Apple's iPhone 3GS games are soon set to feature notably better graphics - with improved shading, weather effects and more - in addition to being faster, smoother and packing in a far better multiplayer experience, according to one leading mobile gaming developer.
TechRadar recently caught up with Exient's Dean Bilotti, a specialist iPhone coder at the mobile games development studio, who shared his thoughts and excitement regarding gaming on Apple's new iPhone 3GS.
Bilotti is clearly excited about the graphical improvements, processor speed-boost and the multiplayer capabilities opened up to games devs with Apple's latest smartphone. Read on to find out why...
TechRadar: What single feature of the 3GS is the most appealing to you as game developers?
Dean Bilotti: As games developers, we always aim to leverage every ounce of performance available to us on any particular platform, so obviously the performance improvements of the 3GS are quite exciting for us. The single most appealing feature is the new graphics chip. It's based on a completely new flexible graphics architecture which supports some of the advanced shader technologies you see in use on modern consoles such as the PS3 and Xbox 360.
This is not to say we'll be seeing that level of performance or graphical fidelity out of the 3GS, but we'll certainly start to see more impressive graphical effects which will include such things as reflective and refractive surfaces, advanced lighting and weather effects etc. These kind of effects will be a first for the mobile market.
TR: What does the resource increase with 3GS (in RAM and processing) actually mean for games? Are we talking about home-console quality assets? Are expanded or entirely new game designs now possible?
DB: The resource increase in terms of CPU speed and RAM actually means quite a lot for our games. We noticed a considerable performance gain going from the iPhone 3G up to the 2nd Generation iPod touch and now it looks like we have an even larger jump in performance with the 3GS. We're looking forward to increasing the complexity of our characters, increasing the number and quality of textures we can use, and making use of the new GPU to add advanced graphical effects. This increase isn't going to manifest entirely graphically, as we'll have more CPU cycles available to devote to other areas of our games. AI can become more complex, the physics calculations can become more realistic and more CPU time can be devoted to sound processing.
Current generation home-console quality assets are still a way off for mobile devices but the 3GS is definitely a contender in performance terms with dedicated handheld games machines like the Sony PSP and it is significantly more powerful than the Nintendo DS.
I don't think the 3GS has really opened up many avenues for entirely new game designs above what the older iPhone 3G and iPod Touch could provide. With increased RAM we might start seeing larger worlds to explore but we must not forget that the iPhone 3G is a powerful and flexible machine in itself. I do think we're yet to see the limit of what developers can come up with, not to mention what can be done with the unique input systems and features of the Apple mobile devices.
TR: How could something like your own X2 Football be improved with the new 3GS hardware, both in performance and game design terms?
DB: The main areas we are going to be concentrating on for our debut brand, X2 football, is to make use of the 3GS hardware specifically to add more detail to the player characters and the introduction of some new graphical effects.
TR: What does the new firmware mean, both in conjunction with the 3GS and with the original hardware? Are you planning to integrate any of the new features into existing or future games? Are you considering new designs based around the new features?
DB: The most exciting feature of the new firmware for both platforms is the multiplayer functionality. Our choices for multiplayer gaming on the iPhone have been restricted to the Wi-Fi hardware and 3G before SDK 3.0. Access to the Bluetooth hardware has been sorely missed by games developers until now. This allows us to support multiplayer gaming without requiring gamers to be attached to a wireless access point or suffer the latency issues associated with 3G communication. The new SDK provides us with easy access to the Bluetooth hardware and I think we'll be seeing most games quickly adding local multiplayer support in the near future. It's certainly something we're working on adding to our games.
We will also be making use of the iPhone's internal iTunes library of music, giving gamers access to their media libraries from within our games.
I don't think the new hardware is a considerable enough leap forwards to base entire new game designs around but I'm just waiting for someone to come up with an ingenious compass based game. The iPhone market is full of surprises.
TR: Will the 3GS fracture the market, or will games come with original and 3GS modes and/or versions? Would you go with the weight of handset numbers in the market, or the prestige of working with the most powerful hardware to deliver the best game possible?
DB: The iPod touch 2nd generation model was already a step towards having to support platforms with varying performance characteristics and the 3GS has added a third specification to the list. At the moment, we're committed to supporting both the 3GS and the slower handsets by falling back to lower resolution assets on the older machines.
The situation isn't as bad as PC game development where you have thousands of configurations; we only really have 2 differing types of hardware that we have to support. We will always want to push the latest and greatest hardware as much as we can, but I think that's just part and parcel of being a games developer. A crucial point is that we also need to maintain support for the masses. At the moment I think it's more than reasonable to expect developers to support the old and the new devices - it will probably be another generation before we start seeing support for the older devices dying off.
For more background info on Exient, check out company's website.