The smartphone as a game console: Windows Phone 7 is supposed to transport the colorful gaming world of the Xbox 360 to the smartphone. A brilliant coup or just hot air?
- Xbox gaming world on the smartphone
Microsoft has been advertising its new smartphone operating system with great fanfare for some time now: Faster, better, Windows Phone 7. This is the unmistakable message from Redmond. Expectations are high; after all, the aim is also to finally stand up to the old class enemy Apple and its iPhone. Whether the daredevil all-around strike succeeds, stands to time still in the stars.
Anticipation is especially high on the part of the gaming community, where Microsoft’s announcement at the beginning of the year that the successful Xbox 360 game console would be integrated into the new mobile operating system in the form of an Xbox Live plug-in sparked great anticipation. The reasons for this are obvious, because with Xbox Live on Windows Phone 7, games can be downloaded to the smartphone, turning it into a mobile game console. In itself, this is nothing new; after all, Apple’s App Store and Google’s Android Market also have corresponding counterparts among the competition.
But especially when it comes to gaming, Microsoft – in contrast to both competitors – can conjure up some proven features from its successful gaming console Xbox 360 and at the same time build on many years of video gaming experience. At Gamescom 2010 in Cologne, the first glimpses were revealed and a list of games with the corresponding developer studios is already circulating the net. So curtain up – the game begins.
Xbox Live – Mecca for multiplayer
The first question to answer is: What is Xbox Live at all? Xbox Live is the online service of the Microsoft game console Xbox 360. You can rent or buy movies via your own account, buy games online and enrich them with additional content, or play online in multiplayer mode with other players around the world.
You can comfortably communicate with the other players via headset during the game or use the console as a telephone with the integrated video chat function. You can share your gaming successes with the whole world via Facebook and Twitter. Depending on the scope, the Xbox Live service on the Xbox 360 is free of charge or chargeable. The free silver membership is the light version, so to speak, and provides basic functions such as streaming HD movies, game demos and expansions such as additional levels or new game content and small arcade games.
If you want the full online gaming experience, you have to pay for a Gold membership. Here you can really let off steam with multiplayer function, Facebook and Twitter connection. Payment is made conveniently by credit card. You don’t even have to leave the sofa. The Gold membership costs 6.99 euros per month – Microsoft estimates 60 euros per year for the online gaming experience. And this very Xbox Live functionality is now moving from the console to the smartphone together with Windows Phone 7 – with the corresponding games in the luggage. But wait a minute: 60 euros per year? Xbox 360?
Do I now have to buy a game console including an expensive premium live service, even though I don’t need either?? The answer is no, because Microsoft is also aware of the fact that not every smartphone user is a passionate gamer. That’s why the service is free on cell phones. Only for the games you have to pay a few euros extra. A cost trap does not lurk here, provided that the collection does not take on too large volumes. Microsoft’s estimated fee of 60 Euros for the Xbox Live Gold membership is only for the Xbox 360 player community, and most of them already have such an account. And this can be easily continued on Windows Phone 7. After all, there are supposed to be mobile spin-offs of well-known game titles, with which level progress and trophies earned on the smartphone are also transferred to the console version of the game. In a way, the Xbox Live plug-in on Windows Phone 7 is an ode to the joy of gaming.
Computing power and experience
In fact, the combination of Xbox Live and Windows Phone 7 seems to be a glimmer of hope on the long road to the smartphone as a portable game console. Because apart from a few nice puzzle games and more or less successful experiments that use the integrated motion sensor of some smartphone models, there have been no groundbreaking game developments on a smartphone to report yet. Already after a few minutes the air is often out and first yawn reflexes appear. Long-term motivation? Missing. It’s not the hardware, that’s for sure, because modern smartphones seem to have all the prerequisites for mobile gaming fun: A fast processor, sufficient RAM and an Internet connection. In comparison, mobile game consoles like the Nintendo DS and Sony’s Playstation Portable, which has 333 megahertz and 64 megabytes of RAM, are old dinosaurs.
For comparison: Our test phone, the HTC 7 Mozart, has a 1 gigahertz processor and 576 megabytes of RAM. If you subtract the computing power required for the operating system itself, there should still be enough power left – even for more complex game implementations. Nevertheless, the supposedly inferior mobile consoles offer a more intensive gaming experience on the go or on the couch. And that’s despite the fact that the range of games in the app oceans is huge. No wonder, because the operating systems Android and iOS, as well as the new Windows Phone 7 are "open operating systems". Theoretically, anyone can program and distribute their own app. In this way, this system constantly feeds and reinvents itself, but it also has the side effect that the app stores are primarily besieged by smaller game companies.
The result is often – besides some really successful implementations: Mass instead of class. Up to now, there has been a lack of large, experienced game manufacturers with the corresponding ambition, competence and money to implement consistent game ideas for the smartphone. But even these three ingredients do not make a good game. Above all, the controls have to be adapted to the different hardware of the smartphone, and the concept of the game also has to accommodate the smartphone.
Because the touchscreen and accelerometer are usually the only control options. A disadvantage that is especially noticeable in racing games and shooters. Imagination is therefore required – but often not available: Thus, even larger developer studios have burned their fingers with half-hearted game conversions for smartphones, while smaller developers land at number one in the download charts with their one-man show.
Play games, celebrate successes
This is exactly where Windows Phone 7 and Xbox Live want to score with experience. At least, this is the impression given by the track list that has been published so far: There are both smaller conversions – so-called mini- or casual games – as well as larger titles. The list of developer studios includes well-known names such as Konami and the in-house games company Microsoft Game Studios.
The titles we played already give a foretaste of what could come: Especially "Riot Gun makes with its touch screen control and the pretty 3-D graphics in C64 look really fun. You fly and shoot your way through the brightly colored levels using rocket propulsion. The left finger determines the direction of flight – a swipe with the right finger in the direction of the opponent fires the missiles. Even with a high number of opponents, fragmenting level sceneries and very fast movement, the picture flow didn’t come to a standstill on our HTC Mozart.
Xbox 360 and Windows Phone 7
The Harvest not only looks really good, but is also a lot of fun: With three different characters you fight your way through the..
Harvest" is just as impressive with its absolutely gorgeous 3-D graphics. Especially when the scenery is destroyed by explosions and the remains of walls fall from bridges into ravines, it looks really great. So you fight highly motivated through nicely designed levels and destroy the sometimes really nasty enemies with your fingertips. Only the touchscreen and the cell phone got a bit warm during longer playing time. Annoying: The capacitive "Windows The HTC Mozart’s button already reacts to light finger touches. So it can happen very quickly that you are kicked out of the game just before reaching the next level and have to start all over again. A cell phone with push buttons, such as the LG Optimus 7, is recommended here.
Playing alone was yesterday
The special thing about Xbox Live isn’t just the games themselves, but their occasional multiplayer functionality. This means that in the future you will be able to play against other players or friends and compete with human opponents. There will be two game variants: Real-time games and turn-based games. In the former, several players compete against each other at the same time. With the turn-based the players come with temporal displacement to the train. Microsoft’s experience should pay off here as well: it’s easy to invite friends from your friends list to a game on the Xbox 360, and in return you can join another game yourself.
To do this, you simply have to send an invitation or accept invitations to a game, and you’re ready to go. The advantage: Even if a game gradually loses its appeal in single player mode, the fun really blossoms again in multiplayer mode. Especially since the difficulty level usually increases considerably with human opponents. Thanks to the multiplayer function, the smartphone with Windows Phone 7 could become a complete mobile extension of the Xbox 360. And this is exactly what you are looking for in vain at Apple and Co. so far.
Avatars and communities
Those who have created an account on Xbox Live first need a character that is as smart as possible, a so-called avatar. No problem, because you can create your own virtual counterpart with the avatar editor. There are (almost) no limits to one’s own imagination: shoes, hats, caps, hairstyles, beard growth. Everything can be tuned here – and changed again at any time if you don’t like it. In addition, in some games you can unlock additional gadgets for your avatar.
In "Halo Waypoint, a smartphone extension of the cult game series "Halo", you can equip your avatar with masks and accessories of the game characters. Sure, this fan cult may seem a little strange to some, but it can still be a lot of fun and provides – in addition to the actual games – a certain added value. It is great that the two worlds of Xbox 360 and Xbox Live on Windows Phone 7 do not lead a separate life of their own, but are linked with each other.
Friends from my Xbox 360 world also exist in my little Xbox cosmos on the smartphone: I can invite them to my game and compete with them online. Microsoft takes a consistent and important step with the integration of its game console on Windows Phone 7.