April 4, 2008

i got yer future of games here in my greasy mitt

by Andrew Stern · , 5:49 pm


11 Responses to “i got yer future of games here in my greasy mitt”

  1. andrew Says:

    * Actually, it’s just the Façade YouTube video, playing on an iPhone. But I can dream… and scheme…

  2. Mike Rozak Says:

    IMHO, UMPCs are the way to go.

    The problem with the iPhone and friends is that the screen is too small, even if the processor were up to the task.

  3. andrew Says:

    The iPhone has friends? Mostly enemies, I think. ;-)

    The iPhone’s screen is certainly small, if you’re comparing it to a laptop/desktop/tablet. Furthermore, if your application’s interface requires controller buttons or a keyboard, you have to make room for virtual buttons/keys on the screen. (If the game can be operated via mouse pointer, your finger serves as the controller, requiring no extra screen real-estate.)

    How does the iPhone compare to the PSP and DS, two successful handheld game systems? They’re comparable, spec-wise.

    – iPhone (held horizontally): 3″ x 2″ screen, with 480×320 pixel resolution
    – Sony PSP: 3.74″ x 2.12″ screen, 480×272 pixel resolution
    – Nintendo DS: 3.62″ x 2.44″, 384×256 pixel resolution (combination of two screens)

    (See this article for further discussion.)

    For games, the big difference between the iPhone and the PSP and DS, of course, is that the PSP and DS each have physical buttons alongside the screen. If I were a game developer making an action game for the iPhone requiring a controller, I’d be concerned about screen real-estate; and, I’d worry even more about the effectiveness of virtual buttons will be, with no tactile feel to them.

    But I think the iPhone is viable for interactive drama / comedy / fiction, either using the virtual keyboard to enter dialog/commands, or using a finger to pick from dialog menus. The iPhone’s screen is large enough to watch a small number of characters conversing, in a television-style presentation. I just watched an episode of Mad Men on it, and I found it satisfying. (As for cinema, I have to agree with David Lynch: “get real”.)

    One might ask, why bother with the iPhone for interactive drama/comedy? Well, because of the market the iPhone creates: tech-savvy folks (millions of ’em), not afraid to spend money, most of whom aren’t hardcore gamers, perhaps looking for some mass-market-style entertainment… Potentially a really great match.

    (Update: Next-Gen thinks point-and-click adventures such as Telltale’s Sam and Max would be a great fit…)
    (Update 2: Indie developer Mark Johns is intrigued, and quickly built some excellent experiments.)

  4. Mike Rozak Says:

    Minor nits:
    – I don’t think resolution is the problem. The small size is a much larger problem. (See below.)
    – A 3″ x 2″ screen is 50% larger to a 9-year old just because they’re 33% smaller.

    My main contention:

    While you can certainly see the two characters conversing on the screen, is the image large enough to help immersion? There’s a reason why people pay more for larger TVs and bigger speakers, because a larger TV and bigger speakers makes their viewing more enjoyable (partly because it’s more immersive). Countering that curve is portability. I think UMPC-sized machines are the right tradeoff between size and portability. iPhone is very portable, but too small. Notebook PC is great screen, but too large/heavy to lug around. I suppose the truth will be known in a few years if the iPhone takes off as a gaming device.

    As far as displaying text IF, I think 9-10 point text is the smallest that people can read comfortably, so screen size is an issue. Having said that, I think text IF on an E-book reader (larger screen, reflective light) would work well.

    iPhone marketed to tech savvy folks – Good point.

  5. andrew Says:

    If UMPCs (which, btw, stands for ultra-mobile PCs, i.e. small tablet computers) were popular, I’d agree — but so far, they don’t seem to be taking off. On the other hand, iPhone is projected to sell over 10M units this year.

    Also, who are buying UMPCs? Business people, by and large, I’d guess. Whereas the analyist in the Next-Gen article characterizes iPhone users as “young, hip and rich”.

    In other words, it’s better to try conforming a product to the popular devices, even it requires some game design compromise, e.g. fit the game in a small but adequate screen. I’m guessing interactive drama/comedy will be a decent fit, even better than action games requiring controllers.

    Text-based IF on an iPhone, I’m not as sure; but there are those who are trying…

    (In related news today: Unity just announced their 3D engine for the iPhone.)

  6. Mike Rozak Says:

    UMPCs – I understand your point, except that UMPCs (or whatever you want to call them) like the Eee seem to be taking off, relatively speaking. I’ve heard Asus projecting numbers in the millions expected to sell this year. (Back in January, 3(?) months after the Linux-Eee release, I heard that 350K had already been shipped. Asus has a WindowsXP version out very soon… but for more money.)

    You could also add one-laptop-per-child, intel’s classmate, etc. to this list. (Not to mention heaps of Eee clones.)

    So, I suspect such small computers will be used by some mobile techie-professionals as well as schoolkids.

    But if you’re talking sheer numbers, I agree: There will always be more cell-phones than UMPCs.

  7. andrew Says:

    Assuming a game runs on regular PCs, and can run at smaller screen resolutions, e.g., 800 × 480, and can operate adequately on slower CPUs / graphics cards — then I’m guessing the UMPC market just comes for free? I.e., UMPCs are just slower, smaller-screened PCs, for most intents and purposes?

  8. Mike Rozak Says:

    “UMPCs are just slower, smaller-screened PCs, for most intents and purposes?”

    Yes, from a programming POV… except most UMPCs don’t have much of a 3D accelerator, and the lower res/CPU (as you pointed out).

    No from UI design. The screen is small, keyboard small, touchpad instead of mouse, sometimes there’s touchscreen, etc. – To use a popular game as an example: Even if World or Warcraft ran on a UMPC, its reliance on a mouse (it’s inconvenient with a touchpad) and keyboard (lots of hotkeys) make it less-than-ideal. Not to mention that it’s UI assumes a decent-sized screen; you won’t see the characters on a 7″ screen. (By the way, I suspect Facade’s large characters and uncluttered graphics would work well.)

    Oh, and there’s the issue of battery life. WoW (for example) draws a 3D image 60 times a second, whether you’re doing anything or not. On a battery-operated device, the application wants to only compute new scenes when it needs to.

    Coding for an iPhone will have similar differences, as well as extra ones imposed by the touchscreen-only and 4″ diagonal.

  9. Ian Bogost Says:

    Andrew, in all seriousness, the iPhone is a powerful computer that can render OpenGL. If you ported ABL to work in C instead of Java, it could probably run on the device. Of course, typing on it is a huge pain, and one of the complaints about Façade was that it already assumed the user was a faster typer than was reasonable…

  10. andrew Says:

    Yes, I think the iPhone is fast enough to run an optimized version of the Facade AI architecture (for which I’m working on v2.0), as well as up to the task of decent animation of some kind. I’ll be porting my code to it in the near future, to confirm this.

    Regarding the keyboard — I’m glad you brought that up.

    First off all, no matter the platform (iPhone, PC/Mac, consoles with keyboards), to make our approach to interactive drama/comedy even more user-friendly and marketable, the NLU interface is undergoing many improvements. One of these is slowing down the required pace of text entry — and handling the subsequent impact on the game design that entails. Several other improvements are in production as well, such as displaying the system’s interpretation of player dialog, including spellchecking and highlighting misspelled words (a la Word); undo/rewind of the last dialog entered, etc.

    On the iPhone specifically, an NLU interface has two obvious challenges I can see.

    One, typing on the virtual keyboard just isn’t as easy as regular keyboard. Even proficient regular typers won’t find the iPhone easy to type on. I’ve had mine for a few weeks now, and I’m getting better at it; I’m guessing in a few months, I’ll be adequately comfortable, though still a much slow typer compared to what I’m used to.

    For sure, common chatspeak will need to be supported. I think it’s a natural fit, interface-wise, since you’re playing on a phone! (even though the game situation rarely involves a phone.)

    A potential side benefit of a slower virtual keyboard is that players will type simpler, shorter sentences, increasing the chances the parser will understand them!

    Challenge #2, when the virtual keyboard is on-screen, it takes over half of the screen. Not a whole lot of room is left for displaying the game itself. I think the faces of the characters in conversation can stay visible, but the keyboard will cover up much else, while text is being entered. That’s unfortunate, but I think can be accommodated.

  11. Grand Text Auto » i’m an ngmofo Says:

    […] having a great, stressed-out time making what we hope will be a fresh, compelling game for this new platform. More when I’m allowed to tell you […]

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