Posts Tagged IronMonkey

Real Racing 3 – Time Shifted Multiplayer

Earlier we took a look at the history of Real Racing as well as that of Firemint itself, then it was on to the nitty gritty details of the Real Racing series’ gameplay design issues. Now it’s time to talk about what could be one of Real Racing 3’s most revolutionary features: Time Shifted Multiplayer.


Of Two Minds


Most iOS gamers are familiar with the idea of asynchronous multiplayer at this point; one person takes a turn and submits it, then next person takes their turn whenever they’re able, and so on. Many iOS multiplayer games use this mechanic to great effect these days; Robot Entertainment’s stellar Hero Academy, OMGPOP’s Draw Something, and Playdek’s Penny Arcade The Game: Gamers vs. Evil are just a few examples.

It’s great for playing anything turn-based on the go because it enables players to jump in and make their move whenever it’s convenient for them. Taking a break to get lunch, turning off the phone for a few hours during a long trip, or even taking a break partway through a match are all possible thanks to this particular form of multiplayer.

Real-time multiplayer games are a bit more difficult to execute on iOS devices. Not so much because the technology isn’t there, but because the very nature of mobile platforms creates a different sort of “flow” for users who aren’t tied down to a particular location. And Game Center is still in its relative infancy, so setting up a match among friends typically requires a decent amount of prep work. Especially given the sheer number of titles available for most Apple products these days. Capcom’s Street Fighter IV Volt and Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 are both examples of this particular multiplayer type, and both fun games, but setting up a match takes more work than it does on many gaming platforms.

The fast paced nature of the gameplay and the speed with which most bouts are completed fit the real-time online play well, but it still requires players to find a good spot to stop for a moment if they want to get a match or two in. Or they could also always play to their heart’s content while relaxing at home or any other location with proper seating and wireless internet.

Real Racing 3’s Time Shifted Multiplayer is a sort of amalgamation of both asynchronous and simultaneous play, and could very well lead to some significant changes in how we play mobile games with other people in the near future.

Thinking Freely

“What could we do if we had no limitations?” is the mantra that was used throughout Real Racing 3’s development according to the game’s Development Director, Kynan Woodman. “The answer to that question for many of us,” he said, “is that we would be able to play against our friends and other real people anytime and anywhere.” It might not seem like a big deal but not everyone has the same daily schedule.

Anyone who’s ever tried to play games online with a friends who lives in another state, even one that’s in the same time zone, knows just how problematic it can be at times to try and coordinate. Being able to play with friends without needing to adhere to a specific schedule means everyone can play when they have a moment rather than having to set aside a specific time or possibly turn down an open invitation.

And thus Time Shifted Multiplayer was conceptualized. Without worrying about whether it was “possible” or not, they got to work figuring out a way to combine the accessibility of asynchronous play with the pulse-pounding action of simultaneous play. In essence, it’s meant to be the best of both worlds.

Blazing a Trail

Firemonkeys hasn’t revealed the exact details of Time Shifted Multiplayer just yet, but it has explained the basics of how everything comes together in practice. When a Real Racing 3 player begins a race against someone else it’s not actually a direct competition.

Rather than racing against their opponent directly they’re in fact racing against “… their fully interactive time-shifted double,” Woodman said, “which emulates their performance and skill.” In other words it’s like racing against their ghost, only this particular ghost is tangible. This “non-ghost” can be driven off the track, react to other racers jostling for position, and all the other stuff a real player would do automatically.

Imagine racing against a snapshot of another person; a sort of virtual player that’s compiled from data based around their particular skill level and performance. If left to its own devices it’ll achieve a time similar (if not equivalent to) the player’s original run, but that’s only if it’s left alone. This is, in essence, what Time Shifted Multiplayer is.

It’s never a good idea to get too far ahead of things when it comes to speculation, but it’s also incredibly difficult not to get swept up in all the Time Shifted Multiplayer madness. It’s a technology that combines the two primary forms of online play iOS users have come to rely on for all of their games, and as such stands to create quite a stir once more and more titles begin to adapt similar techniques. Fusing the play anywhere/anytime convenience typical of most mobile multiplayer games with the more directly interactive (and often more competitive) nature of real time multiplayer certainly seems like a brilliant idea on paper.

Firemint (and now Firemonkeys) has been on an interesting road trip up to now; full of all kinds of unexpected detours, the occasional paint job, maybe a trade-in here and there, picking up a few new passengers along the way, and bittersweet goodbyes to those who’ve been dropped off. Of course it’s not over yet. There’s still a lot of road to travel. We’ll have to wait until next month to see how well everything Firemonkeys has experienced and created comes together for the newest pit stop, but the potential is definitely there.

Last time we took a look at the history behind Firemint and its popular Real Racing series. In this post we are going to go into a bit more detail on just how these games came about: design troubles, device compatibility considerations, gameplay mechanics, and ideas that help to define a developer and its products. Enjoy!


Everything To Everyone

A whole lot of iOS gamers are familiar with the Real Racing series. It’s well known (and rightly so) both as an example of the ever-increasing visual prowess of mobile gaming platforms and because it’s just plain fun. But creating something with so much quality and depth takes plenty of effort, especially considering that there are several possible generations of hardware to play it on. It’s quite the list, really, ranging from the original iPhone through the 3G, 3GS, 4, 4S, and now the 5. And let’s not forget the iPad, iPad 2, 3rd Generation, 4th Gen, and the adorable iPad mini. Don’t worry, I didn’t forget about the iPod Touch 1-5, either. So that’s, what, like 16 different iOS devices total, right? Each of them with their own limit on supported operating systems. Even ignoring the hardware side of things, that’s still at least five different OS platforms to check for compatibility.

The original Real Racing was developed in 2009: the middle of the iPhone 3G’s life cycle. Since the 3G was built around the earlier generations of iPhone, compatibility wasn’t too much of an issue. Real Racing 2, however, pushed things quite a bit further and gave the team a little difficulty when making it compatible with older devices. The game hit the App Store when the 3GS was still going strong and the iPhone 4 had only recently become available. According to Real Racing 3’s Development Director, Kynan Woodman, “Real Racing 2 was the first game where challenges with legacy hardware arose, but we managed to support everything back to the first iPhone on Real Racing 2.”

Even with a still comparably small list of devices and iOS software to worry about, things were starting to get more complicated. Firemint even went so far as to develop two separate base sets of code for its follow-up racing game: one designed to take full advantage of the iPhone 4 and fourth generation iPod touch’s specs, and one for everything that came before it. The different codes were then tailored to make the best use of their intended devices as possible by way of including different art assets, using higher framerates, etc.

Moving Forward

Real Racing 3, on the other hand, will most likely break with that tradition of near-universal iOS compatibility. A number of older devices are incompatible with iOS 6, and many of them also lack the processing power to manage more demanding games. Compatible devices haven’t been officially announced yet but Real Racing 3 is “… using Open GL ES 2.0 and relies on this for the advanced lighting,” said Woodman. “Everything prior to the iPhone 3GS only supported OpenGL 1.0.” Given the specificity of that statement, it’s looking like support for anything predating the 3GS is off the table. It’s amazing to think that the lighting is what’s primarily responsible for the game’s hardware compatibility. Of course, iOS hardware upgrades are always an option and with each new release, prior versions become even more affordable.

What’s really interesting and even downright commendable about Firemonkey’s approach to Real Racing 3’s development, which began mid-2011, is the way it didn’t let hardware limitations dictate the design. “When we started developing Real Racing 3,” Woodman said, “we started out with a core question: ‘What could we achieve, if we imagine, even just for a moment, that we have no limitations whatsoever.’” It was a question meant to steer (no pun intended) people away from worrying about whether or not their ideas would be feasible on any particular iOS device and get them thinking much more freely.

In other words, they tossed all preconceived limits out the window and let their imaginations run wild. So they got to work creating the racing game they wanted to create, with no consideration as to whether or not the hardware could handle any of it. “We went into this project anticipating hardware as powerful as the iPhone 5,” Woodman said, “so when the iPhone 5 did come along, we were ready.”

Dream Big

The idea was to design the game first, then worry about hardware specs later. It gave the team at Firemonkeys more of a chance to explore their ideas, and to play around with any concepts they could dream up and give them a real shot before deciding if they would work in Real Racing 3 or not.

So they worked backwards; developing Real Racing 3 as they saw fit, then hoping they could find a way to put it on Apple’s current and at the time future hardware. Ideas were given time to be fleshed-out rather than getting the axe early on thanks to the “no limits” approach. This led to the inclusion of an honest-to-goodness rearview mirror to help keep an eye on everyone currently eating your dust, a larger number of racers on the track (22 instead of the previous 16), new events that have never been used in a Real Racing game before that also sadly haven’t been specifically named, and real world racetracks like Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Silverstone.

Incorporating these tracks into Real Racing 3 is something that Firemonkeys is understandably excited about, especially considering all the work that went into the process. Each raceway needed to be thoroughly documented and multiple reference photos had to be taken. Once that step was finished it was time to research each track’s elevation data and use it to create a close digital approximation. It’s not a simple process, but the results are well worth it.

Of course, there’s also the Time Shifted Multiplayer everybody’s been talking about that allows players to race against friends and foes anytime, anywhere. “We didn’t start out with Time Shifted Multiplayer,” Woodman said, “we started out by putting real names on the cars and pretending that we had the ultimate multiplayer mode. It felt great and we worked our way back from there to Time Shifted Multiplayer.” It’s a method that’s resulted in some impressive new software technology that’s garnered a fair amount of attention since its announcement. It may not have ever come into being without such an open approach to design.

We’re still a ways off from Real Racing 3’s February release date, but that hasn’t kept people from talking about it. Not just the pretty graphics or the smooth controls, but also the unexpected surprises such as the Time Shifted Multiplayer which we’ll be taking a look at in the next post in this series. Even so, Firemonkeys is still holding a few of its cards close to its vest. It’s exciting to take a moment to consider just what it is we haven’t been told yet.

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