Adrian Sack talks faster than many people--native English speakers and nonnative English speakers alike--are capable of listening to. Even so, you really don't want to miss anything he has to say, because if you take your ears off of Mr. Sack for one second--or neglect to watch what his company Ideaworks3D is up to--you're liable to miss a revolutionary development in mobile gaming.
The British firm has earned its reputation as a bleeding-edge repository of technical talent by cooking up a number of mobile's best-known back-end advances and middleware solutions. The feathers already in Ideaworks3D's cap include their proprietary Airplay technology, which presently enables Nokia's N-Gage Arena, and the Segundo3D graphics codec that shrunk Tony Hawk and Tomb Raider down to MMC size. Sack, however, would prefer it if Ideaworks3D was known for more than being a bits-and-bytes brain trust. In fact, when Sack was building his company, he didn't necessarily seek out the best tech minds he could find. According to Sack, "You've got to have unconventional thinking in mobile gaming. It's an industry where you're getting a new fusion of technology and creativity. We've turned away the best programmers we've ever seen in favor of guys who are fantastic technically but are also creative and understand the industry. We hire Renaissance men."
One such hire was the engineer who built Ideaworks3D's compression engine. Sack explained, "He can actually draw quite well, as he has a fine arts background." Furthermore, Sack believes that the technical foundation is the true key to mobile gaming, because content creation is severely limited by storage and transmission parameters, so the more game you can squeeze into the small space provided, the better. The proof is in the N-Gage pudding. So far, Ideaworks3D has managed to knock the 40MB Tomb Raider down to 5.7MB; it has completed a Tony Hawk port in 18 days; and wit ill soon encapsulate a 60MB GBA ROM (The Sims Bustin' Out) in 8MB. "Nokia told us we were dead," laughs Sack. "They told us it couldn't be done. But we went out and did it."
Another large swell on Ideaworks3D's radar is, appropriately enough, 3D mobile gaming. At this year's 3GSM, the company announced an agreement with ARM to develop 3D-acceleration software solutions for the microprocessor concern's upcoming mobile chipset. Sack says that ARM is an excellent place to start, because their chips already run a huge number of handsets worldwide. However, Ideawork3D also expects to work with rival graphics hardware companies ATI and Nvidia. Sack said, "You don't only support one graphics card if you're a PC developer." He also believes that mass-market 3D gaming is still two to three years in the future and that consumers won't mind the wait. "Mobile doesn't really need 3D; it needs the network community experience. 3D isn't really that exciting. After all, you can already do it on [Nokia's] Series 60 platform. Good games are about good games--not about 3D. You either innovate or you just do JAMDAT bowling all over again." Regardless of Sack's stance, the screens he provided of an accelerated QVGA Tony Hawk running at 60 frames per second should pique the interests of most mobile gamers.
Equally exciting is Ideaworks3D's upcoming original mobile title, slated to be announced in the near future. Sack won't reveal any of the game's substantive details, but his talk of its multiplayer prowess is tantalizing: "It'll be our first original game, and it will take the notion of what you can do over wireless networks to the next level. If Tony Hawk was a 2x in terms of its multiplayer capability, this game is a 10x." A development budget of well over a million dollars raises the stakes higher still. Judging from what we've come to expect from Sack and Ideaworks3D so far, the mobile gaming community would be well served to brace itself for another quantum leap.