Are you ready to switch up your game development roadmap the way SouthEnd Interactive did? Try mobile development first!
"Most companies develop media-rich games for the PC or a console first, and then port it to mobile if they can. But we saw that ilomilo was perfect for mobile, so first we created a demo version for Android™, then a commercial version for Windows® Phone 7, and a commercial version for XBox Live. ilomilo running on the Adreno™ GPU plus all of the tools provided by Qualcomm prove that mobile really is a viable initial platform for media-rich games."
– Dan Nilsson, CTO
Tactel, parent company of SouthEnd Interactive
- MSM7x30 (Adreno 205 GPU) (for Android version)
- MSM8x50 (Adreno 200 GPU) (for Windows Phone 7 version)
- Bone animations
- OpenGL® ES 2.0
- WVGA resolution
- Rim shading
- Dynamic lighting
- Specular highlights
- MSMMobile-first strategy: lower engineering investment to address the broadest market
- Qualcomm exposure and introductions: extremely valuable in commercialization effort
Mobile and console games
Tactel, with headquarters in Sweden, has developed products and provided services for mobile devices since 1995. In 2005, Tactel acquired SouthEnd Interactive, a graphics and game development studio publishing its own titles and working with publishers like Microsoft and GLU for worldwide distribution of their titles. SouthEnd not only brought Tactel into entertainment, but it also strengthened Tactel's three-screen strategy: PC, console and mobile (tablet, dedicated game devices, and smartphones).
SouthEnd also provided test content and feedback on Qualcomm's Adreno Profiler and Adreno SDK. These two valuable, free tools enable mobile graphics application developers to optimize games for the Adreno GPU easily and quickly. SouthEnd provided valuable insight into the three factors that every game developer strives to balance: game play, performance and visual effects.
The other way around
SouthEnd then conceived a new puzzle game in which two characters, ilo and milo, look for each other in a visually lush dream world. The concept evolved into levels, with each character at separate ends of uneven, sparse platforms, surrounded by highly stylized, graphics-rich landscapes. Characters push switches, hop among platforms, move boxes and connect muti-directional pathways as they explore the rich, 3D landscape that makes up the universe of ilomilo.
As they designed the game, the developers weighed the usual three factors:
- Game play – two playful, whimsical characters moving in a small window would appeal to mobile gamers
- Performance – the Adreno 205 GPU would be powerful enough for the game's graphics and animation
- Visual effects – tools like Adreno Profiler and Shader Analyzer would shorten the long, iterative process of creating the game's images
Qualcomm's tools and technology enabled SouthEnd to achieve a balance among these factors on a mobile device more quickly than on a console. As a result, SouthEnd decided to forge ahead with a mobile version of ilomilo and create a demo version for Android.
In addition to the technical advantages, SouthEnd looked at business considerations: the high level of exposure they could derive from a rich mobile game, the relatively low barrier to market entry, the lower resource requirement for a mobile game, and the fact that more and more gamers are walking around with sophisticated gaming hardware – a smartphone - right in their pocket. It also recognized the value of its relationship with Qualcomm and the potential for commercializing the game.
Qualcomm agreed that it was a good candidate for mobile-first, and that they would collaborate to make the game a showcase for Snapdragon™ and Adreno.
Pulling out all the stops
SouthEnd and Qualcomm took advantage of the programmable 3D graphics pipeline in OpenGL ES 2.0 and the ability to create shader and program objects. In WVGA resolution, ilomilo's applications of rim shading, dynamic lighting, specular highlights, vignetting and bone animations allow the characters and the landscape through which they move to look credible.
SouthEnd used a variety of Qualcomm Developer Network (QDevNet) resources in creating the game:
- Adreno SDK including emulator and graphics tools
- Prototype Snapdragon Mobile Development Platform (MDP)
- Adreno Profiler optimization tool
SouthEnd optimized the game for the Adreno 205 GPU with the Adreno Profiler. As they developed shaders, game play and visual aspects, the Adreno Profiler let them measure the effects of these elements on the device at the GPU- and system-level. They could trace and emulate OpenGL ES API calls and invoke real-time driver overrides. Adreno Profiler also helped them determine where, how and when to use rich effects without impairing performance.
"The creative challenge is huge," explains Nilsson, "so you need the platform and tools associated with it. All of the trial and error you go through in a game this rich is expensive, and these tools help you streamline development. We determined that, with the combined QDevNet support we received, we shortened ilomilo's time to market by about 15%, from nine to seven months. That's a benefit we can measure."
Results they can bank
Once SouthEnd had completed the demo version of ilomilo for Android, their commercialization effort also benefited greatly from Qualcomm's relationships, as they demonstrated the game together at Mobile World Congress 2010. Development within the Qualcomm ecosystem increased SouthEnd's exposure to Microsoft Game Studio, resulting in the April announcement of a console version of ilomilo for Xbox Live Arcade. In August, Microsoft Game Studio announced ilomilo as a launch title for Windows Phone 7, offered as part of a free entertainment package. And, in January 2011, judges for the International Mobile Gaming Awards (IMGA) shortlisted ilomilo in the Excellence in Design category from over 250 games submitted by mobile gaming studios, individual developers, students and researchers around the world.
The technical differences among these three hardware platforms have meant additional engineering work, but much of the Snapdragon/Adreno work has translated directly to Xbox and Windows Phone 7.
"All the way around, our relationship with Qualcomm has been invaluable in both developing and commercializing iliomilo," concludes Nilsson. "I think that more game developers will see the light about mobile-first development, and Qualcomm has already put so many tools in place for this that they're the logical partner."