The line that separates mobile games from console experiences is already blurring. Google's plans for its Android TV platform figure to obscure it even more.
Announced last month at Google I/O, Android TV replaces Google TV. Essentially, with Android TV, Google is treating your TV set like a mobile device, letting Android developers extend their apps to the TV screen. In terms of gaming, Android TV will be supported by Nvidia's Tegra K1 chipsets, which means game makers will be able to bring higher-end experiences to mobile devices, both from a graphical and gameplay standpoint. And you'll be able to play them on your TV set, just like you would using a console like an Xbox or a PlayStation, right down to the console-style controller.
When it arrives this fall, the Android TV platform will join the ranks of micro-console devices with traditional wireless controllers--think the Nvidia Shield, Mad Catz M.O.J.O., Amazon Fire TV, and Ouya. And developers think that it will deliver the kind of gameplay that console gamers are more accustomed to.
"The additional graphics processing power and functionality provided by OpenGL ES 3.1 means more complex scenes with more advanced rendering techniques can be employed, while the processing power enables more physics and gameplay elements to enrich the universe and further immerse the players," said Roger Freddi, CEO of Square One Games. Freddi's company just brought the Xbox first-person shooter (FPS) game Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath to mobile devices. It plays just like the original with the Android TV controller, only it looks much better thanks to the advances in power in the new set-top box.
But that's not the only way Android TV figures to change the way you game. Here are four things developers are looking forward to with Android TV and how that will affect the games you'll play.
The same technology will create cross-platform game experiences
Unearthed: Trail of Ibn Battuta, an episodic third-person action-adventure game set in the modern day Middle East, is an example of the type of mobile experiences that will shine on the big screen. Unearthed developer Semanoor International is building Episode 2 of the game series with Unreal Engine 4 technology, which is optimized for Tegra K1. Unreal Engine 4 allows game makers to develop titles across platforms, while maintaining the same high level of graphics and gameplay.
"If you are developing for Tegra K1, the fact that you don't have to worry a lot about preparing two drastically different sets of shaders and lighting set-ups for your game means that you are free to focus more on iteration, gameplay and polish, which will take your product to the next level," said Ahmad Jadallah, Semanoor's director of development.
Multiplayer experiences will rule the living room
Chris Howard, chief gamer at publisher zGames, believes mobile gaming will evolve into multiplayer experiences that can be enjoyed by the whole family in the living room. Casual mobile games will start appearing in the living room, introducing more interactive multiplayer options for friends and families. That's something consoles have relied on since their inception as a way to keep gamers engaged in cooperative action titles like Super Smash Bros., Lego Lord of the Rings, and Ratchet & Clank.
"You'll have both the single-player mobile experience, as well as multiplayer living room social play that you can't get now on mobile," said Howard, who has optimized the cartoon fighting game Fright Fight for Android TV with Tegra K1. "We're offering more advanced visual effects without lag. The graphics really pop and the gameplay is smooth. You can definitely tell the difference on the big screen."
Controllers will enhance both old and new games
Never underestimate the value that controllers can bring to the gaming experience, says Pascal Bestebroer, founder of Orangepixel, whose games include Groundskeeper 2, Gunslugs, and Heroes of Loot. "Even though my games are designed to work great on mobile touch screens, there is still the simple fact that they can be enjoyed even more with physical controllers like those on Android TV," Bestebroer said.
Bestebroer adds that he's already seen "great response and request" for older games to be made available for devices such as Ouya and the Fire TV. "So I can't wait to have a much larger audience who has an Android TV gaming system in their living room. It makes it easier from a business perspective to focus more on that segment of gamers who play with physical controllers instead of touch screens."
One device to rule them all
Right now, the Android mobile gaming space remains a fractured market, where developers need to create different variations of the same game for different chipsets and devices. With a unified Tegra K1 chip running Android TV, game makers will be able to deliver a huge, quality library of offerings directly to consumers in the living room. For gamers, this means an influx of enhanced mobile games for the big screen for a small fraction of the cost of investing in console hardware and software.
"I strongly believe that mobile developers, who are used to fast iterations and shorter development cycles, can quickly offer many high-end games for the K1/Android TV combo," said Tom Mleko, co-founder of mobile game publisher HyperBees. "Mobile developers are at an advantage here because they already have a massive audience enjoying their titles on smartphones and tablets. Now they can add better graphics, new game modes and a different social context: at home, on the sofa, with friends."
Mleko thinks mobile games are far more accessible than console titles. "They're casual by nature and have lower price points," he said. "As a result, Microsoft, Sony, and PC game developers will have a serious competitor for the TV audience."