Mobile gaming has come a long way and here are few Epochs in Mobile Gaming that have pushed the envelope over the years. So how are things shaping up?
Mobile gaming has come a long way. The mobile gaming landscape has changed beyond all recognition over the past few years. The original iPhone was our first real introduction to touchscreen gaming. True, touchscreen devices (and games for the same) have existed long before Steve Jobs went on stage in 2007. But mobile gaming before the iPhone tended not to be platform appropriate. In the 9 years that have followed, smartphone adoption has gone through the roof and a lot of people have hardware in their pockets that could keep pace with the fastest PCs circa 2005. With that in mind, let’s have a look at the Epochs in Mobile Gaming that have pushed the envelope over the years.
Candy Crush Saga
Casual puzzlers have been around for a long time. Whether it’s those horrific “games” they offer on in-flight consoles or the Bejeweled clones you might’ve had on your feature phone ages ago. How Candy Crush came to be download by approximately 20 percent of humanity? We don’t know. Why did Activision spend 6 billion dollars to buy out its developer, King? Another difficult question.
A combination of the game’s social integration via Facebook and a deviously clever free-to-play model led to Candy Crush Saga becoming the highest-grossing mobile game ever. A free-to-play puzzler raking in more in sales revenue per year than The Witcher 3, Fallout 4, and Black Ops III put together? What has the world come to?
“Console quality” is a term that’s being thrown about way too often for comfort in the mobile space. Yes, mobile hardware is playing catch up, at least with last-gen consoles in terms of raw graphics horsepower. The Adreno 430 in Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 810 SoC beats out the PS3 and Xbox 360 if you look at raw FLOPS. But there are a lot of other factors at play: pricing, API overheads, and the question of what people actually want from a mobile gaming experience. Gameloft’s never been shy about affixing “console-quality” to most of their titles. Is Modern Combat: Blackout a good mobile game? Absolutely. Modern Combat: Blackout is about as close as you can get right now to a AAA shooter experience when it comes to mobile gaming.
Pokémon GO is less a game and more a fascinating sociocultural phenomenon. What else could possibly make millennials around the world get up off their rear ends and actually walk around meeting people?
Augmented Reality (AR), the key concept behind Pokémon GO isn’t exactly original. Niantic, the game’s developer, outed a very similar AR game, Ingress, years ago. Ingress was, and remains, a niche title, but considering that it builds on Ingress’s database, one could almost call Pokémon GO a franchise reskin for Niantic’s older effort.
Nevertheless, Pokémon GO’s tremendous success — the game rakes up nearly one third of all game-generated income in the US — can have significant repercussions on future gaming paradigms. Like it or not, as of right now Pokémon GO is the future, or at least a large part of it.
San Andreas Mobile
“Console quality” mobile games have the limitations of mobile hardware to contend with — on the graphics side of things, as we’d mentioned earlier, mobile GPUs have a raw throughput matching last-gen consoles, but they’re incredibly constrained on the CPU side — world building, physics simulation, AI. Older gen console ports however are far more plausible.
Take GTA: San Andreas for example. Setting the last-gen visuals aside, you get the full-fat console experience. San Andreas was a tremendous achievement when it launched in 2004, featuring not one, but three cities to explore and wide swathes of countryside in between. And it’s all the more incredible that you can carry that entire world around with you, with improved textures and visual effects to boot.
There was a very brief point of time in the mid-80 when “FMV games” were a craze. This was right after the advent of the Laserdisc and the huge (for the time) amount of storage space the medium offered, but before PCs and consoles became powerful enough to do convincing 3D visuals. FMV games were basically interactive movies in which you got to pick what happened next. Which is about as fun as it sounds. Most people are understandably relieved that that particular trend faded into obscurity. But Her Story does the unthinkable: It somehow manages to create an evocative experience specifically because it’s an interactive FMV game.
Her Story works because it’s primary mechanic — searching for clues about a murder mystery among a series of disjointed interview clips — works just as one would expect it to in real life — it’s remarkably easy to see yourself as a detective hunting for meaning in Hannah Smith’s recordings, trying to piece a case together, clip by clip. It’s a remarkable recycling of a long-dead mechanic—it’s FMV gaming finally done right.
Valiant Hearts: The Great War
At some point of time, even Ubisoft realized that its template-based approach to AAA games was sucking the soul out of its major franchises. While they milked their mainline franchises for all they were worth (and then some), Ubi set up autonomous, smaller scale teams, with the resources and manpower of indie studios to take risk on smaller-scale projects. And while Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate puts up a respectably good show (you can’t call it awful because it’s not; it’s just not great), it’s Ubi’s smaller-scale titles that really take things in new directions.
Rather than looking at WWI in terms of the hypothetical, dull FPSs it would inspire, Valiant Hearts looks at the human aspect of the war. In the end, it’s people down there in those trenches. Young men with family, loved ones. Fears and hopes. It explores the humanity of suffering during WWI through an achingly naïve cartoon art-style. Valiant Hearts explores WWI as a story of innocence lost and is a striking validation of what Ubisoft can accomplish in its games. Though Valiant Hearts is a multi-plat release, the mobile version is a better fit for the game than either the PC or console iterations. There’s just something remarkably intimate about interacting with the game’s hand-drawn scenes through touch compared to using a controller.
In an old interview with Ustwo, the developers of Monument Valley said they wanted to make every scene in the game striking enough that it’d be something you print out and hang on your wall. Monument Valley may be a deceptively simple isometric puzzler, but it asks important questions about videogames as art. Arthouse indie titles like Dear Esther and The Witness approach this question from more oblique angles, but Monument Valley tackles it head-on, with absolutely stunning art design.
The broad strokes of primary colour and the flat shading make it an exceptional standout on high resolution displays—it really does feel like something you could print out and stick on your wall, level after level.
Straight-up ports of older-generation titles do work, but come with all the limitations of cramming a 10-15 year-old big-screen experience onto your phone — virtual controls end up covering half the screen and you’ll probably run out of battery before hitting the first save point. That being said, what about “console quality” games built from the ground up for mobile? Epic turned a lot of heads when it brought the Unreal 3 engine over to iOS back in 2010. Epic Citadel was a remarkable showcase of what your iPhone 3GS was capable of. Then Chair went ahead and created Infinity Blade, an actual mobile title running on Unreal 3.
In terms of visuals in mobile gaming, Infinity Blade does live up to the “console quality” promise, though the lack of free movement and limited camera angles does lessen the wow-factor somewhat. But more than just being a looker, Infinity Blade delivered an experience that was tailored specifically towards a mobile audience. The swipe-based combat system, taking a cue from Fruit Ninja, is intuitive yet hard to master. The one-on-one fights have an epic setpiece grandeur, but don’t last more than a few minutes, breaking play into bite-sized chunks. Infinity Blade is a remarkable example of a mobile title pushing the boundaries in terms of visuals, while still having an appreciation for the platform it’s played on.
Before Temple Run, there was Canabalt. The endless runner is a genre that could only have done well on mobile. Simple mechanics, one-touch controls, and (endless) replayability make endless runners the go-to when you need to kill time. Canabalt’s minimalist aesthetic and black and white presentation exude a sense of mystery. Who is that guy? Why does he jump out a window and run over rooftops? Canabalt may not enjoy the popularity it deserves, but it introduced the world to the endless runner genre. And with an HD remaster out, it’s definitely worth checking out.
Canabalt is like the hipster of endless runners: It was an endless runner before endlessly running became mainstream. Temple Run, on the other hand, is about as mainstream as it gets. It’s also a fantastic example of free-to-play done right. F2P titles are maligned all too often for being shameless cashgrabs, and unfortunately, that is the case most of the time. Free-to-play wouldn’t be a thing unless publishers made money off it, but there’s still something about paying for game-breaking items, or even to refill the “energy meter” that leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
Temple Run is meant to be enjoyed over short intervals. It’s easy to pick up but relatively difficult to master, and while there are clear progression paths, it doesn’t lock any of the fun parts out behind a payment or experience wall. The running, and sliding, and getting skewered are all there for free, though you could buy some extra goodies, if you wanted. And that attitude — provide people with a gameplay experience they’ll enjoy and give them the option to pay if they want to — is likely what drove Temple Run’s phenomenal success in the mobile gaming segment.
Cardboard VR MOBILE GAMING
VR’s all set to be an actual thing this year. The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive have finally started shipping. Over here in India, Absentia’s Tesseract HMD is set to make waves as a more affordable alternative that’ll run all your PC games right out of the box. But looking at the sales figures, high-end, “dedicated” VR systems make up but a small fraction — less than 15 percent — of VR hardware sold over the past year. Smartphone VR is where the money’s at. There are already a plethora of games and VR experiences up on the Play Store, designed for Google Cardboard.
We recently tried Zombiestan VR and it was every bit as rubbish as the name suggests — a handful of maps, each about the size of a dorm room, with randomly spawning zombies. But it, and many other Cardboard VR titles are suggestive of better things to come. The developers of Alien Apartment VR make it clear that the demo is a proof-of-concept and that a full-fledged Cardboard VR game is on its way. We’re still a ways off from experience real quality content in the Google Cardboard ecosystem, but the growing number of Cardboard VR apps strongly suggests that good things are to come.
Arjun likes reading epic fantasy on his iPad when he's not busy sleeping or writing. He also likes to get really smug about his beastly PC rig. If you don't think Shadow of Chernobyl is the greatest testament to human achievement, he'll probably just unfriend you. Also, he can play metal on the electric Veena, which is just plain awesome.