去年10月，微软推出的Windows Phone 7平台广受好评，其手机销量也不赖，第一轮采用WP7操作系统的手机设备包括HTC、LG和三星，它们在发布头6周的出货量达到150万部，当然微软现在与诺基亚的联姻更将进一步刺激WP7手机的销售。
首先要指出的是，WP7似乎已被开发者定义为一个手机游戏平台——因为它绑定了微软掌机在线游戏服务Xbox Live功能。当用户开启手机时，就可以看到一个Xbox Live图标显示在主菜单，只要点击这个图标，输入游戏玩家的ID和密码，就可以登录XBL帐号。用户在手机上所玩游戏积累的分值，均可储存到个人帐号上。除此之外，用户还可以使用积分排行榜、好友列表功能，在多人游戏模式中与其他玩家过招，或者查看其他好友正在玩的游戏类型。
当然，iOS和Android平台也已经提供了类似的服务（游戏邦注：例如Scoreloop、OpenFeint以及苹果Game Center等），但WP7这项服务的优势在于，它还拥有500万的Xbox用户，WP7系统对这一群体来说很有吸引力。音乐脑力训练应用开发商Earworm Mobile公司代表Mark Clarke认为，“WP7绑定了Xbox Live玩家社区，这一点比用户可以在手机上玩游戏更重要。它延伸了多人游戏模式，通过建立用户的游戏好友社区，及其在掌机平台而建立起的品牌忠诚度，开启了大量的市场营销机遇。WP7是一个真正的手机多人游戏社区。”
游戏邦认为对开发者而言，WP7的另一大优势在于，它支持开发者使用微软游戏制作平台XNA Game Studio的功能。XNA Game Studio开发环境支持的编程语言是C#，对于惯用C++语言编写游戏的大型工作室来说，这确实会造成一些问题。但如果使用XNA Game Studio制作游戏，则可轻松相互移植WP7和Xbox游戏的代码，除此之外，它还提供了在线教程、函数库和开发者社区支持等服务，这对规模较小而相对缺乏经验的开发团队来说，却是一个极大的优势。
英国诺丁汉工作室Nerf Games的开发者Steven Batchelor-Manning表示，“微软同时为富有经验和缺乏经验的开发者提供了大量的工具，帮助他们快速创建WP7手机应用。XNA是一项开放而易掌握的工具，它支持轻松创建并测试产品原型，以便开发者及时做出判断，制定开发决策，这一点是其他手机平台所不具备的优势。”
他与Mark Clarke的观点一致，也盛赞了微软对开发者的支持力度，“微软提供的开发工具，确实降低了技术门槛，另外它还提供了大量优秀的开发教程。不过，对此提供最大帮助的是开发者社区。Microsoft App Hub（原名为Creators’ Club）支持开发者聚集到一块共享开发经验、工具和教程材料。微软还为开发者提供了一个WP7模拟器，这样我们就不需要花钱买WP7手机，就可通过该工具测试游戏运行性能，降低了开发成本。”
Mark Clarke也很认同这个说法，“微软提供了许多应用样品，它们对开发者非常有帮助。Code Project和Stack Overflow也是极有用处的资源，WP7平台的开发环境比苹果超前了好几代。iPhone应用移植到Android平台需要好几天时间，但移植到WP7平台却只要几小时而已。”
曾获英国电影学院奖提名的《Mush》游戏开发商Angry Mango工作室的负责人Henry Hoffman也深有体会，“ Jeff Weber创建的基于Box2D的Farseer物理引擎让我们受益良多，如果没有这项工具，我们的游戏开发还会拖得更久。我认为在这个开发过程中，我们从来没有遇到过一次障碍，微软的在线开发者社区提供的帮助非常之大。我们在开发过程中提出了各种问题，但只需要搜索一下这个论坛就能找到许多答案。另外，XNA的开发者覆盖率很高，这就好像三人行必有我师，你走进一个大学游戏开发课堂，总会遇到大把的行家。我们亲身体会到XNA社区的开发者非常乐于助人，不吝分享他们的相关经验。”
据游戏邦所知开发者对WP7的另一些争议还包括：WP7绑定Xbox Live Arcade这个掌机下载游戏服务后，微软会严格控制该平台运行游戏的质量。苹果一般只测试投放于App Store产品的代码运行是否有效，而WP7平台却将执行更为苟刻的审核制度。
不过微软也针对这一平台开放了自己的游戏推广项目，帮助开发者推销游戏。这个服务项目名为“本季必备好游戏”（Mus Have games season），已在今年春季推荐了《愤怒的小鸟》、《涂鸦跳跃》、《Hydro Thunder》、《植物大战僵尸》等6款WP7手机游戏。这或许有助于缓解小型开发商的市场推广压力——当然，这还得看他们是否有幸进入微软的法眼（这些推荐游戏主要是用于推广WP7平台，而非帮助宣传小型开发商，《愤怒的小鸟》和《涂鸦跳跃》显然并不需要这种帮助）。
WP7绑定了Xbox Live功能还为跨平台游戏的发展创造了另一种可能。例如，《Fable: Coin Golf》这款设计精致的WP7益智手机游戏，就是在Lionhead旗下的《神鬼寓言》这款经典的Xbox角色扮演游戏的基础上开发而成的迷你小游戏，它是一款模拟Shove Ha’Penny和撞柱游戏的产品。有趣的是，如果用户的Xbox平台保存了《神鬼寓言3》，那么它在《Fable: Coin Golf》这款小游戏中所赢得的金币，均可用于购买掌机版游戏的道具。
《Fable: Coin Golf》由伦敦手机游戏工作室IdeaWorks3D开发，该工作室与Lionhead拥有密切的的业务合作关系。据该工作室负责人Rob Hendry所称，这种跨平台项目合作非常顺利。“Lionhead的技术团队帮助我们直接植入了这些功能，他们提供了一项后端服务和信息沟通的API，这其中包括识别玩家身份的Xbox Live玩家标签。我们只需要处理客户层面的工作，进行一些测试，然后就可以让游戏上线了。这种经历真棒！”
微软PC和手机游戏全球高级主管Kevin Unangst表示，“我认为未来大家还会在手机平台上看到更多像《Fable: Coin Golf》一样的合作项目，我们已经有《Full House Poker》这种游戏，它支持用户在手机上玩扑克，同时还能开启可用于掌机版游戏的道具，或者转移你在另一游戏版本帐号上的资金。我们还会继续推动这种项目的发展，在今年的全球移动大会上，我们播放了一个视频，展示了掌机传感器上的Kinect数据传输到WP7手机平台上的过程。在Kinect上玩游戏的用户可与手机用户进行互动，手机用户可以接收Kinect传来的数据。这种互动体验一定会让你大开眼界。”
Windows Phone 7: what do game developers think?Handset sales are ambiguous and there have been problems with updates, but can WP7 shine as a gaming platform?
Last October, Microsoft launched its Windows Phone 7 platform to a favourable critical reception and decent sales. The first range of handsets from manufacturers such as HTC, LG and Samsung shipped a respectable 1.5m units in the first six weeks of release, and of course, there’s now a partnership with Nokia to (eventually) boost device numbers.
But with Microsoft cagey on updating handset sales figures, I wanted to know how WP7 is fairing as a games platform. Right now, developers seem curious enough about the hardware to start cautiously porting across titles from iOS and Android. The question is, can the community be ready to commit wholly to another platform – especially one with an ambiguous level of consumer uptake? And then there’s the Xperia Play lurking on the horizon…
We spoke to several WP7 developers about their experiences with the platform, and where they see things going.
From the outset, it seems there is unanimous agreement on the key strength of Windows Phone 7 as a games device: its seamless integration with Xbox Live, the online gaming service that has contributed heavily to the success of Microsoft’s console. When you switch on your handset, there’s an Xbox Live icon on the main menu – click on this, provide your gamer ID and password and you have access to your XBL account. Now, any game you play on the device adds points to your gamer score, just like an Xbox title. You also have access to leaderboards, and to your friends list so you can challenge mates to multiplayer games or just spy on them and see what they’re playing.
Of course, there are similar services on iOS and Android devices (Scoreloop and OpenFeint, for example, or Apple’s own Game Center), but for the 50 million Xbox owners out there, the Windows Phone 7 system is convenient and nicely holistic. “The importance of being able to connect to the Xbox live community goes way beyond being able to play games on the handsets,” says Mark Clarke of Earworm Mobile, who make musical brain training apps. “This stretches from mobile multiplayer games, through community building with your gaming clan and friends, to the multiple marketing opportunities of being able to tap into the brand loyalty engendered by the console itself. It’s a truly mobile multiplayer community.”
For developers, too, there are advantages to the phone’s use of XNA Game Studio. This managed development environment is based around the programming language C#, which can cause problems for larger studios who have a lot of their game tech written in C++. However, the easily portability of code betweeb WP7 and Xbox, plus the wealth of online tutorials, libraries and community support, is a massive advantage, especially for smaller and less experienced teams.
“Microsoft offers many tools for developers both experienced and inexperienced, to rapidly produce applications for Windows 7 Mobile,” says Steven Batchelor-Manning, of Nottingham-based studio, Nerf Games. “XNA is fairly open and simple to use. This allows for easy prototyping and testing of products before entering extensive development, which you don’t get with other mobile platforms.
“We program in C#, using the Microsoft tool kits such as C# express edition and XNA 4.0. This allows us to develop the same project for PC, Xbox and Windows 7 Mobile, whilst using the same collection of assets. It rapidly increases the rate at which we create the final product and means we can concentrate our efforts on quality games. Developing for Windows Mobile 7 alongside PC and Xbox development only adds about 30% extra development time.”
He is similarly complimentary about developer support. “The tools provided by Microsoft have really low barriers in terms of computer know-how. It also produces a lot of good tutorials. But actually, the vast majority comes from the community. The Microsoft App Hub (previously known as Creators’ Club), allows developers to come together and share knowledge, tools and tutorials. Microsoft also provides a Windows 7 Mobile emulator for developers, which gives an accurate representation of a Windows 7 Mobile device, allowing for cost-effective development as we don’t need to purchase the phones.”
Mark Clarke agrees: “There are lots of example apps produced by Microsoft, and their help has been exemplary. The community is excellent, too – for example Code Project and Stack Overflow are useful resources. The development environment is several generations ahead of what Apple offers. We have seen iPhone apps that have taken days to transfer to Android that have been transferred to Windows within hours.”
“We’re hugely indebted to Jeff Weber who created the Farseer physics engine based on Box2D, without it our game would have taken a great deal longer to develop,” adds Henry Hoffman of Angry Mango, developer of Bafta-nominated WP7 title, Mush. “I don’t think there’s been a single occasion where we’ve been stuck on a problem and the online community haven’t already solved it for someone else. Normally, throughout development we’d ask all sorts of questions, but a simple search of the forums proved enough. Also, XNA is so widely used it’s difficult to walk into a Game Development course at a University and not bump into a bunch of experts. Our experiences have been that XNA developers are always willing to share their knowledge and help others out.”
There are fragmentation possibilities, though. As we’ve seen with Google Android, phones produced by different manufacturers have different technical specifications, which can be a headache for app developers. At the moment, Microsoft dictates a minimum set of requirements from vendors and the base OS is the same on all devices. However, there are concerns that the recent strategy deal with Nokia, which will see the ailing mobile phone giant building its next generation of handsets around the WP7 platform, will muddy the waters. Nokia appears to have been granted exclusive rights to customise the WP7 offering, and although the companies have denied this will have any impact on the OS, the ambiguity is there.
Clarke, though, is hopeful, the alliance will lead to more not less clarity. “The confusion that Nokia was causing amongst the development community with its multiple OSs was something that also had to be resolved if they were to compete with the other major players. If Nokia and Microsoft can successfully couple Nokia’s expertise of manufacturing first class hardware with a stable and well supported development environment and ecosystem, the results could make for a formidable and vibrant development platform.” At the very least it should ensure that WP7 doesn’t go the way of other recent Microsoft mobile initiatives, like the cancelled Kin, or the Zune, which is now available only in North America. One significant barrier to developer support for WP7 is the fear it might be gone by the time a project is completed.
Elsewhere, there are other controversial elements of the WP7 developer environment. As with Xbox Live Arcade, the console’s downloadable games service, Windows Phone 7 offers a curated experience, which means Microsoft controls the quality of games appearing on the device. While Apple will essentially just check that the code works before allowing an app on its store, Windows Phone 7 software has to go through a stringent approval process.
For consumers it’s a good feature – it means there aren’t thousands of mediocre apps to wade through, while really good games will be easier to find. For developers, however, the system throws up a few problems. “It has its benefits and its drawbacks,” says Batchelor-Manning. “The App Hub offers a good peer review system, where other developers are asked to check over your game. This helps filter out both low quality and bug-ridden titles. We are always given a particular quality to aim for.
“Once it’s got past this stage there is also a chance that Microsoft will veto against your game going on the platform. Ultimately, this prevents the market being swamped, but above this, there seems to be a layer of games by big publishers (EA, etc) that just step past the smaller developers in the queue. This is the biggest drawback of the system. Microsoft is in complete control and smaller developers will always be battling up hill until they reach a point where their title is trending – like Minecraft.”
As with Xbox Live Arcade, however, Microsoft is set to run its own games promotions, to help market promising titles. The project kicks off this spring with a Must Have games season, which features six Windows Phone 7 titles, including Angry Birds, Doodle Jump, Hydro Thunder and Plants vs Zombies. These sorts of campaigns free smaller developers up from the worry of having to market their titles – but, of course, that’s assuming they’re lucky enough to make it onto Microsoft’s radar (and the first Must Have selection is very much more about promoting WP7 itself, rather than about helping small studios – Angry Birds and Doodle Jump don’t really need a lot of help at the moment).
Elsewhere, interconnectivity with Xbox console games opens up some intriguing cross-platform gaming possibilities. Fable: Coin Golf, for example, is a simple but well-designed WP7 puzzler based on Lionhead’s epic Xbox RPG. It’s basically a simulation of pub games like Shove Ha’Penny and skittles, with players guiding coins through a series of obstacle-strewn courses. But the interesting bit is, if the player also owns Fable III on Xbox, any gold they win in Coin Golf is transferred to their console version, where it can be spent on in-game items.
Fable: Coin Golf was developed by London-based IdeaWorks3D, a veteran mobile developer, working in close conjunction with Lionhead. According to studio head Rob Hendry, the cross-platform integration was surprisingly quick and intuitive. “Lionhead’s technical team did some great work to make these features straightforward for us to implement,” he says. “They provided a back-end service and API for us to communicate with, including player identification by Xbox LIVE gamertag. We simply had to hook up the client side, run a few tests and it just worked. It’s great when that happens!”
“I think what we’ll see more of is things like Fable: Coin Golf – actions happening on the phone that have an impact on the console title,” says Kevin Unangst, Microsoft’s senior global director of PC and Mobile Gaming. “We have things like Full House Poker, which let you play poker on the phone and have that unlock items in the console version, or have part of your bankroll transferred over. Over time, we’ll push that further. We ran a video at Mobile World Congress where we showed we could take things like the Kinect data coming out of the sensor on the console and send that over to the Windows Phone 7. Someone playing on Kinect can interact with someone else on a phone, and the phone can receive things like the skeletal data – it boggles your mind the kinds of experiences once you get that kind of interactivity.”
Rob Hendry reckons we’re entering into a new era of true cross-platform gaming. “Because your online presence now has a common identity on all LIVE platforms, any data whatsoever can be pushed to the cloud and retrieved by another app. Before long, we expect we will see true asymmetrical game experiences, where you play a single game from very different perspectives on different platforms. For example, strategy games where you manage your campaign resources on your phone, then drop into the action on your console. Or role playing games that use the phone for customising avatars and the console for questing and fighting battles.” EA has also mentioned the possibility of a Fifa football title that lets you change your team formation or buy new players via your mobile.
The possibilities are fascinating and Unangst sees harnessing this functionality in innovative ways as a key aim going forward. “The phone isn’t just a passive viewer it can participate, I can touch the display and send data directly to the console – these screens are truly connected. There are more creative minds than mine thinking, ‘wow. I have a whole new range of toys to play with!’（source:guardian）