Sony Ericsson has been known for its outstanding 3D gaming performance on Java phones for years now. It all started back in 2004, when Sony Ericsson introduced the first mass market Java phone that could render decent 3D graphics on a 176×220 pixels screen. We had been early on and released our first 3D games Motoraver, featuring 3D driving physics in a fairly large sandbox-style city at night, and Robot Alliance, a proper first person shooter in full 3-D (!) with smoothly animated 3D characters, all within 350KB of data.
Continuously, Sony Ericsson improved their hardware and, even more important, the Java Virtual Machine it was running. The crown of 3D enabled java phones still belongs to the K800i, the game experience felt close to the Playstation 1, even if it was not as fast and on a smaller screen. And Fishlabs has to give Kudos to Sony Ericsson. Without this great performance we could never have created mobile games of such high quality like Blades & Magic, Rally Master Pro, Snowboard Hero and Galaxy on Fire 2.
From music to photos to games
In 2005 3D gaming was hyped very much but could not break through as the carriers always forced developers to support the lowest common denominator and the majority of handsets could only render 2D graphics. Sony Ericsson did right in focusing on music instead and introducing the Walkman brand to mobile with great success. A year later Sony Ericsson repeated the success story labeling their photo feature phones with the popular brand Cybershot. With all those millions of Walkman and Cybershot phones sold, sharing a consistent Java platform and decent 3D rendering capabilities, Sony Ericsson’s strength in mobile gaming started as the best kept secret of the industry and led into ruling the mobile gaming business: in 2007, Sony Ericsson was the fourth largest manufacturer of mobile phones worldwide, seven out of ten games downloads were happening on Sony Ericsson phones in Europe and emerging markets like Latin America and South East Asia. Until today, Sony Ericsson has released over 50 models supporting proper 3D rendering and has an installed user base of approx. 200 million devices (Fishlabs’ estimate). Not a bad thing for developers like us, focused on 3D mobile games, if only the ecosystem was right.
iPhone – the mobile games game changer
Nothing is constant but change. It was not Nokia, with its great ambitions in mobile gaming, finally introducing N-Gage as a service, or Vodafone with more than 300 (?) million subscribers who literally changed the mobile gaming business over night. New kid on the mobile block Apple swiped away all competitors with a mobile phone featuring a game experience beyond Nintendo DS and close to Sony PSP. With the latest installment of iPhone 3GS and iPod touch 3rd generation featuring OpenGL ES 2.0 even beyond PSP. In combination with the App Store integrated in iTunes, a fair business case for developers (70/30 revenue share) and a low entry barrier (get started for less than $299 with an iPod touch and the iPhone SDK) for everyone mobile game developers were flocking to this new exciting platform.
Satio – ramping up for the fastest mobile gaming device?
It took Sony Ericsson a while to find an answer to the unexpected competitor coming from the computer area backed by a loyal customer base addicted to superior user experience – which is exactly why Apple is so stunningly successful with the iPhone. Although, feature phones based on Java had been a great success for Sony Ericsson and were the preferred mobile phone for gaming by tens of millions users, the future in mobile gaming lies in smartphones. However, any half-hearted attempt to stand up against the leader of smartphones will fail. But Sony Ericsson has sent a decent device stuffed with the latest hardware to the race. The Satio features the same 3D-Chip PowerVR SGX as the iPhone 3GS running Symbian on an even more powerful CPU ARM11 clocked at 600MHz. Furthermore, it comes with plenty of memory and with a bigger display than the iPhone featuring 640 x 360 pixels resolution.
Lots of horsepower – what is it good for?
It is one thing to stuff a lot of nice hardware into a mobile phone. It is another story to make all this power available to the developer. Sony Ericsson did an amazing job here. We have ported Rally Master Pro from iPhone to Symbian featuring almost the same functionality on Satio (only automatic acceleration when using touch controls due to single touch on Satio and no multiple simultaneous sounds due to lack of layered sound capabilities). Although the resolution of the Satio display is quite higher compared to the iPhone we experience a stable frame rate of 30 frames per second on both devices running identical game code and graphical assets. Thanks to the better screen resolution of Satio, it is stunning how much more details can be rendered in the scene (the original iPhone textures were designed with some head room for larger screens).
Xperia X10: Mobile games on the big screen
Today a prototype of the latest Sony Ericsson smartphone has arrived at our studio: A shiny Xperia X10 and we have to convey it looks stunning, indeed. It is still a very early proto but navigation on the capacitive touch screen feels great and fluid and the whole menu is much more inviting and intuitive to play around with than it used to be with previous smartphones from Sweden. As the X10 is an Android based phone it will take a while until we have our first game running on it. But one thing is for sure: The big screen is a great, great plus. You can see our website in full 800 pixels width and everything is crystal clear. Even the small fonts can be read with ease. Equipped with a whopping 1 GHz Snapdragon Chip supporting OpenGL ES 2.0 it promises high-end smartphone gaming on the big screen.