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performance from the GPU. When PlayCanvas finally incorporates v2.0, developers should simply see a performance boost and not spend weeks rewriting a proprietary game engine. “That said, even if you use a commercial engine, I’d argue it’s still important to understand how the hardware is being driven. Companies like ARM produce some fantastic tools like the Mali Graphics Debugger which provide this insight.”

Doran agrees that a wealth of tools are available including its Enlighten tech, and says many are tuned for the speedy development and iteration-based game creation required for mobile.

IN WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW Despite powerful new tools taking advantage of the latest hardware, developers targeting a large market aren’t always able to target high-end devices for the best graphics possible. Whereas consoles have much lengthier generations than smartphones and use a single base spec, there are a plethora of mobile devices old and new, built by numerous different manufacturers. It’s an issue that Spencer admits means developers targeting high quality 1920 x 1080 displays will be “cutting out 91 per cent of their potential market”.

“There are a number of high-end devices in the market with very high density screens and a games developer is always going to want to make sure that their flagship product looks great on these devices,” he says. “But the truth of the matter is that the volume is to be found in the mid-range devices. If you take a look at publicly available stats from Unity, they show that the most popular screen resolution for playing unity games is on a screen resolution of 800 x 480 and the most popular mobile GPU model is still the ARM Mali-400 GPU.“

Ekdal adds: “If you want to reach the full potential, then yes, obviously [you need to target legacy devices]. Everybody won’t

immediately get the latest hardware and if you look at certain markets, they might not ever be up to date, so there’s some kind of legacy.” Another issue in the mobile market is that of power consumption, a challenge for developers looking to squeeze as much power out of the hardware for their high-end games as possible. After all, mobile devices have a number of uses, many social, outside of games, and titles that bleed dry the battery will not be welcome by many players.

The truth of the matter is that the

volume of players is to be found in the

mid-range devices. Matt Spencer, ARM

Eastcott identifies some of the major culprits when it comes to the dreaded battery drain, but offers potential solutions to avoid the problem completely.

“If a developer is writing a game against native APIs, there is explicit control over how hardware features are accessed,” he explains. “Utilising the radios, GPS receiver, accelerometers and so on will all drain battery life and there are guidelines for using these resources efficiently. Things are a little different if you have opted to develop on HTML5 and WebGL.

“In this case, it is the browser – or native wrapper – that is responsible for ensuring that hardware resources are managed intelligently. For obvious reasons, the major browser vendors take power consumption seriously and are working very hard to preserve battery life.”


ARM’s Spencer says the firm is constantly looking at creating more power efficient architectures for mobile devices, but admits

this does not absolve the developer from making power efficient applications. The company offers a number of tools to this end, including internal compression techniques such as Adaptive Scalable Texture Compression, the Mali Graphics Debugger and the DS-5 Streamline.

“The conflict between the performance demanded by the high quality of texture, lighting and effects of 3D gaming workloads and the increasing demand for better battery life calls for a commitment to deliver the most out of every milliwatt,” says Spencer. “ARM has been driving advanced power management techniques such as ARM big. Little to save power in mobile SoCs, where high performance ‘big’ cores are paired with high efficiency ‘little’ cores. The operating system is able to run workloads such as games by using the right core for the right task. “This comes in handy when the visuals and games you are designing have complex scene content, smaller tiles and short render times.” With companies like ARM, Simplygon, Geomerics, PlayCanvas and a host of other firms around the world working on solutions and enhancements to mobile, smartphones could continue to close the gap on console quality graphics during the coming years. 

AUGUST 2014 | 65

A number of tools are available for mobile game development, including Simplygon (top) and Enlighten (above)

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