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Do Multi-Core CPUs And Extra RAM Make A Difference?

Tom's Hardware Interviews Four Android And iOS Game Developers
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Tom's Hardware: At Mobile World Congress 2012, both Intel and Qualcomm stressed that multi-core architecture should not be the focus for end-users, saying more cores are not always better. That discussion revolved around the minimum hardware specs necessary to deliver a smooth smartphone and tablet experience, largely ignoring what it takes to enable compelling mobile gaming.

What is your take on the different hardware platforms for mobile gaming? Is it better to go with a quad-core CPU over a dual-core processor running faster, or is the GPU more important?

Fishlabs: For us, multi-core CPUs aren’t that important at the moment because our games are currently all GPU-bound and not CPU-bound. However, this might change in the future when more physics-driven gameplay makes its way into mobile. But right now, we’re not racking our brains about CPU-related matters, such as thread management or more elaborate in-game physics.

Madfinger: We support multi-core SoCs. For example, with Tegra 3 we are able to take advantage of each available core to deliver smoother performance. On the other hand, problems do occur when a device has only a few cores but a faster GPU. Of course, we would be ecstatic if all devices had the same number of cores, running at the same speed and resolution. It would make programming a whole lot easier. Unfortunately, this is simply not going to happen.

Mediocre: We designed Sprinkle to use multiple cores from the beginning. The fluid simulation runs in parallel with game logic and rendering. On Tegra 3, we also added smoke simulation on a separate thread, so it actually uses all four cores. For most purposes, I think a fast dual-core processor is better than a lower clocked quad-core chip—but that depends only on the mindset of programmers. If we want to move forward it is inevitable to go more parallel, so I would like to advocate quad-core and beyond. It is just something those of us on the software side will have to master.

Vector Unit: I do not really see more cores—at least more than four—as the direction the industry needs to go. For games, it is all about improving graphics performance and keeping the power profile as small as possible. We do use multi-threading extensively throughout our games. For example, in Riptide GP, we might have water physics calculations running on one core, rigid body physics and AI on another core, and so on.

Tom's Hardware: Many of the mobile games available today on iOS, Android, and WP7 still look like something out of the Super Nintendo era, with cartoonish characters, chunky 3D textures, and minimal anti-aliasing. However, we have also seen a few mobile games that deliver impressive quality almost matching PC games like World of Warcraft: Cataclysm. Do local memory constraints of today's mobile devices hamper your ability to provide a top-quality gaming experience? What can you do to mitigate the performance impact of insufficient RAM? Is it simply a matter of reducing image detail?

Galaxy of Fire 2 HDGalaxy of Fire 2 HD

Fishlabs: State-of-the-art 3D graphics and console-quality visuals are absolutely crucial to Fishlabs and hence we’ll always try our very best to take full advantage of the latest generation of mobile devices’ ever-growing hardware capabilities and make our games look as stunning as possible. Thanks to elaborate 3D models, hi-res textures and sophisticated OpenGL 2.0 shaders, the graphics of the A5-optimized Galaxy on Fire 2 HD for iPhone 4S and iPad 2 do already come pretty close to those of today’s leading PC or console titles. And we still haven’t reached our peak yet. Due to its extremely short innovation cycles, mobile is developing and progressing way faster than any other gaming platform in the world. And the more complex and ambitious mobile games become, the more important it will be for the respective devices to be well-equipped in terms of RAM. At the moment, Galaxy on Fire 2 HD does still run pretty smoothly with as little as 256 MB of RAM. But once we’ve launch Galaxy of Fire 3, this will surely change and greater RAM availability will be all the more necessary.

Madfinger: We are trying hard to provide the best gaming experience possible—regardless of device—whether it is iPhone 3G, iPad, or Tegra 3. In our experience, it is definitely not about scaling down details. That is the wrong approach. A good game developer must always find a way to provide excellent quality and performance—even if there are RAM and other hardware limitations. Developers must discover new pipelines or techniques to deal with limits, yet achieve good results. We hope that, with Shadowgun and Samurai, we proved it is possible.

Mediocre: When it comes to memory, most modern phones already have more than the current-generation gaming consoles, so I do not see that as a problem at all. GPUs are still one or two generations apart, but there is not much stopping us from doing console-quality games on mobile platforms today. I think the casual gaming genre has developed its own aesthetics of sorts, and casual gamers are seeking mobile games that have a particular look. I am hoping for that to change, since there is no reason that casual mobile games could not benefit from the cool graphics and top-notch visual effects of console games.

Vector Unit: RAM is not the limiting issue, at least not for us. For the kinds of effects that people associate with next-gen console hardware (stuff like real-time shadows, normal mapping, and anti-aliasing) you need fill rate. Lots and lots of fill rate. I am confident mobile hardware will deliver the kinds of 3D graphics experiences that you see on consoles today before very long. But it may still be a couple of years out.

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