This is an interview with Stefan Bates of 1Bitgames, a UK based Java games developer who offer free demos of their games.
Thanks for taking the time to talk with us Stefan. Can you tell us a bit about 1bitgames? What is the company background?
My own personal background is as a C/C++ & Java developer working on a freelance basis. I've had an interest in computer games since my father bought me a Sinclair ZX-81 in the early 80s. I played with Java 1.0 when it was first released. I dabbled with Java on a Palm and when the first J2ME MIDP 1.0 implementations arrived on mobile phones I realised that Java would be an ideal tool to develop applications for a wide range of different phones. I started 1bitgames in June 2003 with the purpose of retailing some of my work. Mobile Soccer Manager was the first major release. Since then I've teamed up with a couple of other people with considerable experience in sales & marketing.
Can you talk us through the typical stages involved in producing a mobile phone game?
Basically, we come up with an idea often inspired by titles from the 80s or early consoles and prove that the game will work on current handsets with a proof-of-concept. We use the Sun Wireless Toolkit and initially target a Nokia Series 40 device. We then convert the graphics for other handsets such as the Nokia Series 60 and the Sony Ericsson T610 & P800/P900. We test under as many emulators as possible and with as many real phones as we can. We have a number of phones in the office for testing purposes. We also run our own Linux websites with which we can test OTA and multiplayer connectivity. We use other tools for benchmarking and compressing the final download.
I'd be interested in hearing where you think mobile phone gaming market is heading.
I think that the most successful games will probably be those that take advantage of the fact that the mobile phone will typically have a reasonable amount of bandwidth via GPRS or 3G. MIDP 2.0 is a lot more flexible with regards to network connectivity and also includes a Bluetooth API that we can use to build multiplayer wireless games. We'll also probably see a number of tie-ins with console games.
Do you specialise in any one type of game, platform for example.
Not really, we write games we feel will be enjoyable to play. Our only specialisation is that we write J2ME applications for Nokia, Sony Ericsson & Sharp devices. Motorola support is expected Q2 2004.
Mobile phone games can be basic, so what do you see being possible in future, say two years from now.
There are some titles such as our own Mobile Soccer Manager that push the current phones as far as we can take them due to memory and CPU speed limitations. Our unpublished Golf title is a state-of-the-art mobile game that looks like a console game. See answer to Question 3.
Some traditional game developers put hidden features into their product, "easter eggs" I have heard them called. Have you ever done anything similar and if so, care to share.
Countermove contains a cheat mode. On the Options screen try typing '1bitgames' or 'cheat'. On Mobile Soccer Manager take a look at the Hints page on our website.
What is your advice for the wannabe developers trying to get into mobile phone game development?
Firstly, go out and buy as many real J2ME compatible phones as you can afford. Download the Sun Wireless Development Toolkit from Sun and then try to make a simple game, maybe something like Snake. There are quite a few good development sites to take a look at; Google will usually bring up some good candidates. Try your creation in an emulator of your choice and when you are happy with it, test, test and test again on the real phone.
Thanks for answering our questions and telling us a little more about 1Bitgames. If you would like to find out more about 1Bitgames you can visit their website.