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Powering up mobile

Developers are increasingly looking for ways to squeeze out more power from mobiles as they try to diff erentiate their games on crowded app stores. Craig Chapple asks how studios can bring high-end gaming to smartphones

Top to bottom:

Geomerics founder Chris Doran and PlayCanvas CEO Will Eastcott

Main: The success of games like CSR Racing show that there is big demand for high-end gaming on mobile

AS MOBILE TECHNOLOGY as a whole continues to evolve at pace, with Apple and the likes of Samsung consistently releasing new hardware to outdo their competitors in the power stakes, so too does gaming. Ten years ago the notion of high-end graphics on mobile devices would have been laughable, but fl ash-forward to today and the technology powering mobile has moved on leaps and bounds, and stunning visuals can mean big business for the right games. You only need to take a look at companies such as NaturalMotion, which built its games development business on high-end gaming through titles such as MyHorse and CSR Racing, to see the fruits of such endeavours. Such was its success, Zynga bought the fi rm for over half a billion dollars at the start of the year.

REACHING NEW HEIGHTS Matt Spencer of ARM, a company that specialises in the creation of development tools and the technology powering mobiles, such as the Mali GPU, says mobile hardware is fast becoming more a fashion statement in the way it looks both physically and what it displays. “This requires a high-quality display with high pixel density and CPU cores able to achieve a balance of high performance and effi ciency paired with a high fi delity GPU to ensure consumers receive a silky smooth user experience,” explains Spencer.

“And once the consumer has bought into the high-end experience and has a mobile device that is capable of console quality

64 | AUGUST 2014

gaming, their expectation is that when they pay for a game, it will make full use of the capability of the device they have.” Chris Doran, founder of game lighting specialists Geomerics, says consumers have always sought out the best visuals, right from the earliest gaming handhelds through to the PS Vita and today’s tablets and phones, and he doesn’t see this trend ending any time soon.

A signifi cant portion of people want

high-end games and devices will emerge that target them.

Chris Doran, Geomerics

“For mobile we are entering into a diff erent space now,” he says. “Historically, mobile gaming meant a dedicated platform designed around games. That is no longer the case for smartphones and tablets. These are consumer devices that are designed to fulfi l many roles, only one of which is gaming. This can complicate things for the consumer, but we have been here before.

“In the PC space, gamers had to fi ght for attention with other use cases. This ultimately resolved itself with more specialised high-end hardware being developed predominantly for gamers. GPU progress in particular was driven by satisfying the needs of high-end gamers.

“I’m sure the mobile space will develop along similar lines. Not all consumers will want to play high-end games on their mobile devices, but there will be a signifi cant portion who do and devices will emerge that are targeted at their needs.”

Martin Ekdal, VP of business development at Donya Labs, creator of automatic optimisation solution Simplygon, adds: “I think 3D games are much more interesting. I’m not saying that 2D games are shit, because there’s a lot of really cool 2D games, but there’s just way much more you can do and much more things to explore in 3D.”


As Ekdal says, 2D games or even minimalist titles can still fi nd both niche and mass-market audiences. But as the app stores continue to get fl ooded with hundreds of thousands more games, visuals can act as an eff ective way to pull in players. After all, game mechanics don’t speak for themselves until users begin to evangelise the titles.

Will Eastcott, CEO at cloud game development platform fi rm PlayCanvas, says if developers don’t adapt, others will, but adds there are plenty of tools available to use to keep up with the latest developments. “For example, the PlayCanvas engine is built on top of WebGL 1.0, but version 2.0 is already on the horizon,” he explains. “The new API integrates features like multiple render targets, geometry instancing and new compressed texture formats, all designed to squeeze more

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