WoW! It’s On An iPad!

Games available for the iPad, despite the exhortations of those who have everything to gain by pimping gaming on the device, fall amazingly short of what we get on the PC or on dedicated consoles. It seems that the whole catalog of iPad games is made up of match three, tower defense, Canabalt clones, Fruit Ninja clones, Farmville-esque clones, and keep an eye out for the the impending dearth of Angry Bird clones. A few upcoming titles, like Aralon, are worth noting, but otherwise I cannot agree that gaming on the iPad is worth anything more then an occasional diversion. What the iPad really needs is a knock-it-out-of-the-park-OMG-how’d-they-do-that application that simply cannot be ignored. Like World of Warcraft.

The chances of a native WoW client on the iPad are probably non-existent, but don’t confuse having WoW on the iPad with playing WoW on the iPad. It is possible to play it via Apple’s tablet, although you really, really have to want it to the point where you’re willing to wrestle with the implementation.

I received an email from PandaElf, a company which makes a product called everyAir. They had seen my mention of playing EVE Online via SplashTop Desktop on the iPad, and asked if I’d like to give everyAir a try, gratis (in the interest of full disclosure, I took them up on this offer). They have a video on YouTube that shows WoW being played on an iPad, so I figured it’d be worth a shot. What really interested me was that their app was focused less on standard remote desktop with video streaming ability, and more on how you translate the all-touch screen input of the iPad to the keyboard and mouse controls traditionally used with PC titles. SplashTop worked well with EVE because in EVE, you don’t ever have to touch the mouse to move; everything can be done through the menus and panels. WoW and Lord of the Rings Online, however, were non-starters; the mouse interaction was too wonky, and trying to use the on-screen keyboard as an analogue for the physical keyboard (WASD or arrow keys) didn’t work at all.

everyAir’s solution is to give you a D-pad, and a virtual mouse that behaves much like the analog stick on a PSP. To the right of that virtual mouse are three buttons: right, left and none, which represent the mouse buttons. While streaming WoW, clicking the “left” button toggles it on or off so when you move the v-mouse, it’s as if you were moving a real mouse while holding down the left mouse button. You can activate both the left and right buttons at the same time for complete mouse movement. This is a natural feeling and intuitive solution for movement on the iPad, but at one point during my trials, the concurrent use of the D-pad for movement and the virtual mouse for looking just stopped. I could use one, but not the other. Also, the v-mouse seems to have an artificial détente: moving the nub to the edge of the circle will rotate your camera as expected…to a point. I’d expect it to continue to rotate until I let up, but it just didn’t do that. I’d like to see that fixed, as it’s my primary gripe with the app thus far.

Performance wise…well, we are talking about some esoteric voodoo involving compressed video being shoved through your local WiFi (no internet play, folks) while expecting controls to be buttery smooth and responsive. It’s not. I’m not going to get all ranty on this point, because I have no idea what’s involved in what I can only surmise is a herculean feat of even getting the set-up to the point at which it does work. I’ll assume that a good chunk of PandaElf’s focus will be about improving the overall performance. The video is passable, in that you can tell what everything is on-screen, but since everyAir is resolution dependent, how you run your game natively has an impact on how it shows up on the iPad. At 1620×1200 on my desktop, the text was nigh unreadable on the iPad. I do normally scale the UI, though, which makes everything – including the hot-bars – smaller, so shame on me, but at least using the hot-bars can be accomplished by clicking on the screen with your finger. I’m sure that playing around with resolutions may allow for a better result, but be prepared to have a diminished experience when running on the iPad (hint: run in Windowed (Fullscreen) or Windowed mode. everyAir has the ability to auto-adjust itself to the foreground application on the desktop).

I did have some issues with Minecraft. The D-pad was unresponsive, and when the game was maximized on the PC, I couldn’t exit or minimize the game using the control bar, nor could I access any items on Windows’ taskbar. LotRO also didn’t’ work at all (not even the launcher), but I blame that on the DirectX version I’m using for the game not being compatible with everyAir.

everyAir is available on the iTunes App Store for $4.99 USD. You’ll also need to download the server component that must be running your gaming rig. Considering that I’d give this three out of 5 stars, I don’t think $4.99 is outrageous if you really, absolutely must have WoW on your iPad. I haven’t gone into combat via the iPad yet (I’d strongly advise against raiding with it, ATM), but if you want to log in to check your auctions, or to do errands around town, everyAir will help you out when you can’t get to the PC (like when company is over). I’d say that PandaElf has a potential app leader on their hands if there is any way that they can improve the performance on the LAN, and can provide iPad analogues for the relevant activities that we take for granted with the old-school keyboard and mouse combo. Short of having WoW on the iPad, this kind of app is the next best thing.

I’ll be taking some video of the experience, and will post an update when it’s available.

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