iPhone 4S - what do game developers think?
(Guardian Web Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) So, you may have noticed that Apple stood up and made a little announcement last night. The iPhone 4S boasts a dual-core A5 Chip, a new camera and full 1080p HD video recording, as well as an 'intelligent' voice recognition service named Siri that will help you browse the web for location-based info and other stuff. But what will all this mean for games? Gears of War creator Epic is certainly excited. The company was at Apple's Cupertino headquarters yesterday showing off Infinity Blade 2, sequel to the phenomenally successful iPhone RPG hack-'em-up. Developed by Chair Entertainment, the title is set to make full use of the handset's beefed up processor, as well as the new iCloud feature of iOS 5, which will allow game saves to be stored remotely so that players can swap the action seamlessly between devices.
What does everyone else think? Chatting to several UK developers this morning, it seems the increase in processing power is a key attraction. "It's an amazing piece of hardware," enthuses Chris Byatte, co-general manager of smartphone publisher, Chillingo. "With twice the power of the previous iPhone and seven times faster graphics the possibilities for gaming are very exciting." "I think parity with the CPU/GPU of the iPad 2 is great for those of us working with these top-end devices," says Simon Barratt of Bradford-based Four Door Lemon, which has just released its latest iOS title, Tic Toc Body Pop. "I wasn't expecting the RAM to be increased to 1GB, versus the iPad 2 with 512MB, so that was a welcome surprise and should allow for more working memory to be available to developers. As with iPad 2, having the extra core allows us to either make specific content that targets multiple cores only, or it lets us add extra effects or polish for 4S owners. Developers could also provide a solid FPS boost by offloading work to one core." However, Barratt adds a proviso to this: "It is interesting to see Apple actively segmenting the market in this way. Developers do need to now consider which users they are targeting with new titles and how much effort they spend on newer device features – especially when devices from a few years ago are still being pushed to new users." It's a point of view echoed by other studios I spoke to. Hogrocket has just released its first iOS title, Tiny Invaders and co-founder Ben Ward is keen to keep his iOS options open. "With Tiny Invaders, we made the extra effort to support iPhones and iPods all the way back to iOS 3.1.3. We made our game run at full speed on older hardware, such as the iPhone 3G and iPod Touch rev. 2, because we feel it's important that those people don't get left behind. Don't get me wrong - eventually it will be impractical to support every version of iOS hardware, but I think developers shouldn't be too quick to make games exclusively for the 4S. There is a huge existing iOS user base out there and they still need new games." Because of this emerging sense of fragmentation in the iOS family, then, it could be a while before we see the newer elements of the tech being exploited by the vast majority of smaller teams. "It will be the least-common hardware under the iOS banner for quite a while so taking advantage of the new features and power will be the remit of people like Epic," says Andrew Smith, founder of Spilt Milk Studios. "Small studios like mine would be mad to spend too much time, effort or money on features that the 4S allow, if it's at the expense of the older handsets." Meanwhile, iOS 5 promises a couple of major new developments for games. The iCloud functionality, which allows data, photos and music to be saved to a remote saver and then automatically synced between Apple devices, will obviously be useful for game saves. And Epic is not the only company eyeing up the possibility of developing games that can be played on iPhone, then picked up on iPad or Mac later on. As Barratt points out, "Our game, Cricket Captain 2011, is cross platform on PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone, and it already has cloud save support to allow users to switch between devices while playing the same match. I think gamers are going to come to expect this ability to switch between devices with ease." Alongside remote game saves and the possibility of running seamless cross-platform titles, a few developers are seeing other possibilities. "Maybe some form of user-generated content sharing," suggests Smith. "That would be the start of something very interesting indeed – a version of our game Hard Lines with some LittleBigPlanet-style editing functionality would be something to see!" Also, Apple's connected gaming service Game Center is set to get some new features under iOS 5. The developers are under NDA so can't discuss these, but last night's press statement declares, "with iOS 5, you can get your game face on with even more Game Center features. Post a profile picture. Meet your match with new friend recommendations based on the games you play and the players you already know. Discover new games without leaving Game Center. And size up an opponent on the spot with new overall achievement scores." Essentially, Apple is picking up yet more tips from Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, seeking to create a much more comprehensive, socially integrated system.
As for Siri, none of the developers could say whether Apple would be making the tech available in its game APIs. However, there's certainly interest out there. "Voice recognition is one of the strongest, but also most under-exploited features of Kinect so I'm keen to see what people do with it on iOS," says Sean Taylor, a producer at Dundee-based developer Denki, responsible for the excellent word puzzler, Quarrel. "An iPhone 4S augmented reality game with intelligent use of voice recognition and gestures certainly gets my juices flowing. Being Scottish, however, I can't help but think my Siri experience will turn out like this Burnistoun sketch..." Ian Harper, Managing Director of Future Games of London, has some more ideas. "If Siri works well – and early reports indicate that it does – it could be an interesting option for a variety of different uses. I can imagine that the guys who made [the audio game] Papa Sangre could make a very interesting sound and voice only game with the technology. For most developers, I imagine it could be used as an elegant alternative to including cluttered HUD buttons all over a beautiful game, instead of having a rarely used pause button, players could simply tell their iPhone to pause the game.
"But then maybe we are not thinking far enough a field. It could be possible to have speech-based RPG games where people interact directly with NPCs by speaking to them; it would take a significant amount of work into possible dialogue trees, but I'm sure it would be worth it. Or puzzle games where you have to move through an environment dealing with physical puzzles whilst simultaneously being engaged in riddles with a mad GLaDoS type AI super computer? Simpler children's games would be conceived of quite easily that prompt the child to name colours, shapes, letters and numbers that pop-up, or to mimic the sounds of animals as they parade across the screen." He does, though, sound a note of caution. "The possibilites are many, but it does all rely firstly on how well the technology really works and secondly on how much of a pillock people are willing to look as they vocalise bizarre commands into their iPhone whilst sitting on the number 25 bus." Although, judging by several recent journeys on pubic transport, it seems to me that having to scream repetitive phrases into a handset for an entire journey is not going to be a deal-breaker for a lot of phone users...
iCloud vs Wii U? One interesting point that Ian Harper, Managing Director of Future Games of London, brings up about iCloud is that it could offer multiplayer experiences like those emerging on current and next gen console platforms...
"Looking at the demo of the new Nintendo Wii U, the possibility for multiplayer games where one player is afforded much more information through the use of a separate tablet screen than the rest of the players who share splitscreens on a single TV, seems like an interesting trend that could take off. In the demo games from the Nintendo promo video, the group of players might be tasked with working together to hunt or defeat the loner, or the loner could act as a dungeon master who plots out the adventure for the rest of the players in real time.
"iCloud would allow for games that revolve around very similar situations as they are now making it much easier to share data between all your different Apple devices." "With iCloud, this type of game could take the form of some sort of geo location game where one user perhaps organises a scavenger hunt through their iMac and then monitor's teams of hunters who are fed riddles through their iPhones and then must locate and photograph specific objects or landmarks to advance to the next stage of the hunt. The organiser at their iMac could track the teams locations in real time and offer Warmer/Colder hints as they go or even engineer situations where two teams might arrive at the same thing at the same time to compete in some sort of challenge." (c) 2011 Guardian Newspapers Limited.