How OnLive is bringing console games to tablets
22nd Dec 2011 | 10:16
The challenges of mobile, and what's coming in the future
Cloud gaming service OnLive is continuing its quest to make high-end games available to everyone, regardless of their hardware, and the latest addition to the arsenal has been mobile devices, including both tablets and phones. There's already an Android app out that allows you to play on the service, with an iPhone and iPad client to follow shortly.
Going from computers to mobile devices was always going to throw up a lot of challenges, from how you control the games to how you get reliable video over Wi-Fi, so our colleagues at Tap! magazine spoke to OnLive CEO Steve Perlman, and OnLive UK general manager Bruce Grove.
The first challenge to overcome was the difference in controls between the keyboard and mouse setup of a PC, or the controller used on the OnLive microconsole.
"We've been working with the publishers on working some form of native touch into the games. So we demoed From Dust doing this, but now we have a brand new build of Defense Grid Gold. What you'll notice is that this is the same Defense Grid Gold that you get elsewhere, but when you bring it up on a mobile device, we now have some additional features in there that are specific for playing on this type of device," Grove explained.
In the case of this game, there are new buttons around the edge of the screen that aren't present when you play the game on non-touchscreen devices. These new controls have been built in by the developer, to make sure they fit in with the game overall. Rockstar Games has done the same with the game LA Noire, released on consoles earlier this year.
However, not all developers have tweaked their games for touch, so OnLive has developed a system of button overlays for the other games.
"We have on-screen controls that allow you to play the game, and each of these controls are tuned for the game, so on a game-by-game basis you'll see these buttons move around. We put them in places that we think have a good look and feel for each of these devices."
Of course, it's fair to say that while a touch overlay might suffice for many games, it isn't the ideal way to play something that was designed for a controller. As a result, OnLive has launched the Universal Controller, which can connect to any Bluetooth device, and comes with a USB dongle for anything that doesn't have Bluetooth built it.
"The Universal Controller is Bluetooth 4.0, so it's very low latency," Grove tells us. "If it sees the dongle, it gives you the lowest possible latency. But it can also work with other Bluetooth versions across multiple devices, so it just pairs to the iPad, or to the Galaxy Tab or whatever you have."
After trying the controller and the touch controls, it seemed to us at the time that the controller felt slightly more responsive.
"That's quite possible," says Grove. "Touch controls have their own latency that's inherent in the screen response, but the controller is going straight through. So it's feasible that it's more responsive. On a game-by-game basis, one of the things we're doing is seeing what games it makes sense to add overlays to, but the controller just works with it all."
Going up against the App Store
One of the main stumbling blocks for OnLive on mobile devices is likely to be pricing. With so many games in the App Store available for 69p, or not much more, how will the console prices that OnLive charges stand up, especially when there are versions of some games available on both services?
"There's going to be overlap," admits Perlman. "You've got LEGO Harry Potter on the App Store, we have LEGO Harry Potter on OnLive, and so on the iPad you have two versions to choose from. The one that's in the App Store you can play on an aeroplane or away from any connectivity, but if you're playing LEGO Harry with OnLive it's a much richer experience. They don't have to simplify the game, but you've got to be near an access point somewhere. I think the two versions can coexist fine."
When it come to pricing, OnLive does have a plan for how console games can fit more into how mobile gamers buy and play games.
"When you look at the games in the App Store, and you look at the Dead Spaces or Infinity Blades that could cost up to £10 a game or £5 depending on which ones, they tend to be shorter. They tend to have four, maybe eight hours of gameplay in, whereas our games might have 40 hours of gameplay in," says Grove.
"So we've already started talking to some of the developers and publishers about exactly this, which is: 'What if we break games down into episodes, and we give out or unlock the episodes for a price?' Because that way you can get your 10 hours of gameplay for £10 or £5, and then you go onto the next chapter for £10, or maybe you go and buy some side quests for a few pounds."
That's not the only way OnLive is already looking at how it can offer a different experience using tablets, though.
"One of the things we're thinking about is, with a good network connection, we could have multiple-screen playing," Grove tells us. "I could could have one screen on my microconsole, and each tablet could have a different view of the world, interacting in their own way. Maybe as multiplayer, or interacting with your own part of the campaign.
"At that point, from a dev's standpoint, they're not restricted by the front-end hardware, and we'll build the hardware to support them on the back end – we'll support them to let them figure out what to do next, and create content to take advantage of this multi-screen world."
Though this is only speculation from OnLive at the moment, the advent of the Wii U means that developers will already be thinking about multi-screen setups. OnLive says that the flexibility of the cloud will allow it to always keep with these kinds of innovations and changes without the user having to necessarily buy more hardware, which can only be a good thing for gamers.
For more from OnLive, including a thorough explanation of the the streaming technology that makes it work, check it out Tap!'s OnLive interview.
The iPad app edition of Tap! currently has 50% off its back issues. Created on the iPad, for the iPad, it features video previews and strategy guides for games, 360-degree kit photos and many more interactive features, as well as loads of app, games and kit reviews.