version. Things that require a certain added level of accuracy.
“We’re imagining being able to crack teeth and pulling them out, so that you can do teeth transplants,” said Bossa’s Luke Williams. When we noted that this sounded quite a bit more like dentistry, he continued to say that, “the main difference being that Nigel would be using a hammer in order to get the teeth out, and the person might not necessarily need new teeth, but Nigel’s decided that they do!”
In trying to find that right balance, they’ve actually gone through many different versions of control schemes. Luke stated that, “This is the sixth iteration, and we’ve tried virtual buttons and stuff, but with Surgeon Simulator you’ve got a hell of a lot of controls: a key for every finger, mouse rotation, and just moving in 3D space.
“So this, when you swipe at a rib, it’ll change the Z-axis in 3D space. If you swipe and stop, that will be your new position in 3D space, and that allows you to drag and accurately smash each rib with a hammer, and lose any weird navigation issues. Compared to before, where we had sliders and buttons, it’s a lot better.”
The changes are certainly set to continue rolling, as this game heads towards a release some time next year, because they realise that such fundamental differences might have too large an effect on the game. These could be things like a larger selection of surgeries created specifically to challenge iPad users, or adding more interactive background elements.
What’s most impressive is just how quickly they’ve been able to put all of this together, for our demonstration. The original Surgeon Simulator came from this year’s Global Game Jam, created in just 48 hours, before hurtling towards a release on steam just 3 months later.
Speaking of the iPad version, they explained that after several false starts with control systems, they just had an “emergency day out, and nailed it.” It certainly seems that they have that initial spark once more. Pushing on from here, they’ll have time to hone and refine it into something that will have people passing their tablets around the room, and cracking up in tears of laughter.