Mobile Gaming: the truth – and what we can learn Part 2 – Technical

Posted on April 24, 2012

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This post was originally posted on my internal IBM blog on 16:12 01/02/2012, Steve Devo, games, html5, mobile, mobilegames, technology, tools, Mobile Internet

Part two of a short series on mobile gaming, mostly derived from notes taken at Mobile Monday London.

Formats, technology and the like

Smartphones are mostly for casual games, that is games that are just for fun, there are very few successful mainstream games on these devices.
The tablets however are for more “serious” or hardcore games and the new ranges of tablets have the processing power (processor and graphics engines) to properly take on hardcore games.
BUT there is a real challenge in moving a game from a console/PC to a touchscreen and that’s because of the controls.
There is a triangle of controlers: buttons/joystick for consoles/PC, movement for consoles (Wii, etc) and touch.
Moving a game between these controller types without this change being built in from the start has not been successful yet. Also games scaled up from a phone to a tablet tend to have the controls in the wrong place and too far apart, needs to be thought through.
As IBM start to deliver services on tablets and phones some thought needs to be put into the ways in which these control paradigms work and work together.

TV’s & Multi-device: As yet the game companies do not see a great deal of use for a game that spans several devices _and_ a TV. I think this is missing a trick, playing a board game like monopoly, scrabble, etc, or other turn based games could benefit from a large shared screen, and then local hand held screens. On the negative side a lot of casual gaming is played at the same time as watching TV.
For IBM it would be good if the SWG guys could consider dual screen/device working for some tools. e.g. being able to use a subset of RSA or Doors etc on a tablet when working away from the desk, or even in presentations, meeting makes a lot of sense to me. Multi-person edit sessions that go beyond screen sharing makes sense too, life is more about collaboration these days, yet we are more likely to be in physically separate spaces.

HTML5 is not ready for gaming. Games need fast reactions to complex series of inputs. HTML5 does not cut the mustard. And then there is the old saw of fragmentation. HTML5 supposedly will fix this by having the browser act as middleware between the HTML5 and the device. However this is dependent on the browsers acting consistently and they never do.
For an iOS game you’re likely to produce 4 different versions, and for an Android about 6 perhaps as many as 10 in some markets. Compared to the bad old days of java when 800 to 2000 versions (skus) was not uncommon this is vastly improved.
However for IBM and the business orientated world we deal with, mostly, HTML5 will be a huge boon, and we _must_ ensure that our Websphere colleagues and all teams that create web front ends have HTML5 in their plans for this year, because next year it will be ubiquitous.

Tools: So how does one build apps for multiple platforms, remembering that Android is Java and iOS is objective C.
Well the answer is either two build efforts or the use of some clever strategy. Some folks simply use C++ for the core elements of the game (physics engine etc) and then can port this to the devices quite easily. The libraries that deal with device specific elements (camera, input, accellorometer and other gadgets) are written per platform.
there are some tools for writing once and building to multiple targets such as unity and marmalade and IBM’s newly bought worklight,
It seems that opinion is split on these tools. Generally if you are stressing the device with a lot of work then you need to hone the code by hand, if your more aturns based casual game (eg sudoku) then these tools are ok. But be careful. Here be demons.

Artificial Intelligence: A lot of platform games compete with the quality of the AI that controls the game. This is becoming true with mobile games, and the AIs are starting to fit into the constraints of the mobile.
Siri has sparked a lot of interest because it is not just a voice recognition AI, it has a personality all of it’s own and that is what intrigues gamers. Expect to see this kind of system in use in games quite soon.

I suspect that we will start to see eye tracking soon, then you can sneak things onto the screen whilst the user’s gaze is elsewhere, that kind of input into the AI will make a big difference.

Sadly you’ll have not noticed the blackberry or nokia/windoze phones in anything above. these are just not working for games. Yes a _lot_ of kiddies have blackberrys leading to these devices being the biggest seller last year, however they are not set-up for gaming, and a lot of the devices go to corps where games would be frowned upon or banned.
Nokia/windows are just not a big enough market to justify the costs of entry, and the way things are going this is likely to remain the case for some time to come.

So what technology do you see coming into mobile gaming soon ?

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