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Games FAQ: JadeDragon's Game Corner
- by JadeDragon

FAQ Topics:
1. Can your Pocket PC be a Gameboy?

2. Why do some games Pocket PC look better than others?

3. What's an RPG?

4. What's an RTS game?

5. What's AI got to do with games?

1. Can a Pocket PC be a Game Boy?
Technically, yes. But did you forget that Pocket PC does your spreadsheets and keeps your address book? Of course, you forgot about that for a second since you are thinking only about playing games on it.

Pocket PC and Game Boy Advance (GBA) have somewhat similar processor speed, memory capacity and graphic processor. In fact, Pocket PC 2002 PDAs are more powerful than GBA because the current processor is faster than GBA's processor, and the memory is much larger. That's the technical reason.

As far as games go, Pocket PC game developers are doing a fantastic job of creating new games and porting existing games to Pocket PCs. Some of the game titles on Pocket PC are just as long and complex, the graphics are just as beautiful with some great special effects; the sound tracks are just as sweet as the games on GBA. The raw number of titles on GBA is larger than Pocket PCs right now because GBA's got a head start and it's solely a game platform. But Pocket PC titles are growing very fast. Heck, we've even got games like Rayman for Pocket PC. Another nice thing about Pocket PC is the ability to extend the game play by downloading add-on levels/mission/packs. Many Pocket PC game developers offer additional levels at a very cheap price or free or charge soon after the original game release. Some even offer code for everyone to create their own levels or packs. GBA does not have this freedom. If you like the first game, you will have to wait for the sequel and pay just as much money as you did the first game.

What's really going to be exciting is the upcoming Xscale processor and the new graphic processors that will make Pocket PC game developers jump for joy! The performance of Xscale processor will surely surpass what current GBA has to offer. My prediction is that you will see more and more GBA game developers and publishers release titles either written natively for Pocket PC or port GBA games to Pocket PC.

After your heart stops pitter-pattering with the excitement, remember you still can do your spreadsheets and emails with your Pocket PC. Some people do worry about using too much space on their Pocket PC to play games. Well, CompactFlash and SD memory expansion cards can help you with that problem. The vast majority of Pocket PC games can run off of a CF card without any noticeable slow down on performance.

2. On Pocket PC, there are some really good looking 3D Action games and some not-so-great looking games. Does it have anything to do with frames per second rate?

This is a question that will need the whole FAQ dedicated to it! The real motion pictures and TV are usually moving at 30 frames per second. On handhelds, there are more issues than just showing 30 fps. First of all, there is the speed of processor and memory bandwidth. For example, the upcoming Xscale processor for Pocket PC will boost processor speed to a maximum of 400 MHz compare to the StrongARM processor which runs at 206 MHz. But it probably won't matter as much because the 3D rendering depends a lot on the graphic processor and memory bandwidth. Since it seems that the memory bandwidth won't increase just yet in the new XScale Pocket PCs, the frame rate count will not change dramatically. If the manufacturer incorporates a more sophisticated graphic processor, then frame rate performance will improve. HP in fact, had designed the cancelled 570 Jornada Xscale Pocket PC with a new ATI graphics chip. Likely this chip will make it into coming versions of iPAQs. But the larger data cache in the new Xscale will only help somewhat, if at all.

So, does it mean if I can run a game that has 1000 fps, then I should get a supper 3D graphics, right? Not really. First of all, there is no need, nor is it possible to run a 3D game at 1000 fps. When we talk about the frame rates in Pocket PC games, we are usually talking about the average. You might have noticed when you play an action-intensive game that it sometimes slows down when it comes to the heavy action part. You can play 30 fps in a light action game sequence, and below 20 fps in the intense game sequence, as if the Pocket PC can draw the polygon fast enough. This relates to the LCD rate and what's requires to fool the human eye.

It will take about 100 ms to change a pixel and a graphic frame could have 10 thousand pixels. So if a game generates very high frames at a rather high speed, the LCD has to be able to not only making the pictures but also switch each pixel to change the pictures at a very high speed. What does it mean? It means you might not get 30 fps or higher, depending upon the LCD's ability. But your typical PC's CRT monitor does not have this problem. But the Pocket PC programmers can do some tricky things to make the game look more real and not bumpy, like using screen updates to its advantage; or run the game fast, but draw slower on the screen. A fast moving game with great graphics is a sure sign of a game programmer who knows many tricks in this area.

I know some action gamers won't play a game that has slower than 60 fps (especially those multiplayer game lovers, who can't stand the thought that their opponent plays at higher speed than they do); others could care less as long as the game looks great. Most people would like to have an option to choose how fast or slow they want the game speed. As for me, I'm with the latter. As long as I don't sacrifice the gaming experience, I don't always pull my stopwatch out.


3.What is an RPG game?

Often gamers regard a game that has a linear quest structure with melee fighting and spell fighting to gain experience levels an Role Playing Game. Good examples of RPG in this traditional sense are Aldon's Crossing and Kyle's Quest 2 for Palm.

But when you think about it, isn't every game an RPG? When you play spot games you assume the role of a basketball player or a tennis player; when you play flight-shooter game you are a top-gun pilot who's got missions to accomplish. As you can see, the definition process of an RPG game could get very sticky. On top of that, there are many games are hybrids out there just to confuse you.

So I will keep the traditional definition of RPG, and scratch my head every time I see a game pushes the RPG envelop and decide which category it belongs. Typically when I see words like Maps (for characters to explore and fight along the way), NPCs ( non-playable characters), Spells (used often by Mages, Witches, Priests) and Shops (where characters can buy/sell their weapons, armor, potions and special items), I'm usually pretty sure it's an RPG game.

4.What is an RTS game?

Real Time Strategy games became popular at around 1999. Have you played a game called Starcraft on PC? How about Command & Conquer or Total Annihilation? Well, those are the grandfathers of RTS. In fact Starcraft was so popular that phrases like Terrain Strategies, Mental Strategies became not only a buzz word for RTS games also modules to build RTS games after.

What also helped RTS was the real time gaming that changed the turn-based strategy into a real time strategy. By the time Jagged Alliance 2 came out, the real time gaming has

become the theme of modern games. You still need to think about tactics, knowledge of weapons, environments, only now you will have to think in real time.

The next step in the RTS evolution is the advancement in the graphic engines. Look at Warzone 2100, look at Warcraft III, anyone who laid an eye on the graphics at an online store will be attracted to the beautifully designed stylish 3D graphics that make RTS games look like Fantasy games. Just when you think this can't get any better, LucasArts came out with its Star War games and SSI came out with Warlords Battlecry.

In just a couple of years, the AI engines have gotten so powerful in RTS games that you would not only see tank fights or flyer fights, but an army of warriors or fleet campaigns in a real time battles in an epic scale with multiplayer capability. Games like Sacrifice, Emperor: Battle for Dune, Highland Warriors, Kohan became popular RTS titles.

In the handheld world, RTS is still in the infant stage. But don't be fooled, it only took one year for the PC RTS genre to flourish.

5.What is this AI thing in games?

You mean Artificial Intelligence? Well, when the computer itself is an AI product, I would say that AI exists in all the games. But often AI in gaming world means the computer's intelligence in reaction to a human action. For example, in Chess games, you are playing a computer who can play the game of Chess as well as you do, and often better. The game developers can use certain game design to deploy different kinds or levels of AI in reaction to your level of game play. Another example, in RTS, AI can determine how easy or how hard for you to find the path or how powerful the weapons are, etc. A good game developer can use AI to pace the game in whichever way he wants and create many interesting things to keep the game fun for the gamers. In a way, AI is the heart and soul of a computer game.



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