Mobile users could soon be playing classic arcade games such as Asteroids and Frogger on their phones by the start of next year.
UK developer iFone has signed an exclusive deal with Infogrames, which now owns Atari. Its programmers are now reproducing some of the very best video games of twenty years ago in formats that will run on Java and Epoc-enabled devices. The Manchester-based company is also working on mobile versions of modern games, such as Infogrames' Driver, and has also developed a football game for wireless handhelds.
IFone plans to release six Java-compatible games this September, with a further half dozen planned for December 2001. "These games will appeal to people in their twenties and thirties who played them the first time round, as well as today's kids," said Enda Carey, marketing manager at iFone.
Carey predicts that users will pay around 50p to download a game, which they will then have to delete afterwards. "A phone running one of these games wouldn't have much room left to do much else, so you'd have to get rid of it after you have finished playing," he said.
Mobile phone users keen to experience childhood favourites like Pong and Centipede will have to invest in a phone that can run a form of Java called Java2 MicroEdition (J2ME). There are currently only around three million J2ME-enabled mobile devices in the world, but Finnish manufacturer Nokia recently announced ambitious plans to sell 100 million Java-enabled phones by the end of 2003.
IFone demonstrated some of its products at Ericsson's headquarters in London on Thursday. Ericsson was unveiling a new GPRS phone called the T39, which has Bluetooth connectivity and EMS enhanced messaging. It also announced details of a camera accessory, and a Bluetooth pen.
Mobile gaming is predicted to boom in the next few years, as software developers make use of high-speed wireless networks, and mobile phones with colour screens. Mobile network operators will need to encourage users to spend money if they are to recoup the expense of buying third-generation (3G) licences and rolling out 3G networks.
Multi-player gaming is tipped to be a large part of the market -- if the network operators can guarantee a constant high-speed connection. "Latency can be an issue for multi-player games," admitted iFone's Carey.
Carey explained that iFone's multi-player games will be based on a "lobby server" system, that would limit the amount of data sent to any one player. "If there are twenty people in one driving game, the lobby server will make sure that each player is only sent the information they need -- such as the location of the cars directly in front and behind."
As well as Ericsson, iFone is in discussions with Motorola and network operator Vodafone -- and is planning to release a football game called iSoccer later this year. ISoccer will be playable on handsets that run Symbian's Epoc 6 -- but Carey doesn't expect that many games based on Epoc 6 will be available until mid-2002.
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