Interview

Lack of UDK and Unity support for Windows Phone is a 'serious handicap' says Critical Thought's David Whatley

Lack of UDK and Unity support for Windows Phone is a 'serious handicap' says Critical Thought's David Whatley
It may not boast a userbase anything like the size of Apple's, but in terms of features, consumers running the new Mango version of Windows Phone have little reason to be jealous of their iOS 5-powered fellows.

That's according to Critical Thought Games' president David Whatley.

The US studio has worked on both platforms and, from a user's perspective, Whatley sees very little difference between Apple and Microsoft's mobile OSes.

For developers, however, it's a different story, with Microsoft's hold over the platform restricting the use of tools that studios are allowed to use.

We tackled Whatley for his take on why - Mango's strengths aside - Windows Phone still has ground aplenty to make up.

Pocket Gamer: Mango adds multitasking to the platform for the first time. Was this a feature you'd been looking for?

David Whatley: Prior to Mango, games could save and restore their state - in fact geoDefense did this.

What Mango really brings to the table is that, usually the app is not terminated when it is put into the background, it's just suspended. So, when switching back, the game will proceed without any delay reloading or restoring.

It's smooth, and the UI for app switching is even superior to the same thing on iOS - it really is fast.

Have you re-coded any titles to take advantage of Mango?

I'm working on updated geoDefense now to support the major applicable Mango features. It will support 60fps [pre-Mango, Windows Phone was restricted to 30fps], fast app switching and live tiles.

With live tiles, if you pin the app tile to the front page, it'll flip over and show stats about the game. Plus, you can also pin a particular level to the front page to act as a quick jump to that level. iOS doesn't have anything like this.

What's your take on the platform's overall performance so far?

My understanding is that geoDefense is a top five title in Windows Phone Marketplace and it's exciting to be part of a new and growing platform.

Obviously, Windows Phone's market presence is in its early stages compared to iOS and Android, but I have to commend Microsoft for its decision to adopt a fresh and original approach rather than trying to rip off Apple like others have been accused of – see Steve Jobs' biography for details.

What do you make of Nokia's first two devices - the Lumia 800 in particular? Will it change Windows Phone's standing in the market?

Next time you are in shop with a friend, go to the mobile phone section and ask them to point out the Windows Phones. Odds are, they couldn't do it.

I've always said that Microsoft needs to solve this problem and I think Nokia's initial efforts are a definitive step in that direction. I'm anxious to get my hands on a Lumia 800 - if it can stand out in a sea of me-too black plastic bricks, it'll really have something.

How do you think Mango compares to the likes of iOS 5 or Ice Cream Sandwich?

From a developer standpoint, Mango is much more like iOS than Android. It has a unified environment, solid hardware minimum specifications, great tools, and solid frameworks that have been in development for years.

From a user perspective, in theory it's a bit unfair to compare something as new as Windows Phone to the latest and greatest from Apple, but then again, I'd say it actually compares fairly well.

The UI is slick, fluid and features clever approaches that cater for what people actually want to do with their devices. The marketplace, too, is solid and well implemented.

Is there anything missing from Mango from a game development perspective?

I think iOS's AirPlay Mirroring shows that the future of mobile devices is likely to overlap with the console market. It is simply a matter of time before they replace them entirely.

In the meantime, I'd like to see improvements in the Xbox Live feature set, particularly in regards to global leaderboards.

But, beyond that, the real missing element for game developers is the lack of triple-A gaming engines. Because of Microsoft's closed system there is no representation from Unreal Development Kit or Unity 3D. This is a serious handicap to a platform that aspires to be a gaming platform the equal of iOS.
Thanks to David for his time.You can find out more about Critical Thought Games on the studio's website.

With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font.

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