What the iPhone 5s's 64-bit capabilities will mean for mobile games
In the end, there weren't a lot of big surprises at Apple's Sept. 10 event, which confirmed most of the rumors about the iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c and iOS 7. If you're a mobile game developer, however, the highlight of the morning may not have been the new hardware and software but the moment when they demo-ed Infinity Blade III.
64-bit rendering: An intense gaming experience
Donald Mustard, co-founder of Epic Games, took the stage late in the proceedings to confirm that the title will be available on Sept. 18, the same day as iOS 7. In some respects, Infinity Blade III is an advertisement of what the iPhone 5s will offer developers from a processing perspective. The device's A7 processor essentially allows 64-bit computing to come to mobile phones for the first time, paving the way for a potentially much richer gaming experience whose intense graphics might otherwise drain battery life or impair performance.
"I think this is going to be a sea change for our industry," Mustard said, while Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) Vice President Phil Schiller bragged, "I don't think the other guys are even talking about this yet."
The iPhone A7 processor makes use of OpenGL for Embedded Systems (OpenGL ES 3.0), a subset of the OpenGL 3D graphics application programming interface (API) with 2x general purpose registers and 2x floating point registers. This basically means the graphics in mobile gaming apps could run twice as fast on the iPhone 5s, though Schiller noted that 32-bit mobile apps and games will continue to be compatible.
While companies like Epic Games are major publishers which are successful enough to charge $6.99 for titles like Infinity Blade III, it may be a different story for indie devs, said Joost van Dreunen, co-founder and CEO of SuperData Research, a New York-based analyst firm that tracks mobile and digital games.
"It's likely the larger [publishers]" that will concentrate on putting out 64-bit titles in the early days of iOS 7, he said, "because they're in a better position to put the manpower behind it, and they have a vested interest in releasing high-quality, hi-def apps."
Opportunities for indie devs
Markus Skupeika, founder of Dream Bot Studios.
Some smaller developers are already considering the possibilities, however. Among them is Dream Bot Studios, based in Hollywood, Fla., which counts Racing to the Red Carpet and Flicked Off At the Movies among its titles. According to Markus Skupeika, Dream Bot Studios' founder, the iPhone 5s's 64-bit horsepower could make a big difference when the company launches its first title for iOS 7--Monkey Misfits: The Great Zoo Break Out--later this fall.
"Right now developers have been kind of limited," he says, using one of his firm's own games, Turbo Train 3D, as an example. The game has a boss character who will appear in a scene with various objects in the background, but not many of them can actually appear in 3D.
"To save processing power, you have to make them skinny, 2D pictures," Skupeika said. "If you look at one of those objects carefully, you can see there's nothing behind it. We really had to optimize images, make sure we didn't overload the game or make it choppy."
Skupeika said Apple's updated hardware and software will offer a richer palette for many other devs besides Epic Games, which said Infinity Blade III will offer "lens flares that would make J.J. Abrams proud."
Creating a 'more realistic world' with a richer palette
"It will allow us to create more realistic worlds," Skupeika said, though he wondered why Apple didn't think a little bit more about the canvas available to consumers, too. "I was surprised they didn't get a larger screen [into the iPhone 5s]," he said, "though I guess the idea is to get more people into using smartphones, which ultimately means more future gamers for us."
Van Dreunen said Apple has clearly been watching the success of not only Infinity Blade III but also Clash of Clans, Candy Crush Saga and Marvel War of Heroes, which suggest consumers want developers to raise the bar with what's available.
"Recently, we've been observing a clear shift away from 'easier' casual games to more engaging, so-called mid-core, games," he said. "Apple is providing the necessary ecosystem to make that possible."
Of course, if more mobile game developers begin offering a 64-bit experience, they'll still have to find ways to stand out. Skupeika said Dream Bot Studios is trying to differentiate itself by providing an opportunity for its fans to become characters in Monkey Misfits: The Great Zoo Break Out. Those who follow the studio's social media accounts or "like" its pages will be part of a randomly-selected group of potential avatars.
"Now with the new launch of the iOS 7, we're looking at a Kickstarter fund where we can allow people to be in the game as well," he said.
And if you were to become the hero of a mobile video game, wouldn't you prefer to be rendered in 64 bits?
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