iPhone 5 presents opportunities and challenges for game developers

Polygon spoke with several iOS game developers, who reacted with a mixture of excitement, anticipation, and frustration to the smartphone's redesign.

In the wake of Apple's iPhone 5 announcement, Polygon spoke with several iOS game developers, who reacted with a mixture of excitement, anticipation, and frustration to the smartphone's redesign.

The iPhone 5 features a new 4-inch display, which increases the vertical screen real estate enough to add a fifth row of icons to the home screen. Although iOS 6 will display apps not written to take advantage of the display's new dimension in a letterboxed format, the vertical growth presents a challenge to developers who have only designed their apps for the 3.5 inch display seen throughout the device's previous iterations. Several developers spoke Polygon about the challenges and benefits that the new design affords.

During the presentation, Apple touted the ease with which developers could transition their games from the old to the new aspect ratio. Having anticipated the redesign, some developers even welcomed the change.

"We had planned ahead with the possibility of having our games in 16:9 in mind, so it shouldn't be too difficult to make it happen," said Leo Montenegro chief creative officer and partner Subatomic Studios, developers of Fieldrunners and Fieldrunners 2. "Also, the new aspect ratio is similar to Android/PC/XBLA/PSN requirements, so it's in line with what developers already tackle in multi-platform development."

"The iPhone 5 will allow us to display more of the battlefield and ensure that our UI elements are as unobtrusive as possible."

Mark Cooke, CEO of Offworld developer Shiny Shoe, sees tangible improvements coming to games with the increased real estate, particularly with user interface design.

"In Offworld, the iPhone 5 will allow us to display more of the battlefield and ensure that our UI elements are as unobtrusive as possible so players can see all the cool mech action," he said.

David Whatley, CEO of Simutronics, creators of geoDefense, Tiny Heroes, and One Epic Knight, told Polygon that One Epic Knight will be able to support the new screen with "no issues."

"I expect most developers will not have too much trouble except if they have a 2D game that expects a specific set of fixed screen resolutions or aspect ratios," he said. "Note to developers: Don't do that!"

Dave Castelnuovo, co-founder of Bolt Creative and creator of Pocket God anticipates difficulty in the transition for exactly the reasons Whatley spoke of. Castelnuovo told Polygon that the ease of transition between screens isn't necessarily as simple as Apple claims and is tied directly to the type of game a developer produces.

"We will need to look at every mini game and island location and add new art to fill the sides of the screen."

"A 3D game for example could actually be pretty easy to adapt, you basically create a larger view into your world, maybe change some UI around and that’s it," he said. "However, Pocket God has a lot of art that is tied to the screen size of the original iPhone. We have a lot of UI screens that will need to be either widened or have multiple layouts. We will need to look at every mini game and island location and add new art to fill the sides of the screen."

Castelnuovo added that the new screen creates fragmentation within iOS devices that goes beyond the iPhone 5. Development for legacy hardware can also pose a problem, because designing apps for older iPhones, iPads, and the new iPhone 5 screens presents drastically different landscapes for user interface elements.

During the event, Apple invited Electronic Arts to demonstrate developer Firemonkeys' upcoming Real Racing 3 on stage. EA's demo focused on two aspects of the iPhone 5: the increased graphical prowess of the new A6 chip, a smaller system-on-a-chip processor that Apple says delivers twice the CPU and graphical power of the previous A5 chip, as well as a time-shifting feature added to Game Center.

"Apple technology continues to evolve the mobile games experience, and we believe games like Real Racing 3 best highlight what consumers have to look forward to with these advancements," said Rob Murray, executive producer at the Firemonkeys. "The game’s dynamic reflections, sharp track shadows and other beautifully detailed assets will take full advantage of iPhone 5’s new visual capabilities and greater performance to deliver a mobile gaming experience that rivals many console games."

Though the developers we spoke to saw time-shifting's potential, it isn't a mechanic that many are interested in implementing immediately. As EA's demo proved, it makes sense in the context of a racing game, but the practicality of implementing it in other genres isn't so obvious, several said.

"It’s a nice feature, and I am sure it will find usage in more than just racing game," said Damir Slogar, CEO of Big Blue Bubble, creators of My Singing Monsters and Masters of Mystery: Crime of Fashion. "We don’t see immediate application in our current games in production. I am sure we will get to it at some point."

Jairo Nieto, chief games officer of Vampire Season developer Brainz, told Polygon that the studio alread has plans to use time-shifting outside of the racing genre.

"We are very excited about time-shifting, and as we speak, we are discussing the possibility of using it to incorporate a collaborative experience in Vampire Season, where players will build from friends' strategies," he said.

Subatomic Studios' Montenegro said that the studio "had considered doing something along these lines at one point in our development, with ‘ghosting' another player's weapon placement; so it's nice to see that Apple's vision for games is aligned with ours."

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