November 11th, 2007
This month we take a closer look to the world of Flash mobile game development. Flash Lite 3 was recently announced by Adobe, providing Flash 8 compatibility, better performance and new interesting features.
We had the pleasure to talk about this and a lot more with Mariam Dholkawala, a mobile games developer who has been developing and evangelizing Flash as a mass mobile entertainment consumption platform in India for almost 3 years and online gaming for more than 6 years.

Q: Can you tell us about your background and initial steps in the field of game development?

Coming from a commerce background, it’s amusing to say that I spent most of my college free time playing games on the computer and consoles rather than reading economics and finance. It was also during that time that I started my tryst with coding using simple programming languages like JavaScript & C. I continued learning new languages, and being a self learner I relied on the internet for information and code samples.

My move to Flash gaming happened coincidentally due to the market demand for small sized and rich interfaced games. And now it’s been more than 6 years since I have been developing Flash games.

Q: What was your first Flash game?

My first Flash game was a web based game developed in 2002 during the Chinese New Year. The game had a simple game-play but used a lot of color and Chinese symbolic props. The intention was to use the game only as a platform for invoking a message of wishing the Chinese and not providing an intuitive game experience. I remember enjoying developing the game, because with it, I realized the potential of Flash and the benefits it offered like easy scalability and richness in graphics.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about your latest Flash Lite projects?

It is difficult to talk about unreleased products, but I would like to say that I am building a very interesting application and a series of games in Flash Lite 2.1 & 3.

Q: What's the current status of the Flash Lite penetration? Which version seems to be the most popular today?

According to Bill Perry, evangelist for Mobile and Devices at Adobe, currently there are 60 Nokia, 36 Sony Ericsson and 13 BREW handsets that have Flash Lite versions 1.1/2.0/2.1 pre-installed. It will be difficult to predict about Flash Lite 3.0, as it was only launched recently, but I am assuming we can expect devices with this version to be out in 2008.

Flash Lite 2.x is probably the most popular for content development because of a good handset support available. Almost 30 Nokia handsets and all BREW handsets support this version of Flash. Moreover with Flash Lite 2.x, developers can use Actionscript 2.0, and develop content that can have backward compatibility with newer versions of the Flash Lite player.

I remember many developers shying away from Flash Lite 1.1 because of the limited syntax capability, but now with 2.x, the capabilities to develop content are a lot stronger.

Q: How does Flash Lite compare to J2ME in terms of diffusion?

There is no doubt that J2ME is really big and has a higher adoption in the market as compared to Flash Lite. We can partially attribute this to the operator’s lack of understanding of Flash Lite and its advantages. Moreover, security and backward compatibility of content with every new release of the Flash Lite player, operators are finding it difficult to come out with a fluid model of delivery.

But this is slowly changing with the onset of many content distribution and aggregation networks like Handango, Moket, Nokia Software Market and Verizon. There are also operators like Telenor in Sweden and Iguana Mobiles in Asia launching Flash Cast and Flash Lite content. My prediction would be that as operators will realize the true potential of Flash Lite and its capability to offer better experiences, it won’t be long before this technology completely takes over the market.

Q: There's also a Flash Lite player for Brew available for developers. What are its advantages?

With Flash Lite now being supported on the BREW network, opportunities for development to a new market place have opened for mobile developers.

The biggest advantage of this is that BREW handsets do not need to have the Flash Lite Player pre-installed for a user to download content. The BREW platform provides the ability to download extensions directly to the handset thus enabling the added functionality of Flash Lite on the device. This means, when a user selects a piece of Flash Lite content, the BREW extension is automatically downloaded over the air, immediately enabling the handset of the player. The platform also prevents repeated downloads of the player for every content download after detecting the player existence.

Q: Do you also use J2ME for game development?

I don’t use J2ME for game development because I think I’ve got my hands quite comfortable with Action Script coding. However, I would like to add that I have been exposed to the J2ME gaming scenario and am aware of the techniques and methods used for development. But currently I use only Flash for gaming.

Q: What are the main differences between the two environments?

There are many differences between J2ME and Flash Lite. Not highlighting the technical differences because it has already been covered in a detailed article comparing J2ME and Flash Lite on the Adobe Developer Connection, I would say the development time for Flash Lite is way lesser than J2ME. This means better resource management and higher revenues.

Flash also provides a complete environment for designing, developing, and testing content as compared to J2ME which has a separate environment for coding, designing and testing. With Flash, a designer and developer can work independent of each other, which is not the case with J2ME.

Q: Adobe has recently announced Flash Lite 3, which will bring video/flv streaming to cell phones. Are there any other interesting features for game developers?

The major enhancement that Flash Lite 3 provides is the use of flv files in comparison to only device videos in the previous versions. In addition to the video feature, Flash Lite 3 also has significant improvement in the performance of content. I consider these as big additions as it will enable the developers to push the edge of the technology to another level.

Q: Given the large variety of phones available, how do you make sure that your application will behave correctly on most of them?

Using the Adobe Device Central of course! It is not possible to test the content individually on all handsets. The practice I follow is to divide the handsets according to the screen sizes, color support and memory. I then club similar handsets together and make sure that I have at least one real handset from each group for testing.

The only concerns one can have during handset testing is crashing of application due to memory limitations, as all other issues can be solved on the emulator.

Q: Have you experimented with multiplayer mobile games? What are the main limitations?

The biggest issue with multiplayer games is latency of mobile networks. Most multiplayer games today are turn based and not real-time, and this further aggravates the latency because players have to wait for the other players to make their move. Further-more, the limited bandwidths only prevent the game from being constantly alive. For instance, once a player goes offline, his state quickly becomes stale and the replica becomes invalid.

Costly network usage also makes it difficult to convince users to adopt multiplayer games.

Q: Are there specific game genres that work better for the mobile market?

Casual games are doing well in the market. What people want is simple one-button games that can appease a varied age group.

Today normal people have limited time between their highly hectic lives, and casual games work the best with them. A good casual mobile game is generally simple, intuitive and easy to get into and play for 10 minutes at a time. One can catch a few moments of a casual game between meetings, while traveling or waiting for a friend to arrive, as compared to hard core action or adventure games that require time and attention.

Q: And which one don’t seem to work?

I think the days of side-scrollers are long over. This game view has been exploited to the maximum and I have yet to see a recent adventure game which offers something different. Making another side-scroller title would be nothing but just another title.

Q: A lot of independent developers are probably hesitant about the mobile game market being profitable for them. How do you see it?

Independent developers for any mobile technology would be hesitant about their content being profitable because of the difficulty to connecting with carriers. One also cannot blame the carriers because it is not possible for them to review content from every developer who approaches them. Thus they reach out to the companies that can offer a continuous flow of content to put on their deck.

Today the market for Flash Lite is smaller compared to J2ME or BREW. And the limited aggregators that are existing in the market are also wary about the games they accept from independent developers because the operators want unique titles. However if a developer is capable of creating content that has a bar raised much higher from the rest, there is no way he would not be profitable.

Q: What are the channels that a developer or small game company can use to distribute their games?

Aggregators are the best medium for small developers to get their content out to the public. There are a number of aggregators like Smashing Content, Shockwave etc who review games from independent developers and launch it on the Verizon network. There are also direct to consumer channels like Handango and the Nokia Software Market that accept content from independent developers.





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