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iOS Gaming: iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch

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Mobile Gaming

Just a few years ago, the idea that smartphones might compete with dedicated gaming systems would have been laughable. How we sneered at Nokia’s pitiful n-Gage system. Smartphone versions of console hits were a joke. Even with the rise of the iPhone and the app store, we look down on smartphones as games machines. That iPad or Android phone might be good for Angry Birds and Cut the Rope, but if you want proper games, you need a proper console - right?

Maybe not. With faster processors incorporating high-performance GPUs, the latest wave of smartphones and tablets is already showing up Nintendo’s new 3DS on the graphics front, and setting a high bar for Sony’s Next Generation Portable - now known as the PlayStation Vita - to reach. Given time, there’s even potential for tablets to impact on the home console market - provide enough 3D horsepower and circumvent the issues with touchscreen controls, and you have a great device for sofa-bound gaming that doesn’t hog the household TV.

In short, we’re reaching a point at which no intelligent gamer can ignore what the smartphone and tablet platforms have to offer. Frankly, if you’re in the market for a tablet or a phone, then its gaming potential should form a part of your decision. Hence this look at the new world of Mobile Gaming, and at what the current big three platforms have to offer.

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iOS Gaming: iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch

Mobile Gaming

Like it or not, Apple deserves much of the credit for the mobile gaming revolution. It’s not that the Cupertino giant always saw gaming as a key iPhone application. Rather, as games became the apps store’s biggest sellers, Apple had the sense to take advantage. Increasingly, the features of the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad have developed to make the iOS platform more attractive for gamers and developers alike, and developers have found ingenious ways to combine touchscreen and accelerometer controls to make most genres work, albeit with certain limitations.

The iOS platforms have also evolved some serious 3D power. With its integrated PowerVT SGC535 GPU, the A4 processor used in the iPad, iPhone 4 and iPod Touch 4G was a big leap forward, producing graphics substantially more impressive than anything on the then-current Nintendo DS or PSP. The A5 at work in the iPad 2 is even better; incorporating a dual-core PowerVR SGX543 CPU. It’s likely to remain one of the most powerful mobile gaming devices on the market until the Sony Vita, with its quad-core SGX543, appears.

Mobile Gaming

The proof is in the games. Chair Entertainment’s Infinity Blade uses an iOS version of the Unreal 3 engine, and features the kind of dazzling texture and lighting effects that used to be the preserve of home consoles. Firemint’s Real Racing 2HD actually looks comparable to early 360 racers, particularly on the iPad 2.

Mobile Gaming

iOS gamers also benefit from an app store that actually does a decent job of showcasing new and exciting titles, and a base of developers that has transformed it into the lead platform for mobile games development. Sure, there’s no shortage of shovelware, lazy twin-stick shooters and dodgy movie tie-ins, but big games companies like Electronic Arts, Square-Enix, iD Software and Capcom are putting their biggest franchises on iOS. Plus, with its Game Centre service, iOS provides gamers with a reasonable mobile games equivalent to Xbox Live.

Key Titles:

Real Racing 2/Real Racing 2 HD

The closest anyone has come to making a Gran Turismo-class racer work on a mobile device. Fabulous graphics, solid tilt-to-steer handling and a fine selection of real-world cars and tracks make for an outstanding mobile game.

Infinity Blade

Currently THE showcase of what can be achieved on a smartphone or tablet. Epic claimed that the Unreal 3 engine could run on iPhone 4 and iPad, but nobody expected it to do so with so few compromises. Chair’s weird action RPG also plays to the strengths of the touchscreen.

Dead Space/Dead Space HD

It’s a sign of the times when a big console franchise gets a mobile version that’s not just a cut-down tie-in or sloppy PSP port, but a proper game telling an alternative story with much of the original look and feel intact.

GoldenGuy

June 20, 2011, 3:46 pm

The smartphone is like the John Wayne Gacy of the tech world. It's killed the mp3 player. It's killed the PMP. It's killed the point-and-shoot camera. It's on its way to butcher the portable games console, and some day it even hopes to see off your credit card and cash with NFC. Crazy psycho.

Shaun2k5

June 20, 2011, 4:02 pm

I don't see the touchscreen gaming revolution being too much of a threat to the likes of Nintendo and Sony. Why else would Sony release two handheld consoles?

It's a bit like the netbook phase in laptops. It's a nice distraction and cheap for the consumer but in the end, everyone knows that it's not a full flavored laptop.

simon jackson

June 21, 2011, 1:53 pm

According to everything i've read, this: "Nvidia's dual-core Tegra2 processor might not be quite as powerful as Apple's dual-core A5" is an unqualified statement. The only direct comparison benchmarks i'm aware of are those conducted by ArsTechnica which were roundly criticised by those in the know for the fact that the benchmark software used was java code running inside a VM, and thus much lower performance than the NDK (native developer kit) that android developers have access to. Both SOCs utilise ARM cortex A9 processors (2 of them), although the tegra 2 configuration does not implement ARMs NEON instruction set, so one might expect lower performance in some areas. Graphics performance however is something that's very hard to compare. I think most people though believe the NVidia gpu to be relatively similar to the powervr chip in the A5.

Personally i think the biggest barrier to playing "real" games on phones and tablets is the touchscreen. Sometimes it can get confused and stick on in one direction because you're multitouching all over the place for aim/fire/etc. Plus some twin stick shooters are irritatingly hard to control accurately (i'm looking at you, guerrilla bob). What we really need is standardised joy pad peripherals, like the icontrolpad.

Luan Bach

June 21, 2011, 2:50 pm

Wel, I'm quite prepare to give my son an £80 DSi to play on road trips, at relations and friends house but won't give him a £300+ phone for such purposes.

debrucey

June 21, 2011, 4:07 pm

Unless phones will one day, without being jailbroken, be able to run old portable games like Zelda or Final Fantasy, then portable games consoles will continue to be relevant. 50% of the games I play are for previous generation consoles, and every time a company releases a new console that isn't backwards compatible its like they're tearing out a piece of my heart.

JCL

June 22, 2011, 10:59 am

I think that this article brings out an interesting, but rather naive and speculative point. Smartphones and the like will probably never take over or endanger the portable systems that you describe for one simple reason. Optimization. Mobile phones and tablets are quite simply mediocre methods for playing games, even if they look pretty and boast large polygon counts. They do not provide the precision and reliability that dedicated gaming consoles and portables provide for competitive and immersive gameplay. Anyone who has played a Wii game with poorly implemented motion controls will know exactly what I'm referring to. A decent gaming control from Apple would require function to be put over form and hell would freeze over before that would happen. Support would be a killer for iOS gaming because the best developers in the industry are not going to force themselves to bear the limitations of the Apple devices to an audience that is not likely to appreciate their efforts.

Their are many more logical reasons why iOS gaming is a joke compared to gaming portables, but the ultimate clincher is the GAMES. I play games on my phone as a last ditch effort to kill some time. I play Zelda on my DS or God of War on my PSP to immerse myself in a fictional world that I can get lost in.

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