The mobile classic Snake was a technological marvel in the 1990s. It’s hard to believe now, but at one time, watching a tiny snake slither across a black and white (or green) LCD screen was the kind of thing people would huddle around a cell phone to see. Mobile games like “Snake” and “Tetris” were fun distractions, but had little chance at competing with dedicating gaming systems in terms of scope and production.
Mobile games today are no longer a fun distraction; they’re real games. The evolution has been slow but steady, with many of the biggest leaps in technology and game design coming during the last few years.
Pre-Installed Games and Camera Phones
As mobile phone technology became more advanced throughout the late 1990′s, several phones by Nokia and a few others came with built-in games. These games were generally limited in terms of graphics, sound and gameplay, but not quite as primitive as the original Nokia versions of Snake. They were simple puzzle games like Memory and Rotation, and 2-player variations of Snake.
What really drove the mobile game scene was the market. Not only did cell phones become more affordable, but pre-installed cameras made them that much more popular in the early 2000s. Namco released an innovative fighting game for mobile phones in 2003, utilizing the greater graphic capabilities and camera feature to create in-game characters based on photographs taken of the player.
This era also saw some flops, like the Nokia N-Gage, which aimed to be a hybrid phone and gaming console. Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance, with its full color graphics and long list of games, was dominating the hand-held gaming scene, which meant imminent failure for the N-Gage. This era also introduced the first augmented-reality games, by incorporating the photographic functions of the phone with digital pets that would eat food that the user would photograph.
Today’s Mobile Market
The developers of Snake never imagined a world where the phone is a constant human companion. The iPhone, Android and new Blackberry 10 are not only phones, GPS devices and appointment trackers for people, but also serve as portable entertainment. One of the more exciting developments in mobile gaming, according to Wired is the push into augmented reality. Games like Ingress, which seamlessly blur the line between the game world and the real world, rely on GPS location and real-life action in order to progress further in the game.
Mobile-enabled social gaming is also a big portion of the industry, with games like Mafia Wars and Farmville dominating on Facebook, notes GameInformer.com.
A Glimpse of the Future
There are a number different opinions as to the future of mobile gaming. Some of the more extreme views suggest that the days of traditional mobile gaming may be numbered. Atari founder Nolan Bushnell believes Google Glass is the next big thing in portable games, according to Gamespot. (4 Michael Ludden of Samsung told Gameinformer.com that he believes its just a matter of time before mobile games can alternate between multiple screens, particularly a television.