Immersion, anywhere

by on Nov.16, 2006, under games design, mobile games, playstation

mobile phone Innovation is surprising.

It’s not something for which we already have a front-row seat. Its the thing that leaps out of the darkness, hitting us straight in the mouth. And we’re happy for it. Cold water can be good, it wakes us out of our reverie.

The next wave. I see the wishful promises across print, spun out of relentless animated GIFs, flooding across the wires, and streamed into my home. Wireless and Mobile Entertainment. “Come”, they say. “Let us show you nextgen”.

I walked through a door once, beckoned by my host. Someone was talking.

“Craig, here’s the future.”

I was lead into a room full of people. The lights dimmed and a movie clip commenced, featuring a cell phone. Regular, square, phoneish. It was ATI’s. Humming deep within the liquid crystal display was a tiny graphics processor. Someone was playing Quake. I watched a Strogg lumber slowly as the dance of rockets reflected in the eyes of the spectators. Impressive. Faultlessly rendered on the 2 x 2 inch screen.

The whisper continued, “Imagine 3d games on this thing. You could play good games anywhere. Even multiplayer.”

Murmurs of approval spread around the darkness. The mutterings of nextgen were discernable. Insistent. Whispers of the future. And I had a front-row seat.

This was high-fidelity mobile gaming. My hosts were betting on a “better mobile gaming experience”. The thought is indeed hard to resist. Non-cinematic games like Lumines would work too, dazzlingly sexy on a portable phone. What’s not to like about “Immersive worlds anywhere, anytime”?

Standing slightly away from the crowd, my mind wandered to the obvious question.

Is this our gaming future?

For some, gaming can be an intensely personal experience. As time ticks by, the immediate environs melt away, leaving only the pleasurable experience of a puzzle solved or enemy vanquished. Powerful graphics are the foundation of modern gaming. Translating cinematic games to smaller devices seems to make a lot of sense. It’s the uncharted frontier.

I looked down at the mobile phone in my hand. In my brain, I stretched the screen a little more. Unsatisfied, I made the keys bigger. Threw in some hyper-fidelity headphones. I pictured myself wirelessly connected to the entire planet. I slowly improved it. Yet as I did, it just got bigger and bigger…

Until I was left holding a PSP.





And therein lies the problem. I just can’t get “in there”. I’m wrenched from my experiential fantasy every thirty seconds. A loud passerby, the sound of traffic, or heaven forbid, someone actually trying to phone me. Whenever I use it, I’m not at home. It’s mobile for a reason.

To me, better graphics on mobiles is a confused use-case. It’s just not how we live with them. It’s like calling a car a horseless carriage. Someone was too literal, long ago.

Slowly, I left the room, knowing that these guys were hoping for a profitable future. I walked, sufficiently talkative, mostly to keep them at ease. Internally, I was stone quiet, unhappy in the knowledge that they were (or would be) quite wrong.

Wrong. Before they even started.

Mcluhan be damned, perhaps the message isn’t this medium. In this instance, the message must fit the medium. Taking “awesom grafix n’ soundz” is a literal application of the console platform’s strategy. Hardcore games will never exist within that tiny little screen; they exist in a crowd, on a train, waiting in line, and in a restaurant. The handheld is not the container for mobile gaming : the world is.

What is the undisputed future of mobile computing?

  • Ubiquitous, always-on wireless connectivity.
  • One-handed form factor
  • Small display, typically 2 x 2 inches.
  • As much horsepower as we care to throw in.

Corollaries :

  • The device can talk to servers “in the sky”.
  • The device can talk to other devices.
  • Your service knows who you are.
  • Your service knows where you are.

Mobility is data, not stunning graphics. It’s data that just happens to be anywhere that you are.

mobile trends

A killer mobile gaming experience may simply augment one you’re already playing on your XBOX 1440. It could be merely an additional service, like our ubiquitous WoW Auction House. Or perhaps a GPS-based treasure hunt or spy-assasination mission. None of these are dependant on graphics, they exist almost completely in your mind. The games exist as part of the world. They’re not self-contained.

Games exist within us. The future of mobile gaming will take us away from the screen, not deeper into it.

Reality is the ultimate immersion.

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12 Comments for this entry

  • covert.c.

    I so agree! Planetside had something of it as well, publishing live stats of every player and showing a conquest map of the world.

    Theoretically you should be able to see this stuff on your phone, but it's at such a sub-primitive level that it's almost not even worth the effort of punching these webpages into your Treo.

    While running the risk of repeating myself, I'd just like to frame it thusly : If I were searching for "nextgen" in the mobile world, I'd start at mobile access to MMORPGs.

    Beyond that, we can start looking at primitive GPS-based ("geocached") games. The real challenge? To go even further, and imagine what might represent the 2nd and 3rd generation of those types of games.
  • Nazgum

    These are great ideas I think MMORPGs don't consider enough...and sadly they won't likely happen soon.

    WoW doesn't even provide an rss feed for its news.

    The best example of things like this I've seen is way back in Dark Age of Camelot, they provided web stats for your guild and character on their site, showed updating maps of the war and where it was happening and more.

    That kind of stuff was great if you were at work and could look and see, to a limited sense, some of what was happening in an online world through the web; having more of this and moving it to mobile devices would be even better.
  • covert.c.

    Exactly. There are fringe examples of enterprising developers "getting it", but the status quo are bland reproductions of graphical games on mobile platforms.

    Where is mobile gaming today? It doesn't exist.
  • guyal

    We're in this long cycle of graphics upgrades that has a lot of merit, but here's an extreme example of how we've been in the graphics upgrade cycle for so long, many people think that's all there is to gaming. "Surely we need better graphics and thus surely we need better graphics on every platform" rather than seeing the medium (cell phone or portable or combinations of phone/portable and other platforms) for its own unique attributes.

    There'll be long push for better mobile graphics, but in the longer run it won't be what's memorable about mobile gaming.
  • covert.c.


    That you didn't get it the first time around says my point should have been more direct? In draft, I was told to expand, expand, expand. Argh, it's so hard to get right.
  • b.1.alpha

    I completely understand, that is a great read a third time. I think because of various interruptions, I was unable to fully realize what you were referring to. I see how a game could be made of my every day interactions, and my every day purchases could be considered game credit. covert that really is creative, thanks I feel better already =P
  • covert.c.

    I was thinking about how you could access game services for MMOs you're already playing (instead of actually trying to play a lo-fi version of it on your mobile). The WoW Auction House is a good example.

    My main point is to forget graphics and see how games can be played out in the real world (versus a 2x2 world inside a mobile phone screen).
  • b1muglar

    Actually I think I realy didnt comment on most of the post, I would love this total immersion you speak of but where do we find it, and do we as a community have to create it, or can we have it bundled into a game for us. The auction house is a great example, imagine if you chould bluetooth items from the psp app "psp auction house" is that what you are getting at?

  • b1muglar

    IE. I don't want to pay for the service that is.
  • b1muglar

    Oh thats really interesting that you mention quake since you know, we all remember what its like to be immersed in graphics at that exact point, I know where I was when -- You just fragged XXXX-- was burned into my retna

    There is just something about these magic times, that take you away when you think back, and I think that graphics were there, and then it was a time and place, I felt total immersion though. Does a peer group playing PSP not give you this, like yall have a lan party at coffee for like 15min if the games had better graphix i think we would/could. I dont want less screen ill tell ya that, and I want more multiplayer bluetooth games, mobility is given at this point, I better be able to check my emails and use skype. But im not paying for it!
  • UnO

    You made some very salient points. The immersion and interuption of gaming largely depends on your own mobile experience. People like me need mobile gaming due to my long commute. There are a lot of people like me. That there exists a generational gap is moot due to the consistantly decreasing population of aged and increasing youth demographics. Eventualy you can expect everyone to be "jacked-In" or "wired" to the net at any given moment wether for entertainment or education. The future is not entirely unpredictable. Anyways great post Covert.
  • dragko

    You are very close to giving away all my secrets. Tread lightly I know who the White Rabi is.

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