If it's one thing that GDC taught me it's that the iPhone has a long way to go as a game console. It's still a tiny little player in the whole gigantic video games world. But in the nine months since the app store launch, it has made some great strides.
For one thing, the iPhone totally dominated the Independent Games Festival Mobile awards. Not only did they will all the categories, they had most of the nominations as well. The iPhone is now, as far as most are concerned, the best mobile phone platform to develop on. As one developer put it, finally a mobile platform that doesn't suck.
This past week we did get many clues about what 2009 will bring for iPhone games. First, this will be the year the big boys go full force after the iPhone market. EA, Chillingo, Glu, and others have announced some huge portfolios of games coming out this year.
We will also see an explosion in backend community systems, think XBox Live for your iPhone, and probably some consolidation of those services as well. Consumers aren't best served by having multiple community systems, everyone knows that, but who will win out as the best? With GameSpy announcing they are bringing over their backend that already powers many console and desktop titles, they will likely start out in the lead. Then ngmoco announced they were opening up their platform to third party developers, another strong contender, but no release date announced. Then you have the underdogs such as OpenFeint, ByteClub, and a new contender, Agon. Then there's also the Facebook Connect for iPhone that many systems are using. It's not purely a gaming system, but many have adapted it. A force for sure, with Facebook having over 160 million users.
We also were fortunate to meet with some really cool developers and get a sneak peak at some of the great games coming out in the not too distant future.
Real Racing from Firemint
Release Date: Late April, 2009 at an unknown price
Without a doubt, the best we saw was Real Racing from Firemint. Real Racing is a racing game just short of a racing sim. It's ultra-realistic and features some amazing community and asynchronous multiplayer modes. You even have the ability to publish hot laps to YouTube, automatically. The controls by default work great and are very responsive. This is one to watch for. Firemint are being close to the chest with the price on this one, but it will be released late April.
Touch Pets from ngmoco
Release Date: unknown
I'll have to admit I was originally nonplussed on Touch Pets. But after spending some time with it I can see what the excitement it about it. For one this, this game is deep. There's lots to do, lots of things to collect, there are missions to go on, there are achievements, tons of stuff. But above all, this game has a social aspect that could set it apart from all of the other virtual pet type games. This all ads up to a game that will be very enormously engrossing to many people, maybe even me.
Star Defense from ngmoco
Release Date: pretty soon at an unknown price
Tower Defense games are filling up the app store quickly. And many are really good. Star Defense takes a slightly different direction and adds 3D to the standard game. So instead of playing tower defense on a flat landscape, you play it on a 3D world. One of the more interesting parts of this is that, in one level, you are playing on a cube instead of a sphere. This basically divides up each level into 6 parts as you have to place defense on each of the sides since the weapons don't seem to work around the corners of the cube. The game itself seems really well done and stable, and should be released soon. We'll give it more playtime when it comes out and get a full review.
Star Trader: Moon Madness from HermitWorks
Release Date: very soon at $0.99
This game is an expanded version of the DopeWars genre that I'm sure everyone is familiar with. But it's set in outerspace and uses the Quake engine to provide a 3D world where you can walk around and barter. The controls are a modified 2 location virtual touch pad as we've seen on other games and works well for movement and changing the angle you are viewing the world. The developers are releasing this at $0.99 and will be raising the price as they add features such as multiplayer in the future.
All in all a fantastic GDC. Had to great opportunity to speak with some amazing people. We'll try to get full reviews of these games up as soon as they are available.