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Subject: Question for developers rss

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Joao Pedro
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I am doing a paper on the development of games for tablets and mobiles. The scope is all types of videogames, not necessarily just digital board games.

I want to highlight 3 technical limitations when developing games for smartphones and tablets. I have pinpointed 2 already: fragmentation of hardware and software, and also the lack of physical buttons.

Game developers, what would be a 3rd limitation, in your opinion and experience?

Thanks.
 
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Lucas Smith
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I am not a game developer, but I could imagine:

- limited TIME: noone plays a smartphone app game that takes several hours (many will maybe play it FOR several hours, but then they play multiple games (of a single game))




and MAYBe also
- easy rules: I consider the average smartphone user, not to be willing to read several pages of rules! => also easy start
 
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Sean Colombo
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I'll add one more limitation to the mix: processing power for AI.

Users want good AI, but the number of CPU cycles you can get on a modern smart-phone doesn't compete with the amount of processing power from a modern computer.

Good luck with your paper!
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Michael J
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Limited screen real estate to show UI. It's really hard to fit all information on the smalls screens. This applies more to phones than to tablets.
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Alan Monroe
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I don't have firsthand experience, but I've seen many anecdotes saying that getting recognized in the sea of available content is a major challenge.
http://gamasutra.com/blogs/YannSeznec/20130820/198453/Gentle...
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Clint Herron
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TECHNICAL Limitations:
1. SMALL screen size
Lots of information to fit into small screens

2. VARIABLE screen size
Devices not only have different physical dimensions, but varying aspect ratios.

3. DOWNLOAD size
Less of an issue these days, but game size when packaging for mobile / web is much smaller than any other context.

4. PROCESSING limitations
Smaller processors, slower processors are at war with customers' increased expectations for the graphical and technical output of these games.

And beyond that, there are CUSTOMER limitations:
A. Audiences with cell phones expect AAA-quality games for a $0.99 (or free!) download. So figuring out how to balance monetization, good gameplay, and customer acceptance is a tricky challenge with no good answers at this point.

B. Shorter attention spans

C. Increased emphasis on social media

etc etc etc
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Lucas Smith
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HanClinto wrote:
TECHNICAL Limitations:
1. SMALL screen size
Lots of information to fit into small screens

2. VARIABLE screen size
Devices not only have different physical dimensions, but varying aspect ratios.

3. DOWNLOAD size
Less of an issue these days, but game size when packaging for mobile / web is much smaller than any other context.

4. PROCESSING limitations
Smaller processors, slower processors are at war with customers' increased expectations for the graphical and technical output of these games.

And beyond that, there are CUSTOMER limitations:
A. Audiences with cell phones expect AAA-quality games for a $0.99 (or free!) download. So figuring out how to balance monetization, good gameplay, and customer acceptance is a tricky challenge with no good answers at this point.

B. Shorter attention spans

C. Increased emphasis on social media

etc etc etc


very good!!

Quote:
B. Shorter attention spans
was exactly what I meant, just more precisely!
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Jordan Booth
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SeanColombo wrote:
I'll add one more limitation to the mix: processing power for AI.

Users want good AI, but the number of CPU cycles you can get on a modern smart-phone doesn't compete with the amount of processing power from a modern computer.

Good luck with your paper!

This.

I just cracked Alien Frontiers and evrything about the game is top notch, couldn't be happier, except.. The AI can take up to 30sec to think. At least it does it all at once when it decides.
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Pelle Nilsson
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hyped78 wrote:
fragmentation of hardware and software


I have to strongly disagree with that. If you compare with developing for consoles, yes the hardware and software is fragmented, but compare to developing for desktop/laptop and you will find that even Android hardware is not fragmented at all in comparison.

I know for some subsets of PC games, like Flash web browser games, developers have often ignored this problem by just developing for a fixed window size (in pixels) and ignored trying to make use of the rest of the screen. My theory (as mentioned elsewhere) is that many of those Flash developers have migrated to developing for smartphones/tablets and are confused what to do now where there is no easy way to just work with a fixed window size. Many of them probably go to iOS for that reason, and probably started (together with Apple?) this myth about fragmented hardware. But developers used to working on full-screen applications that had to work on the infinitely many resolutions on a PC already will not notice any fragmented hardware, and software is even less fragmented compared to PC.
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Pelle Nilsson
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mjacobsca wrote:
Limited screen real estate to show UI. It's really hard to fit all information on the smalls screens. This applies more to phones than to tablets.


Yes, and it is made worse by most devices lacking a mouse or stylus, so the available space for interactive content is even less.

If you used a Palm 10 years ago, using a stylus, you could have a game on that small 160x160 pixels screen that had a user interface much like a PC game would, because each thing you could tap could be only a few pixels across in size. But on a modern tablet you have to have things cover a huge area or it is impossible to hit them with any precision using a finger.
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Clint Herron
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pelni wrote:
hyped78 wrote:
fragmentation of hardware and software


I have to strongly disagree with that. If you compare with developing for consoles, yes the hardware and software is fragmented, but compare to developing for desktop/laptop and you will find that even Android hardware is not fragmented at all in comparison.

It's not just fragmentation of the hardware -- many smartphone vendors release PROPRIETARY versions of the operating system with slight variation, and so it's more important than ever to test on the varieties of hardware. You can't trust that one smartphone's version of Android is going to behave exactly like another vendor's recompile of Android.

In my experience of mobile game development (having transitioned from Flash development) -- yes, checking browser compatibility across the dozen or so most common browsers + operating system combinations was a pain back in the day, but the variance was not nearly as varied as the Android world. In the world of Flash games we never had to worry about testing on Asus laptops and HP laptops and Dell laptops as "hardware platforms" to the extent that we have to make sure to test on Samsung and Kyocera and Nexus and HTC and and and....

I don't believe it's a myth fabricated by us game developers -- it truly is a big hurdle, and I would have included it in my above list if it weren't already listed by the OP.
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Joao Pedro
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Thanks guys! Everyone on this forum is helpful as always, great community!
 
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Pelle Nilsson
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HanClinto wrote:
pelni wrote:
hyped78 wrote:
fragmentation of hardware and software


I have to strongly disagree with that. If you compare with developing for consoles, yes the hardware and software is fragmented, but compare to developing for desktop/laptop and you will find that even Android hardware is not fragmented at all in comparison.

It's not just fragmentation of the hardware -- many smartphone vendors release PROPRIETARY versions of the operating system with slight variation, and so it's more important than ever to test on the varieties of hardware. You can't trust that one smartphone's version of Android is going to behave exactly like another vendor's recompile of Android.


Sure, but compare that to supporting different graphics cards, versions of DirectX (or non-Windows...) on the PC market.

Quote:
In my experience of mobile game development (having transitioned from Flash development)


Quote:
I don't believe it's a myth fabricated by us game developers -- it truly is a big hurdle, and I would have included it in my above list if it weren't already listed by the OP.


OK, let's not call it a myth, but you are another data-point supporting my hypothesis that Flash-developers are the ones thinking Android (or other mobile platforms) are fragmented. I have yet to hear it from anyone who came from a background developing for desktop in general, especially since many studios happily make native games that run on many versions of Windows, OSX and/or Linux (not to mention all the possible screen configurations, graphics driver versions etc that includes).
 
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Clint Herron
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pelni wrote:
OK, let's not call it a myth, but you are another data-point supporting my hypothesis that Flash-developers are the ones thinking Android (or other mobile platforms) are fragmented.

Don't get me wrong -- it's not like hardware fragmentation in developing for mobile phones is new. Fragmentation of the test beds has been a recurring theme in any mobile game postmortem published in game dev journals for the past 15 years -- well before Android or iPhone even existed.

Like this gem of an article from 2001, comparing developing with mobile games for J2ME vs. BREW (remember those?):
Quote:
Once you set up the ARM compiler, it's time to test on a real phone. In doing so, you will often find your application crashes or responds with some error message that you didn't get in the emulator. Tracking down hardware bugs is a nightmare descent into medieval debugging techniques; there are no tools included for debugging on actual hardware. You can't so much as get a simple printf from the phone to your host PC's console window. I also found some handsets had various bugs in their implementation of BREW: the Kyocera 3035 handset, for example, would not send resume messages after certain events, and other handsets were not properly interpreting arguments to certain function calls. Because Qualcomm is constantly revising BREW, it's unknown whether these bugs will still be present in the versions of BREW carriers decide to use.


Or the keynote from the 2007 (pre-Android) GDC China, where Kim Daniel Arthur (CTO of Glu Mobile Asia-Pacific, later head of EA-Japan) talked about this:
Quote:
In his presentation, Kim Daniel Arthur took the tact that the first mobile games were like the first computer games: they used a small amount of memory, had a small footprint and low performance. They needed a short development cycle and there was little fragmentation in the market, as with fewer devices, it was easy to support them, and Arthur described the market as being filled with opportunistic games, in most cases based on retro titles and addressed to a hardcore gamers audience. Arthur then went on to describe the ways in which the situation has changed:

* There is a push towards 3D, first through software solutions and lately using hardware acceleration.
* Increased fragmentation with the need to support lots of handsets.
* Network operators control the distribution environment. This gives less possibilities, but is a very stable platform for growth.
* Big brands have entered the market and casual games dominate.
* Multiple platforms (Java, BREW, etc.), multiple software, multiple levels of performance and a wide range of footprint, with some games using as little as 64Kb while others range in the megabytes.

In that same keynote he talks about Flash as a future technology that will make its way more and more into the mobile space. He's not speaking as a Flash developer -- his background is much richer than that.

Android hasn't made the fragmentation problem any worse than it was in the old days of J2ME and BREW, but while Apple has taken a mighty swing at this traditional thorn in the side, Android hasn't managed to solve that issue in the same way.

Yes, developing for Android is much nicer than the old way of doing mobile development. Please don't get me wrong -- I'm not knocking Android here. They haven't made things any worse -- it's been a fantastic platform (especially for the Asian markets) with MUCH worse fragmentation prior to Android.

If anything, this simply highlights the incredible effect of unification that Apple had in this market space.

pelni wrote:
I have yet to hear it from anyone who came from a background developing for desktop in general

My background is much deeper than Flash. Yes, my background is developing for desktop in general -- that is the vast majority of my professional experience. While I jumped into the Flash space circa 2008 or so, most of what I've done professionally has been desktop.

But again, as you noted, I'm just a single datum. I'm fine with that -- I just don't want to be dismissed as another Flash script kiddie.

pelni wrote:
especially since many studios happily make native games that run on many versions of Windows, OSX and/or Linux (not to mention all the possible screen configurations, graphics driver versions etc that includes).

I guess that might be where I disagree with you about desktop development. I've not seen many professional studios do games that run "happily" across Windows, Mac and Linux. Broderbund and id Software are the two that come to mind that always made the biggest strides in this regard. Especially prior to Apple finally making the switch to Intel processors in 2006, it really lowered that bar, but I still don't remember many games that ran cross-platform that weren't done as separate releases (often by separate studios in charge of the port). The first time I played an id game on my Mac (back in the 68040 processor days) it was an independent port that was done long after the original game.

There have been a handful of indie studios that have gone out of their way to make their games run on Linux, but I remember when Jonathan Blow was really struggling with the audio libraries on Linux, and eventually had to give up because it was too fragmented.

And even in the modern era, this hasn't been solved. Wired ran a good article last month that talked about this is still a very real issue in the console / desktop world:
Is Your Game Crap? This Fan Will Fix It for You

So it's not like it's a solved problem in the desktop space, but it's a problem nonetheless, and developers who lock themselves to a single marketspace with a strictly designed hardware spec (PS4, XBox, Wii, iPhone, etc) do themselves many favors to reduce their testing headache.

In a world of low-cost, disposable hardware, new models -- crappy hardware on cell phones always has been and always will be a serious testing problem. This is not new to Android. It's just the nature of the beast. I personally think that the hardware fragmentation problem is much worse with cell phones than it is in the desktop market, and I feel like I'm not alone in my opinion. Your experience may be different -- take my input with a grain of salt.


Thanks for the chat.
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Clint Herron
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Pelle, does this article express some of your sentiments on the issue?

Android Fragmentation - Maybe Not Such a Big Problem
 
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Pelle Nilsson
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It's late, I will have a look at your links tomorrow.

I think iOS, Flash, consoles (and Java applets, but no one do those) are the exceptions where you can rely on some more or less fixed target, with a very limited range of possible screen resolutions so you can have some artist draw fixed bitmaps for backgrounds etc. But I think the norm, assuming most people will start out on their home PC coding for hobby or some indie project, is that you can't make many assumptions at all about those things, so Android will not look too scary.
 
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