Android Gaming: Then, Now & Moving Forward
Mobile gaming has become something of a focal point for many developers over the last few years. It started as an attempt to fill gaps that most users face: downtime at work, in line at the store, sitting in the waiting room at the doctor, etc. But then something happened: mobile gaming got real. Both iOS and Android are becoming serious mediums for on-the-go gamers to get their fix, and with what was once a playground for time-wasters getting even more console-like in the graphics department, there’s some competition for your hard-earned dollars. Of course, Android hasn’t always been a top choice for many developers – but thanks to the help of one major chip manufacturer, it’s becoming not only a go-to platform, but a powerhouse in the gaming scene. With that in mind, I thought it would be nice to pay homage to the days of ol’, when the little green robot didn’t have all the fantastic titles it has now, as well as talk about what’s changed since then and my thoughts about the future of games on the platform.
When I got my first Android device – the Motorola Droid – the gaming landscape was a desert. Sparse and dry – there was almost nothing worth playing. Then something game-changing happened (no pun intended): Rovio announced that it was bringing the Angry Birds franchise to Android. While it’s hard for many users to remember a time when Angry Birds didn’t exist, believe me when I say it was a huge deal at the time. The company started of with a simple, 20-level “demo,” just to whet everyone’s appetite for what was to come. Now here we are, some three years later, and there’s more versions of AB than you can shake a stick at.
There’s no denying that the arrival of such an iconic title changed the Android gaming scene forever. We’ve seen multiple spin-off games since then – some popular, some not. But that was just the beginning. Android would soon see more titles. Bigger, faster, more high-profile games. And then, NVIDIA changed everything.
The release of the Tegra 2 chip started a revolution, if you will. Sure, that may be a bit of an overstatement, but not by much – this chip lead the way to a new era of mobile gaming (at least on Android). At its core, NVIDIA is a GPU company. As such, it knows gaming. Thus, NVIDIA sought to apply its knowledge of gaming to the mobile scene. Still, while the Tegra 2 is the chip that started it all, it’s not the one that made the biggest difference.
Enter the Tegra 3 – the world’s first quad-core mobile processor. Four cores in a mobile device was unprecedented (but just to be clear, the Tegra 3 actually features a fifth core, for low-power tasks). And this is where the fun starts. Not only did the Tegra 3 feature a powerhouse quad-core processing unit, but also an unheard of 12-core GPU. This allowed developers to do things that had never before been seen; real-time lighting/shading, additional graphics and rendering, and so much more – all child’s play for the Tegra 3. We saw some major developers get behind NVIDIA with the T3, like Madfinger Games – the creator of Shadowgun and Dead Trigger. It’s things like this that put Android on the gaming map in full force.
Since then, it’s been a non-stop journey. Other chip makers have stepped up to compete with NVIDIA’s presence in the gaming scene, and developers have been pushing the limits of how we think of on-the-go gaming ever since. We now have devices like the OUYA – a standalone, Tegra 3-powered Android gaming console that costs only $99. Sure, it’s still getting its feet wet, but it is a testament to what a force Android has become in the gaming market right now: an entire company was willing to bet its existence on the platform, and customers responded with their wallets. The OUYA gained over $8.5m in support throughout the duration of its Kickstarter campaign. And that was just for the idea of such a console. OUYA is well on its way now, with retail units scheduled to be available in June of this year.
But that’s not the only device specifically designed for Android gaming. Back at CES of this year, NVIDIA announced the successor to its powerful Tegra 3 processor: the aptly named Tegra 4, which features an unbelievable 72 GPU cores. With that announcement came Project SHIELD, a new portable gaming console with Android at its core. Aside from the form factor and the fact that SHIELD will be the first device to ship with the Tegra 4 (and a few launch titles, like Dead Trigger 2), the device is still very much a mystery. But again, it clearly shows the strides mobile gaming has taken in the past few years. And that a company as major as NVIDIA is willing to further invest in its growth and future is also a testament to that success.
All in all, I’d say the future looks pretty bright for the mobile gaming industry. With developers pumping out more quality titles than ever before, manufacturers showing their support by building devices specifically for Android-powered gaming, and hardware that lets us push the boundaries of what we thought was possible from a mobile device, it’s a great time to be a gamer.
What do you think about the future of gaming? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.