Oi, Android, get gaming sorted out NOW
Reg Hardware's resident gamer vents spleen
iGamer On Christmas Day 2011 I'll pass a significant milestone. This year's baby-Jesus-knees-up will mark the thirtieth anniversary of my love affair with gaming. That's thirty trips around the Sun since I unwrapped, unboxed and played my first videogame - Fire on Game & Watch, if you're interested.
Or some 10,957 sunsets and sunrises that I'll have seen – minus, of course, the 8,000 or so I've missed living in the United Kingdom of Permacloud.
Fire on Game & Watch: not an Android game
As with any love affair, you'll understand it hasn't all been plain sailing. I've sat through countless failed tape loads on the Speccy and C64. I've tussled with PC boot floppies, interrupts and 640KB Ram. I've pounded London's Tottenham Court Road vainly seeking transformers and Scart adaptors for imported consoles. And I've overclocked and overheated, water cooled and flooded, or flashed and bricked virtually every device you can think of.
But, thanks mainly to never owning a Virtual Boy, CDi or N-Gage, I've never been quite so frustrated as I find myself with Android gaming. You see, I love gaming. And I love Android. Ergo dim sum Latin, I should love Android gaming.
But I don't. Not at the moment, at least.
Infinity Blade: not available on Android
The reasons for my disaffection are manifold, but they're all comparative. It's impossible to philander if there's only one woman in the world, but in the world of touchscreen gaming, iOS is a temptress too seductive to ignore. Her charms are all too plentiful, with World of Goo, Dead Space and Infinity Blade just three examples of a plethora of outstanding games you won't find on Android.
It's not just the quality of games I'm dissatisfied with. Compared to Apple's App Store, Android Market leaves a lot to be desired. Trawling through its unregulated content and poorly categorised aisles proves an exasperating hunt for a gaming needle in a shovelware haystack, one in which you're just as likely to come across Smoke a Bowl - a virtual skunk toking simulator - as you are a bona fide game.
NOVA 2: ditto
It should be easier for me. As an Asus Eee Pad Transformer owner, I'm promised the luxury of dual-core Tegra gaming, courtesy of the dedicated Tegra Zone app. But after three months using it, it seems I'm only privilege to a slow trickle of slightly higher-resolution hand-me-downs of year-old iOS games, such as Galaxy on Fire 2 or Samurai Vengeance II.
Carry on up the Amazon
Our friends across the pond will wonder what all the fuss is about, of course. Thanks to Amazon's vastly superior Appstore, they enjoy a marketplace which not only categorises content intelligently, but also sells exclusives such as Plants vs Zombies and Peggle. But with no UK release date for the Appstore, UK Android gamers are left peering through the toyshop window like Tiny Tim.
Amazon's Appstore: we want it over here - NOW
Amazon's Appstore UK no-show is the lesser example of Android gaming's inherent problem, that of fragmentation. The real issue hindering Android gaming is that developers continue to struggle with the vast array of unrestricted hardware configurations and OS versions, with displays ranging from 240 x 320 up to 1280 x 800, and with variations in GPU and CPU speeds, touchscreens, accelerometers, memory and storage.
Take Gameloft, for example. One of the leading touchscreen developers, its library of games doesn't yet support Android 3.1 Honeycomb natively, so you can forget playing NOVA 2 HD or Shadow Guardian HD any time soon on your swanky new tablet.
Despite Android's increasingly dominant global market share, this underlying economies of scale issue skews profitability in favour of developing for the standardised operating system and hardware of the iDevices. Already problematic, the expected release of the quad-core Android devices at the end of this year will only compound the fragmentation.
It's not all doom and gloom, though. Following this year's Google I/O Conference, the Android app size limit was increased from a paltry 50MB to 4GB. And, although still not rolled-out in the UK, there was also a promise to improve Android Market by introducing new lists such as Trending and Top Grossing to better sort the wheat from the chaff.
Looking further ahead, there's also the game-changing prospect of the OnLive Player App. Due to arrive at the end of the year, OnLive has the potential to render any present doubts over the health of Android gaming utterly academic by delivering current generation PC and console games through the the magic of cloud gaming.
OnLive: Android gaming's saviour?
But I've got a sneaky suspicion the OnLive Player App will be limited to its spectator mode this side of Christmas, with full playability arriving sometime early next year. So if I can tear myself away from Battlefield 3 for an hour or two this Christmas Day, I'll likely celebrate my thirtieth gaming anniversary by taking a trip down memory lane, using one of the excellent free emulators that presently provide the most compelling gaming content on Android. ®
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