07 July 2009

Mobile Gaming, Then and Now

Hi everybody – Alex here. I thought about just posting “Second!” up here to follow up Mike’s bold trailblazer of a first post, but then I figured I’d talk a bit about mobile gaming and how it’s changed for the better over the last few years – both for Venan as a development studio and for the gaming industry as a whole.

In the last few weeks, we’ve set up a Facebook page, a Twitter feed, and sent out a few press releases extolling the awesomeness of our new handheld gaming initiative Venan Arcade, and its flagship title, Space Miner: Space Ore Bust. This being our fourth fully-independent title, you’d think that we would have a system down for such things by now – in truth, a lot’s changed since we released our last independent title, the pirate sim High Seas: Guns and Gold, back in 2007. Two years doesn’t seem like that long a time, but consider what’s happened since then!

Specifically, the iPhone and the App Store happened.

To say that their effect on mobile game development has empowered studios like ours is a massive understatement. In the High Seas days, all of two years ago, when you wanted to make a game on a mobile phone, you weren’t just making it for a single phone. You were making it for a lot of phones, across multiple handset carriers. Screen resolutions would change, size requirements would change, controls would change – you’d have to redesign different aspects of the same game multiple times over to ensure that it took full advantage of every handset it appeared on.

With the iPhone, we don’t have to make a choice between playing either music or sound effects. We don’t have to cut a feature early-on because it won’t work on low-end handsets. If we want pretty particle effects or transparency, the iPhone is more than accommodating. So the question we posed to ourselves was as such: with over 37 million iPhone and iPod Touch users out there, why the heck wouldn’t we want to shift some focus over to it?

And so we created Venan Arcade with the aim of branching out into the indie realm once more. The first game in the initiative, Space Miner: Space Ore Bust, personifies everything about Venan Arcade: fun gameplay, great graphics, and balanced design. Looking at the current library of App Store games, it’s downright embarrassing how many games don’t follow this kind of creed. Some games look nice but feature little-to-no gameplay balance whatsoever. Other games look absolutely terrible but have interesting mechanics. Many App Store titles seem content to consider themselves as mere “diversions”, as did many mobile titles of old.

Fortunately for all us gamers, this mindset is starting to fall out of fashion. Thanks to the App Store, DSiWare, XBLA, PSN and the like, for the first time in a long while developers are making the games they want to make for the audience they want to cater to. Space Miner: Space Ore Bust is our first step into this crazy new landscape, but we have all the confidence in the world that it won’t be our last.