Android game developers: innovate, don’t emulate

May 15, 2012
13

I have a confession to make: I almost never use any of my Android devices for gaming. If I want to play video games, I either find a truck to jump-start my ancient desktop computer or turn on my even more ancient Dreamcast. The fact that I'm terrible at touchscreen controls (and I am) is only part of the problem: there just isn't enough innovation on the mobile platform for me to choose it over more traditional forms of gaming.

Want to play Shadowgun? Why, when I can play Gears of War? How about NOVA or Modern Combat? There's Halo and Modern Warfare on platforms that are both more powerful and more mature. Asphalt 6? There are so many racing games of all styles and genres on the PC that I could literally never play them all.

The problem I'm hinting at here is that currently, most Android game developers are simply trying to recreate experiences that are already done better elsewhere. The only people who are really interested are those who don't already have a gaming computer or console. And the gamers being targeted by high-end mobile games almost certainly do.

I'm not knocking these games. They're good fun and technically brilliant. But they don't give me anything I haven't seen before. Say what you will about the likes of Angry Birds and Words With Friends, the current opiate of the mobile masses. But they're simple, fun, and they use the mobile form factor in ways that couldn't easily be translated to more traditional systems. That's part of the reason I was so excited to see Super Monkey Ball finally make its way to Android - its decade-old gameplay lends itself perfectly to the mobile form factor.

Good grief, we've got devices in our hands with a hundred times more processing power than the computers that ran Doom, plus an always-on connection, high-resolution screens, integrated cameras, more sensors than a tricorder, and it goes anywhere. So why is it that the best that the larger developers try for is emulating gaming experiences that we've already seen a dozen times over? The obvious answer is to make money with some reflected excitement over console mega-games, but Android gamers deserve more than that.

And it isn't as if there's no innovation left in other platforms. Five years ago, Portal managed to steal the thunder of games with ten times its budget, despite having only so-so graphics and a single-player-only style that lasted only a couple of hours. Why? Because it gave PC and console gamers something they'd never experienced before. Minecraft has sold millions of copies because it translates the joy of Lego-style building into a digital landscape - much better, notably, than any Lego game ever has. This is what Android game developers should be aiming for, not seeking to emulate the latest in a long line of mediocre shooters.

For inspiration and gentle instruction, look to the Wii and the Xbox 360 Kinect. Yes, lots of the games out for these platforms are quick-and-dirty titles that are more gimmicky than innovative, but Nintendo and other developers have managed to use this new technology for gaming experiences that simply couldn't be done elsewhere. And how much more so could this apply to the previously mentioned super mobile devices?

I don't know what shape the mobile equivalent of Portal will take. Part of the luxury of criticism is being able to point out problems without necessarily having the solutions. But I know that there's more out there than Angry Birds and shrunken versions of existing titles. So Android game developers, I charge you: give me something that's fresh, and that couldn't be done with a controller or a keyboard. Do that, and I'll shout your names from the hilltops.


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  • Sirius

    I’d love to see more unique games too. There are loads of games just stripped right from facebook too. (I mean the ridiculously annoying farmville and/or energy based kind of games.)
    So a gaming platform that is more adapted for the technology instead of nearly copy-paste games would be great! (Look at the GTA3 game, that was awesome on the pc, I only played it for 1h maybe on my phone?)

    However I love it that I can play a lot of the (pokémon) Gameboy games on my phone through emulators. Perhaps my favorite function of my phone :)

  • IRIE4IPIER

    Because we can’t carry dreamcast, Xbox or PlayStation around town, and I don’t understand the hate that is going around for these awesome games that Gameloft and others are bringing out, so what if these games mimmick console games, its damn cool to be able to play these games while riding the train or sitting in a waiting room for an appointment, not everyone wants to play Angry Birds and Words With Friends. I get what your saying, but I’m all for it if there is a knock off Halo game on my phone, or a wannabe gears of war or COD like game, if you ask me, gaming has cone a long way on Android. And I’m happy with where its at, there is room for improvement, but we are pretty damn spoiled nowadays if we are complaining about awesome mobile games such as MC3, NOVA and Shadowgun. I would be in heaven had I had this type of stuff when I was a kid.

  • Josh Brown

    H.A.W.X. was a direct port, but I still enjoyed it more on a mobile form factor than on a console.  A lot of racing games are in the same boat.  I’ve not been thrilled with FPSes here, but there are some console games where the controls actually work better being accelerometer based.  Racing and simulation games are a huge chunk of that.  There have also been some great turn-based strategy games out there that really allow for the fact that you may be doing other things while playing (not normally true with console games).  Puzzle and physics games are obvious shoe-ins with a touchscreen.  Even sports has done well with games like Flick Golf and Backbreaker.  I’d say there’s a good amount of innovation happening here.

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  • Quantumfluxnmb

    Reality Check, Mr. Author: Try to be a little less bias and realize that other people in this world exist. You may not game on your Android device but my Galaxy S2 is what I game on the most. I have a toddler who needs supervision and friends at work that like to blow stuff up on our lunch. I can’t be tied to a non-mobile device at this stage in my life and I love Gameloft for offering me an FPS experience on Android that IS comparable to Halo! Order & Chaos fills my desires for an MMO, Asphalt 6 is fun with friends and NOVA 2 rocks my socks off.

    I’m sorry you suck at touch screen controls but some of us actually have skills. In fact, I’d be willing to bet I’m better on a touch screen that most are with a controller.

    Point being, try not to be so bias in your articles.

    • Jonathan41

      Buy a PSP Vita. The way I red it he’s not saying they shouldn’t make hardcore mobile games he’s say that companies (ex.Gameloft) should stop directly copying console game concepts and come up with there own. I love N.O.V.A but, its such a Halo Clone that I feel weird playing it. I wish it were more orignal because otherwise I can’t take it seriously.

      • Quantumfluxnmb

        I know what he is saying and I disagree. As long as none of the major developers are making hardcore games for Android, I am all for Gameloft making their own versions of hardcore games. Why in the world would I buy a PSP Vita when NOVA 2 and Order & Chaos can be played on my phone? It’s kind of dumb to spend the money to buy another mobile gaming system when I already have one in my pocket.

        And I don’t know if you’ve noticed but alot of FPS copy other FPS. Halo was not the first one with vehicles, so does that make it a clone? Last I checked you can’t drive a mech in Halo. There are no sticky bombs in NOVA and Halo doesn’t have a lightening gun. Halo was not the first of its kind either so

      • Dave

        You might disagree, but you’re only disagreeing with intelligence. Since the author did indeed state that these games aren’t bad, he simply expects or hopes for more original titles, and thinks that with the technology available in phones today, there is room for much much more.

        He acknowledges your niche, he understands and makes room for it, you’re just missing his point entirely and then flapping your mouth off to defend games you play.

  • Manuel Salcedo

    yu noob mr.author, what happen if I DONT hav an xbox/ps3?? or a psvita/3DS?? I lov original games, but, if I can play  gears of war on my device(shadowgun) or halo 4(or N.O.V.A 3), its not bad. 
    and, we need somes console games in our devices too, not all the games we play need to be AngryBirds ¬_¬

    • Guest

      English motherf*cker?! Do you know it?

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  • Dominik

    I realize that this article is quite old, but I still want to comment how this author is wrong in so many ways. Basically what’s he saying is: don’t make games that aren’t as simple as angry birds for mobile phones because we can already play them on consoles. We’ll guess what, dipshit? The phones are coming closer and closer in terms of hardware to consoles and they definitely have enough raw power to kick out any portable console out of the competition. Don’t like touch screen controls? Buy Xperia Play. Saying that Asphalt is unnecessary because we already have so many racers on consoles is so incredibly moronic that I find it hard to believe that the author actually has enough intellectual capabilities to write. I don’t know if he’s been sleeping under a rock for the last 20 years or something, but the video game genres have been defined for a long time and revolution is very rare. 90% of the stuff that the gaming industry does is copying. I find it funny that he doesn’t mention the fact that a lot of iOS/Android games are being ported to PC via Steam/Chrome Apps (he even mentions one of them – angry birds). Isn’t unoriginality a two-way street? Not according to author obviously. There is a lot more stuff that I could address and/or mock but I already feel bad enough for wasting 3 minutes of my life on this shit.