When game developer Artificial Life saw the opportunity to participate in the worldwide launch of Windows Phone 7 with a newly ported version of its Red Bull Racing Challenge, it moved quickly. It used the Microsoft XNA development platform, which facilitates game development on Windows Phone 7, the Windows 7 operating system, and the Xbox video game system. With its port to Windows Phone 7, the company gained a boost in market visibility and in its reputation for leadership and innovation. The process of porting the game to Windows Phone 7 was 25 percent faster than the company expected, thanks to the use of familiar Microsoft tools and resources provided by Microsoft. Now, Artificial Life can reuse up to 80 percent of its new software code if it decides to similarly port its games to the Xbox and other Microsoft platforms.
You’ve raced on tracks from the United States to China, but never like this. You’re driving on the Australia track, and the rain is beating hard against your windshield. The track is slippery, and you’re afraid of hydroplaning. If you can just make it to the pit stop, you know you’ll be okay. Suddenly, the car behind you surges forward and spins out of control. You escape a collision by the smallest of margins, but gird yourself for whatever surprises lie beyond the next bend in the track.
||The launch of Windows Phone 7 gives us a unique opportunity to stand out from the crowd with the worldwide audience of gamers.
Vice President, Business Development and Licensing, Artificial Life
Welcome to the Red Bull Racing Challenge, one of the world’s most successful three-dimensional (3D) racing games for mobile phones. The Red Bull Racing Challenge is the product of Artificial Life, a global company that specializes in high-quality two-dimensional (2D) and 3D interactive mobile games, as well as in segments including mobile participation television, mobile business applications, and a mobile commerce technology platform.
Artificial Life first released the Red Bull Racing Challenge in early 2010 for Apple iOS devices. The game received favorable reviews and rankings, and Artificial Life looked for ways to extend the game’s reach.
“Part of our brand is to be seen by the market as being on the cutting edge of technology,” says Ernest Axelbank, Chief Technology Officer at Artificial Life. “We want our gamers to know that we anticipate new technology, we don’t just respond to it. That means being early to take advantage of higher network bandwidths as they become available. It means being early on new, high-end platforms. And when we can be first, that’s even better.”
The chance to be among the first games for a new mobile platform presented itself to Artificial Life in May 2010, with the upcoming launch of Windows Phone 7 and the opportunity to be featured in the first showcase of applications and games for it. The company was impressed with key features of Windows Phone 7, such as its screen resolution (480 x 800 pixels), 4.3-inch capacitive touch screen, and support for 3D gaming.
“When Microsoft showed us Windows Phone 7, we knew our games would look great on it,” says Keith Chan, Vice President for Business Development and Licensing at Artificial Life.
If Artificial Life developed a mobile game for Windows Phone 7, it would be the company’s first game for any Windows Phone device. Artificial Life already offered business applications—such as its GluCoMo mHealth application, which helps people who have diabetes track their blood-sugar levels—for previous versions of Windows Phone. But it had been reluctant to develop games for Windows Phones.
“Mobile business applications aren’t closely tied to underlying hardware capabilities, so we could put business apps on Windows Phones relatively easily,” explains Axelbank. “The diversity in hardware for Windows Phones had been an impediment to us in the games market.”
Standardized hardware specifications for Windows Phone 7 promised to address this concern. Artificial Life decided to move into the market for games for the Microsoft flagship mobile platform by porting its highly popular Red Bull Racing Challenge.Solution
Artificial Life considered what it would take to successfully produce its first mobile game for Windows Phone 7—and what it would take for the company to do so in the five months prior to the phone’s scheduled launch. The answers depended in part on the support that Microsoft would provide to help game developers succeed on Windows Phone 7.
|Figure 1: Variable weather conditions add to the realism of the |
Red Bull Racing Challenge on Windows Phone 7.
Artificial Life quickly learned that it would not have to invest the time and effort to fully redevelop the Red Bull Racing Challenge for Windows Phone 7. The company could port its existing C++ code to the C# code of the Windows Phone 7 environment by using software tools available from Microsoft. One key tool in that process was the Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate development system with which the Artificial Life developers were already familiar.
Another tool was the Microsoft XNA Game Studio 4.0 development platform, an integrated development environment (IDE) designed to make it easier to develop games for Windows Phones—as well as for the Windows operating system and the Xbox video game system. It is one of two extensions to Visual Studio 2010—the other being the Microsoft Silverlight 4 development platform—that together support developers of everything from mobile business and consumer applications to highly interactive and graphics-intensive mobile games, such as the Red Bull Racing Challenge.
XNA is the preferred IDE for game developers because of game-specific support for 3D scene management, skinned animations, hardware utilization, and others. Artificial Life used XNA directly for game support, as well as for a platform for its own proprietary game management components. The process of porting its existing Red Bull Racing Challenge code to Windows Phone 7 was largely a matter of using the Microsoft tools to change the syntax, or grammar, of the original code to C# code, rather than making a broader change in the software’s methodology or organization.
|Figure 2: Putting the player into the cockpit is part of the |
immersive experience of the Red Bull Racing Challenge on Windows Phone 7.
Beyond using Microsoft tools, Artificial Life also used its relationship with Microsoft to expedite the porting of the Red Bull Racing Challenge to Windows Phone 7. That relationship was helpful in a few instances in which online resources didn’t address issues that Artificial Life faced during the project. In those cases, a Microsoft evangelist introduced developers to appropriate personnel within Microsoft to answer their questions. Once the port of the game was complete, Artificial Life tested it on software emulations of Windows Phone 7 and early hardware prototypes, made available to the company by Microsoft.
Red Bull Racing Challenge for Windows Phone 7 was completed in three months and ready in time for the international debut of Windows Phone 7 in October 2010.
The resulting app provides state-of-the-art gameplay that takes advantage of Windows Phone 7 features. For example, the game uses the accelerometer for steering the racecar, the touch screen for navigating through the game, and high-resolution graphics optimized for the displays of Windows Phone 7 devices.Benefits
In porting its Red Bull Racing Challenge to Windows Phone 7, Artificial Life achieved the immediate marketing benefits that it had envisioned, as well as a new vision of faster, easier development on related Microsoft platforms, such as Xbox.
Provides Broad Market Visibility
Artificial Life met its goal to have the newest version of its Red Bull Racing Challenge ready for the launch of Windows Phone 7. The game took its place in the first Partner Showcase of games and applications for Windows Phone 7, which was also unveiled at the launch.
“Being showcased at the Windows Phone 7 launch was important to us—and we did it,” says Chan. “It reinforces our image as the games leader that embraces the latest technology. We were able to take advantage of the high-publicity profile of the event to get visibility for the Red Bull Racing Challenge on blogs, websites, and trade media to an extent we wouldn’t have seen had we come out with this sometime later.”
||When Microsoft showed us Windows Phone 7, we knew our games would look great on it.
Vice President, Business Development and Licensing, Artificial Life
Chan sees another benefit in being among the first game developers to enter the Windows Phone 7 market. “Established mobile markets have hundreds of thousands of applications and games, making it a continual challenge to stand out,” he says. “The launch of Windows Phone 7 gives us a unique opportunity to stand out from the crowd with the worldwide audience of gamers.”
Reduces Development Time by 25 Percent
At three months, the time to port the Red Bull Racing Challenge and have it ready for market was 25 percent less than Artificial Life originally estimated. Axelbank attributes the savings to several factors, including the use of familiar Microsoft tools and the availability of Microsoft guidance.
“There’s a learning curve with any IDE,” says Axelbank. “It can take several weeks to go through all the documentation, perform the source code configuration management, and integrate with version control. We didn’t have to go through that learning curve for Windows Phone 7 because we were already familiar with Visual Studio 2010. Having experience with Visual Studio meant we already knew how to navigate the IDE and how to bring our game to Windows Phone 7. Our developers found the process of working on Windows Phone 7 to be very smooth; there were no real hurdles. I think anyone with Visual Studio experience will find it easy to transition to Windows Phone 7.”
Artificial Life also benefited from the assistance of a Microsoft evangelist and the early availability of hardware prototypes, which helped to speed the porting process. “Microsoft helped us get our game to market by making their people and resources available to us when we needed them,” says Axelbank. “That was a real advantage of working on a Microsoft platform.”
Enables Potential 80 Percent Code Reuse
Artificial Life executives say that the successful launch of the Red Bull Racing Challenge for Windows Phone 7 is just the beginning of their company’s experience with the new mobile platform. The company now has other games for Windows Phone 7 in production. In addition to using their experience with the Red Bull Racing Challenge to further speed and enhance the development of future titles, executives also envision the ability to reuse the game code toward the same end.
“We now have a title in C# for Windows Phone 7,” says Axelbank. “It would be an interesting prospect to move that title to Xbox or another Microsoft platform, using much of the same code and the same development platform and tools. We would be able to reuse a fair amount of code, possibly 80 percent.”Windows Phone
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