Fewer Palm Games More Pocket PC

Maya Rozenshein of Palm Addicts makes several excellent observations in her post in regards to fewer Palm games being developed versus the number of Pocket PC games. To add to her post I thought I would give a brief developers point of view. My team creates both Palm and Pocket PC applications, although the majority of our games are on the Palm. Lets compare Palm and Pocket PC development.

Graphics

  • Palms started out with 4-bit, then added 8-bit, and finally 16-bit support. And is available in 160×160, 320×320, or 320×480 resolutions. Along the way color was added, crudely first then better in OS 5.x. For games to look great you need to customize the art for color and non-color devices. To further improve the art you should also redo it for 160×160, and 320×320. The Palm wants the art in a unique format. The tools for converting the art to work on the Palm are still very crude and cannot be larger than 64K. Yes, 64K! Most of the top game developers have had to develop their own game engine to run onto of the Palm OS to break away from these limits. Creating your own engine means maintenance for each new device releases and each iterations of the OS. Although, Palm works really hard to keep things backward compatible.
  • Pocket PCs on the other hand have predominately been 16-bit, do not have a 64K limit, and easily support PNG, BMP, JPEG, etc formats. Plus Microsoft posts code to help developers use art in their games.

Sound

  • Palms had limited sound support and to this day does not natively support WAVE or MP3 files. By natively, I mean that game developers have to convert the files to a special format for them to play. And sounds are also limited to 64K.
  • Pocket PCs easily run WAVE and MP3 files. Which means no extra steps for my team.

Message Boxes

  • Palm font support is very limited. To improve readability game developers often have to create their own fonts.
  • Pocket PCs are OK on fonts, offering a few more sizes.

Programming

  • Palms are straight forward to program for. Engineers coming from a Mac background usually have an easier time. However, developer tools are limited.
  • Pocket PC has Microsoft behind it, and they update and offer new tools frequently including newer compilers. I will say, until Windows Mobile 2003 came out, it was much harder to develop for the Pocket PC. Many of these tools though are very expensive. Microsoft Pocket PC development environment is similar enough to PC development makinf the transition for PC engineers easy.

Compatibility

  • Palms really excel here. We’ve found most of the issues are differences between 4.x and 5.x. Button / Key mapping are inconsistent across some devices.
  • Pocket PCs started out well enough but with new resolutions being announced regularly it will be an added expense to keep up

In my opinion, it is getting easier and easier for Window Mobile developers to create games, while the Palm game developers have several hoops to jump through. So why develop for the Palm? Easy to answer, the screens are beautiful, the devices are fantastic, and the community is loyal and enthusiastic. I am optimistic that Palm and Access will update the tools and improve support for the engineers. But it is easy to notice that there are fewer and fewer Palm games being released compared to 1 – 2 years ago. Also, my team and I enjoy developing for the Pocket PC. The newer devices with 640 x 480 resolution are stunning but expensive.

Best of 2005 Lists

I love end-of-year ‘best of’ lists. There is something fun about seeing the top products in an easy to read list with explanations on why they are the best. I use these lists to buy end of year products or to find holiday gifts for friends and family. Since most software can be tried before purchases I will often try the recommended software to see if it is better than what I currently have. Last year I switched from Norton Anitvirus to PC-cillin based upon an end of year list. This morning, one of my favorite sites Geek.com, and one of my favorite writers Matt Miller, presented his list. I especially like his list because although he is a techy, he shares his computer with his wife and kids, which means the software he purchases and recommends has to be really great and practical. Also, his list is not limited to software, he includes headsets, chargers, furniture, travel bags and more. And if he recommends it, you know he is using it. You can find his list here. I’ve added Geek.com to my list of links so you can always find it by visiting my blog.

Old or New Games

I was recently asked if I prefer to redo old games or create only new one. When designing a new game I look at old PC games, board games, arcade games, sports, etc. for inspiration. I’ve released Farkle and Triples, both based on older games but reinterpreted for the Palm and Pocket PC. I gave them a new twist by adding additional strategies. My two original games, Word Watch and WordPop! were both inspired by older games that I think did not go far enough or offered limited replayability. WordPop! was actually thought of after I was playing a math game. I liked some of the strategies and believed they could translate to a word game. I am interested in creating games that have several strategies whether they are original or based upon an older game. I still feel challenged and motivated by both scenarios.

How are inspired? Would you rather play old games or try new ones? Drop me line as I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Traveling with a PDA Part 2

I find using the built-in camera on the Zire 72 one of the most convenient features when I am traveling. I always have my Palm with me which means I will always have a camera handy. The snap shots are 1.2 mega-pixels which works great for me. The quality is perfect for a quick capture of people, places, and events that I want to remember. Plus the Palm has the added feature of letting me add notes to the picture for future reference. Since my Palm is already setup to synchronize with my computer no additional steps are needed to copy the pictures from my Palm to my computer. After synchronizing, I review the pictures, organizing the ones I want deleting the ones I don’t like.

Here are three samples of pictures I took. The first is of a great vegetarian friendly restaurant near Bath, Maine. Their yam salad was worth the detour. The next is of a Civil War memorial. Many of the towns I have visited have these which lists the name of fallen soldiers from that town and surrounding areas. After seeing several memorials you really take to heart how widely the Civil War effected these areas and the country. With the population significantly less over 100 years ago I can’t help but to think how many people must have known these men before they died. The last picture is of Camden taken from Mount Beddie. The fall colors are beautiful and the coast line is stunning.

Traveling with a PDA Part 1

What’s it like traveling with a PDA? How can it add to your experience? Over the next few days while I am traveling in Maine, USA I will be posting my experiences and observations. I am using a Palm Zire 72. My original idea was to connect to my blog using my bluetooth Ericsson phone but I had some problems with setting up GPS with AT&T. I am switching to Cingular in a few months as they claim this will resolve my problems. I am optimistic that it will. In the mean time I am posting using my laptop using my travel cable that I purchased for the trip.


If you have not used a travel cable before I highly recommend trying one out. Not only does it connect my Zire to my computer but it also uses the USB port to charge it, making one less charger to pack. It has worked flawlessly. You can buy some pretty nice retractable versions from companies like Proporta.