This article is a pre-release chapter in the upcoming “Take Control of Apple TV,” by Josh Centers, scheduled for public release in January 2014. Apart from “,” these chapters are available only to ; see “ ” for details.
The Apple TV wasn’t intended as a gaming device, but thanks to AirPlay Mirroring, the combination of an iOS device and an Apple TV can make for a surprisingly compelling gaming experience.
In this chapter, I describe some iOS games that are optimized for the Apple TV. But first, to ensure the best possible gaming experience, let me offers some tips on how to reduce AirPlay latency.
What’s amazing about AirPlay Mirroring is that you can see a game from your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch on the big screen, while using your mobile device as the controller. But, behind the magic lies a complicated process that’s sensitive to latency. In layman’s terms, latency is how long it takes a bit to move from one point to the other. High latency can lead to lags, stutters, and other problems that render games no fun at all. Consider these latency-inducing factors:
To avoid game-killing latency between what you input with the controller and what you see onscreen, try these tips:
If you’ve tried all these ideas and your AirPlay gaming experience is still laggy, the particular iOS device you’re playing on may not have enough CPU horsepower, and the only solution may be a new iPad or iPhone. Sorry!
Technically, you can play any iOS (or Mac) game on the Apple TV with AirPlay Mirroring. But some games are designed with AirPlay in mind.
What’s the difference between a game designed for AirPlay and one that isn’t? In a word, optimization. Some AirPlay games feature special controls (or can be played only through AirPlay!). But the real difference is aspect ratio, the ratio of width to height.
Once upon a time, back when TVs were heavy boxy things, most screens featured a 4:3 aspect ratio, which is relatively square compared to wide movie-theater displays. When the industry made the transition to HD and away from bulky, fuzzy tube displays, it also switched TV screens, for the most part, to the more cinematic 16:9 ratio.
Today, these aspect ratios coexist in the Apple ecosystem. The iPad (all models) features a 4:3 aspect ratio, while the iPhone 5, iPhone 5s, and fifth-generation models of the iPod touch have widescreen 16:9 displays. The iPhone 4 and 4S have a funky 3:2 aspect ratio.
So, if you AirPlay a 4:3 iPad onto a 16:9 TV, you’ll see big black bars on the sides of the screen. It’s not a deal breaker, but it’s also not the full experience. On the other hand, almost any app AirPlayed from a 16:9 iPhone (or iPod touch) looks great on a 16:9 TV.
When game developers optimize for AirPlay, they add what feels like magic by making sure the game will fill a 16:9 display when appropriate. The apps listed here will always fill your display, no matter if you’re using a 4:3 iPad, a 3:2 iPhone, or a 16:9 iPod touch.
Here’s an alphabetical listing of the best games to play with your Apple TV.
 (Figure 1) is a Game Center-enabled multiplayer game in which you pilot a paper airplane against up to three online opponents. You control the plane by rotating the device — dodging obstacles and enemy fire, and picking up weapons like spitball bullets, firecracker bombs, and pencil missiles, all of which are activated with onscreen buttons.
The game is played entirely on your device, but if you enable AirPlay Mirroring, it shows a cinematic view of the action for spectators in the room (Figure 2).
The free is supported by ads and in-app purchases that unlock other planes, including a flying squirrel. I’ve found it works best on smaller devices like the iPhone.
With Ducati Challenge (Figure 3) you can race a motorcycle in single-player championship and quick race modes, as well as a local multiplayer mode for up to four friends.
Like many iOS racing games, you steer by tilting the device. A unique aspect of Ducati Challenge is that when you enable AirPlay Mirroring, the game replaces the graphics on your device’s screen with touchscreen icons for the gas and brake pedals (Figure 4).
The game comes in four flavors: for smaller devices;  ($1.99), the full game for smaller devices;  for iPads; and  ($2.99), the full game for iPads.
For AirPlay gaming, I recommend one of the versions for the iPhone and iPod touch, since those devices are easier to tilt.
Out of all the games listed here, is the only one that requires AirPlay Mirroring. That’s right, you can’t play this game without an Apple TV.
Like tennis in Wii Sports, you can challenge the computer or your friends to one-on-one matches, swinging an iPhone or iPod touch to hit the ball (Figure 5).
You risk flinging your device at your Apple TV at the apex of your swing, so the developer recommends that you tether it to your wrist, using something like an
SwitchEasy to find many more colors).
For $7.99, gives you a unique Apple TV gaming experience, and it’s a lot of fun (for a full review, see my TidBITS article .
A first-person shooter that pits you against invading aliens, is a knock-off of the Halo series that’s about as good as the original (Figure 6).
N.O.V.A. 3 is one of the most demanding games for iOS. I wouldn’t recommend trying to play it over AirPlay Mirroring unless you have an iOS device with at least an A7 processor (iPhone 5s, iPad Air, or iPad mini with Retina display). Otherwise, get ready for a stuttery experience.
Another logistical issue with playing N.O.V.A. 3 on the TV is that it depends heavily on touch controls (Figure 7). It’s hard to keep your eyes on both the iOS device and the TV. If you enjoy N.O.V.A. 3 enough, I recommend spending $6 (but no more!) on Gameloft’s controller, which works with N.O.V.A. 3 and… not much else. (For more on the Duo Gamer, see my TidBITS article .)
In short, is a console-quality experience for only $6.99.
Like Motion Tennis, is designed to be played on the Apple TV. It’s a party game based on of the old gameshow “ .” It supports two teams of up to eight players each.
On the device’s screen (best played with an iPad), you’re told what to draw (Figure 8). You draw the subject directly on the device and your teammates try to guess what your picture is.
For $4.99, is a fun way to spend an evening with friends.
Fly into World War II dogfights in and enjoy one of the most graphically impressive iOS games available (Figure 9). It features two single-player campaigns, plus online multiplayer and local multiplayer modes.
The local multiplayer mode makes Storm Raiders a terrific party game, supporting up to eight players. It’s also cross-compatible with the Mac version, so Mac-only players can join the fun.
 is one of my favorite iOS games — to see why, read my TidBITS review, and it is well worth the cost at $4.99.
With the strategy game, you take command of squadrons of militarized worms (Figure 10). There’s a single-player campaign, as well online multiplayer and local multiplayer modes.
When you play the game via Apple TV, you can secretly plot moves on your device (I recommend an iPad), without revealing them to your friends on the TV.
Worms is a classic series, and the latest iteration,, is a blast for $4.99.
I know what you’re thinking, “Oh no, not more freaking zombies.” It seems like a year can’t go by these days without non-stop zombie movies, zombie novels, zombie video games, and zombie TV shows. It’s the curse of the living dead.
Fortunately,doesn’t have much emphasis on zombies. In fact, you can pretend they’re something else if you like (Figure 11). You play as a gunship gunner, viewing the ground through either night-vision or infrared cameras. Zombies are approaching a human hideout, and you have to pick them off with a machine gun before they breach the doors.
This is one of my favorite games to play on the Apple TV. When you enable AirPlay Mirroring, it displays your camera on the TV and a wireframe topographic map on your device (see Figure 12 — I recommend an iPad). Drag your finger around the screen to hunt for zombies and press the fire button to unleash your turrets.
At only $0.99, is well worth checking out.
Read More: |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |