iPhoners: New Gamers on the Horizon
Now this is a game.
Back in August I reviewed Doom Resurrection and Terminator Salvation with the idea that these two games would really impress upon iPhone users the true gaming capabilities of the iPhone, especially the iPhone 3GS. True, like any full-length game, these games were flawed in many respects, but prior to them there were scant full PC converted games for the iPhone, aside from The Sims and SimCity, both of which are apart from the first person shooter genre. So far, it’s seemed the bestselling gaming apps are usually simpler in design, like Doodle Jump, which has been repeatedly listed under Apple’s “New and Noteworthy,” “What’s Hot,” and “Staff Favorites” columns, not to mention being ranked as the top paid arcade game in various countries in the year 2008. And there’s a reason for this: simple games like Doodle Jump, classics like Chess or Trivial Pursuit, Trace, and a host of other clever but quaint games offer quick escapism for the player, without any of the commitment to story line and complex controls or objectives. These games are easy to engage in for a quick few minutes when avoiding staring into space on the bus, or when killing time on that 40 minute commute from San Francisco to Berkeley. The downtime for learning these games is next to nothing. Arguably, though, the biggest reason is one of price: simpler games are dirt cheap, the pricier ones not surpassing $2.99, while bigger, badder games like Doom Resurrection premiere at a high $9.99. Currently, Command & Conquer: Red Alert, a new release, is selling for $9.99, and Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution is still holding at $6.99.
But, are these prices really that astronomical? Civilization was released more than a decade ago for the PC in 1991 but on Amazon it still holds strong at $49.99. Its many sequels range in price from $12 – $17.00, and they’re not exactly new, either. Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution for the iPhone is originally a Playstation 3 and XBox 360 game that debuted for around $30.00 and was later ported over to the Nintendo DS; when put in that perspective it seems like a real bargain. That is, until you factor in the way lesser graphical capabilities of the iPhone – it may as well be the original Civilization. Obviously, games will always a a popular distraction medium for any smartphone, and old games looking to reflame their torch with a new generation will translate a tried and true classic, like the Original Doom, for iPhone usage – a smart move by any business standards. However, with the release of the iPhone 3GS, the question we’re now asking is: Will the iPhone ever be a serious contender in the portable gaming device world? With the release of the Verizon Droid just this last Thursday, November 5, with its premiering database of already 10,000 apps, it seems Apple might want to explore the gaming market further.
I recently downloaded Eliminate Pro, a free, purely multiplayer online game that showcases the gaming capabilities of the iPhone, and introduces the concept of in-game purchasing. What is that, you may ask? Apple recently decided they would allow developers to adopt a free-to-play model, charging players for extra items or abilities, so players could download a free game and adopt a quasi pay-as-you-go system for upgrading aspects of gameplay and stats with minimal interruption. Eliminate Pro does just that, requiring you to gather “energy” points to continue playing, otherwise you have to plop down a few bucks here and there. You only get enough energy for roughly a half dozen rounds, after which you’ll either need to buy more with real money or wait for about four real-world hours. A basic unit of energy costs $1 and lasts you for another half dozen rounds or so, though you can buy the stuff in increments of $10 or even $40, should you want gameplay in bulk. It may be pricey for some, but this kind of purchasing model could really prompt more developers to commit to making complex full-fledged games, as this way people could pay incrementally rather than handing over a wad of $10 for a game like Command & Conquer: Red Alert, the main deterrent to gamers. And, Eliminate Pro proves to be incredibly addicting. Eliminate Pro showcases some decent graphics, rivaling that of Quake 2 in its day, and the weapons, well-rounded gameplay, and mini storyline that reminds me of Starship Troopers, all combine into a quality game. It’s only too bad the one area where Eliminate Pro falls short is of vital importance – the processor speed leaves much to be desired, as gameplay can be choppy, the system not able to handle complex texture loading speeds. It seems a full blown first person shooter, when compared to the simpler track-system gameplay of Doom Resurrection, and the third person play of Terminator Salvation, really takes a toll on the iPhone’s playability. Definitely an issue to be addressed.
With that said, the iPhone does have a few edges over its rivals, even if it has yet to break into the market fully. Despite its noticeable slower speeds in Eliminate Pro, the iPhone’s processor thinks almost twice as fast as the Sony PSP’s brain, its touchscreen is more responsive than the Nintendo DS’s, Wi-Fi makes for mean multiplayer mayhem (as noted with Eliminate Pro), and cell-tower triangulation could be used for location-aware games. Also, the quick, electronic distribution method of games and apps via the iPhone’s App Store is incredibly efficient compared to buying physical copies of games; the accelerometer and multitouch display introduce new approaches to gameplay; and the iPhone’s lighter, more portable size factors in when compared to its rivals.
But, there are some attributes the iPhone falls short on: processing limitations, graphic capabilities and memory management are the ones that come to mind. The PSP’s advantage as a dedicated gaming device is that its application programming interface (API) is geared toward loading complex textures. Back in April 2008, Apple acquired semicondtuctor company PA Semi to manufacture ARM chips for future iPhones, with the iPhone 3GS – released in June 2009 – incorporating such improvements as enhanced graphics and more powerful processing capabilities. But, from the looks of it with the current state of gameplay, it seems the iPhone still has a few kinks to work out. If Apple is serious about making the iPhone a gaming platform, it’s a good bet that the next upgrade to the iPhone will more seriously address these limitations.