How OnLive is bringing console games to tablets

OnLive Android
OnLive has been tweaked and adapted for touchscreen devices, offering portable console-quality games

Cloud gaming service OnLive is continuing its quest to make high-end games available to everyone, regardless of their hardware, and the latest addition to the arsenal has been mobile devices, including both tablets and phones. There's already an Android app out that allows you to play on the service, with an iPhone and iPad client to follow shortly.

Going from computers to mobile devices was always going to throw up a lot of challenges, from how you control the games to how you get reliable video over Wi-Fi, so our colleagues at Tap! magazine spoke to OnLive CEO Steve Perlman, and OnLive UK general manager Bruce Grove.

The first challenge to overcome was the difference in controls between the keyboard and mouse setup of a PC, or the controller used on the OnLive microconsole.

"We've been working with the publishers on working some form of native touch into the games. So we demoed From Dust doing this, but now we have a brand new build of Defense Grid Gold. What you'll notice is that this is the same Defense Grid Gold that you get elsewhere, but when you bring it up on a mobile device, we now have some additional features in there that are specific for playing on this type of device," Grove explained.

In the case of this game, there are new buttons around the edge of the screen that aren't present when you play the game on non-touchscreen devices. These new controls have been built in by the developer, to make sure they fit in with the game overall. Rockstar Games has done the same with the game LA Noire, released on consoles earlier this year.

However, not all developers have tweaked their games for touch, so OnLive has developed a system of button overlays for the other games.

"We have on-screen controls that allow you to play the game, and each of these controls are tuned for the game, so on a game-by-game basis you'll see these buttons move around. We put them in places that we think have a good look and feel for each of these devices."

OnLive android

Of course, it's fair to say that while a touch overlay might suffice for many games, it isn't the ideal way to play something that was designed for a controller. As a result, OnLive has launched the Universal Controller, which can connect to any Bluetooth device, and comes with a USB dongle for anything that doesn't have Bluetooth built it.

"The Universal Controller is Bluetooth 4.0, so it's very low latency," Grove tells us. "If it sees the dongle, it gives you the lowest possible latency. But it can also work with other Bluetooth versions across multiple devices, so it just pairs to the iPad, or to the Galaxy Tab or whatever you have."

OnLive controller

After trying the controller and the touch controls, it seemed to us at the time that the controller felt slightly more responsive.

"That's quite possible," says Grove. "Touch controls have their own latency that's inherent in the screen response, but the controller is going straight through. So it's feasible that it's more responsive. On a game-by-game basis, one of the things we're doing is seeing what games it makes sense to add overlays to, but the controller just works with it all."

Going up against the App Store

One of the main stumbling blocks for OnLive on mobile devices is likely to be pricing. With so many games in the App Store available for 69p, or not much more, how will the console prices that OnLive charges stand up, especially when there are versions of some games available on both services?