In January, GDC Mobile organizers and sponsor Nvidia sent out an invitation to mobile developers and publishers, to submit their works to a pending trial by jury and audience opinion. From the entries they would select "twelve to fifteen" finalists, each of which would be granted a mere three minutes to plead its case in public.
On Monday afternoon, that trial played out amidst a blur of booze and noisemakers, with the occasional catcall thrown in for good measure. Co-host Matthew Bellows apologized up-front for only selecting fifteen finalists, citing time concerns. After repeatedly assuring that everyone had enough beer to drink, Bellows explained the setup: in turn, each developer would explain to the audience what made his or her game so innovative; if he or she went on too long, the audience would razz him or her by flapping its noisemakers. The audience showed immediate enthusiasm for this plan.
Following the presentation, five judges would present their scores, out of five, in a manner similar to Olympic skating. Representing a fair spread of perspectives, those judges were Sprint Nextel's project manager of games, Joe Ariganello; Orange France head of mobile marketing J?r?me Le Feuvre, SK Telecom head of games Yong Bo Cho, IGN Wireless editor Levi Buchanan, and Khronos Group president Neil Travett. Travett was also on hand to present a series of prizes to the competition winners.
First on the block was Ding Ye's Barcode Battler, a trading card game in which the cards are generated from barcode data captured by a phone camera. Cards are then put into battle or traded over the network. Ye painted the game as particularly innovative in its marketing potential, as cards could be linked with real-world products, and the game could likewise be linked to new product launches. The verdict Michael Schade of Fishlabs Entertainment showed off the battle portion of an "3D fantasy RPG" called Blades & Magic; the bulk of his presentation consisted of an extended battle against a foe that did not seem intent on dying. The judges rated the game. "Needs to be more differentiated, I think," Bellows commented.
Lee Dowthwaite followed by showing his "Sudoku meets Tetris" puzzle game, Decimate. The goal, as he described it, was to alter the number on an uncontrollably falling block, such that when it lands it and the numbers on the blocks horizontally or vertically proximate add to ten. When Dowthwaite began to speak of demographics and casual gaming, the audience showed its first signs of impatience, letting loose the sound of several dozen rattlesnakes.
Next up was the only popular license of the ceremony, in the form of Machineworks' Duke Nukem Arena. Andreas Vasen initially impressed the audience with promises of user mod-ability and multiplayer matches, then lost in the home stretch with what seemed an interminable wait to join an ongoing game. The audience began to flick its noisemakers, then to laugh, then to count down with the on-screen timer, a hint of mockery in its voice. Though Vasen did connect in the end, he was left with mere seconds to play. The judges handed him one of them commented "I'd already be at my bus by the time I got my match."
Gainers N' Drainers was next, not so much a game as a novel application that its designer, Jacob Sparre Andersen, felt lent itself to users making up their own real-life games based around it. The program detects bluetooth signals in the user's immediate vicinity, then plots them on an old-fashioned radar display. As the user or bluetooth emitters move, so do the relative positions on the radar. The audience was by this point aggressively impatient; Anderson deferred, initially promising to move faster then suddenly ceasing his speech to give an active demonstration. In conclusion, Anderson explained, "It's a way to play by making your own rules. People who don't know they're in the game are pieces in the game." The judges were fairly impressed.
About his game, Llama Country, Stuart Duncan claimed it was "based on the Academy Award-nominated motion picture this year, The Departed... oh wait, no it's not." Rather, it was a game about brothers who speak in verse, acquire deadly weapons, and enter an arms race in which everyone loses. The game consists of a pen containing a llama, a weapon, and the player's avatar; the player uses the weapon to destroy the wall around the opponent's pen, such that a rustler might enter and shave the opponent's llama. The judges were generally indifferen.
Robert Murray's demonstration of Mega Monsters began with a parody of the infamous Mac/PC ads, to which the audience expressed its impatience. The game was essentially an isometric Rampage, rendered in well-animated 3D and controlled with a stylus. The official reaction was the best to date.
Next up, Prehistoric Fun Park was Roller Coaster Tycoon with dinosaurs. Its presenter, Boris Karpichev, was a little flustered at the audience's now-rhythmic thwapping sounds. A fast-paced video somewhat made up for the dullness of discussing crowd management. As the judges unveiled their scores some audience members began to chant "Two! Two!"; when the final card was upturned, there was much cheering.
Nino Ceraolo's SiL was the simplest and perhaps the most clever of the bunch, a shape-matching game somewhat reminiscent of portions from Wario Ware on the Nintendo Wii. The user is given a 3D model to manipulate until it fits a given silhouette. Ceraolo explained that it was scalable to any resolution, and that it runs on practically any mobile hardware. The judges responded well commenting, "I really think that's the kind of game that casual gaming's all about."
Allen Lee set up his game, Super Boom Boom, by defining how to innovate in a mobile game: "No more three or four-in-a-row; no more line breaking or color matching." He then stressed the importance of "eye candy", simple and compulsive game play, an involving story mode, and "fun". The game involves keeping a bomb aloft through simple movements. Both the audience and judges were entertained. When asked for comment, one of the judges replied "I liked it. It's pretty good." "That's deep," replied co-host David Collier.
Jami Laes of Digital Chocolate cited global warming, Katamari Damacy, and Rampage (again) amongst his inspirations for Tornado Mania! ? a game which involves feeding a whirlwind on smaller buildings and errata until it grows large enough to demolish whole cities. Despite an impatient audience, the judges handed the game a tie with SiL for the highest score. In a follow-up to the previous set of comments, one judge exclaimed "Dude, you seriously have to play this game. It's effin' amazing!"
Wilhelm Taht described Turbo Camels: Circus Extreme as an action platformer with a ragdoll engine; in fact, it seems more like a cross between Scorched Earth and a pachinko table, with animation straight out of Earnest Evans.
Marta Vieira made a firm point that three of the characters in Wall Street Fighter ? a 2D fighting game in which the player claws his or her way to the top of the business world ? are women. The game allows online and offline battles, and offers localized rankings based on the geographical location of the phone.
Although Zeetoo's ZeeWalls is simply an Arkanoid clone, it ships with a bluetooth analog joystick ? dubbed the Zeemote. As he ranted about the product, Rob Podoloff began to shout louder and louder about "true gaming experiences", and how the Zeemote made every other game better. The audience began to boo. The judges were generally impressed with some reservations. On the one hand, "we have to think about gaming on the iPhone, which has no keyboard"; on the other, some wanted more practical reason to tote an external joystick around.
In the end, SiL and Tornado Mania! split the bounty ? consisting in part of the prize sculpture, a trip to GDC 2008, "a whole bunch of money", and far too much beer. Of the audience's five apparent favorites ? Mega Monster, SiL, Super Boom Boom, Tornado Mania!, and Wall Street Fighter ? SiL was determined the winner, for a second and similar suite of awards.