Palm hand-helds have been games machines from way back. They’ve come a long way from the early days of pixelated black-and-white (well, black-and-green :)). The latest Palms are capable of real-time, sophisticated graphics. They’re about to take another major step forward with the upcoming release of Unreal Tournament for Palm by Atari.
The story began almost a year ago when PalmSource began working on what was to become the Cobalt operating system. With the influx of programmers from BeOS, PalmSource was able to turn out a very compact, but powerful graphics rendering sub-system. Late last year, PalmSource began looking for a few companies that would really show their rendering software off. At the same time, Atari was looking for a platform to enter into hand-held gaming in a big way.
“We looked at Pocket PC for about two days.” said Brock Sallis, head of the Unreal Tournament PPC development team. “We thought, maybe, because the code for Unreal Tournament 2004 was written for Windows. Unfortunately, there were just too many variables. Because the system allows anything to multi-task, our program could be slowed considerably by having the calendar, word processor, e-book reader, and browser up at the same time. We didn’t have that problem with the Palm OS. With Cobalt, we don’t have to give up our clock cycles to anybody!”
“Once we chose the Palm platform, the big issue was graphics speed.” said Malcom Everedge, rendering specialist. “We’re used to using GHz clock speed processors and high-power graphics accellerators. Fortunately, the high-end devices from Sony and others are coming with graphics accelleration built in. We’re using a subset of the rendering engine that runs on the PC, but it’s actually a fairly complete subset. We’re getting frame rates of 23 to 29 frames per second on a 480x320screen. The video in this game will knock your socks off!”
“The other issue was the controls.” added Lauren McGovern, hardware interface programmer. “If you don’t have one of the little keyboards built in, there just aren’t enough buttons to make it work. We triedcreating an on-screen panel with most of the controls on it. Unfortunately, it covered too much of the screen to be useful. What we ended up doing was keeping the keyboard interface, in case the user has a keyboard built in or attached. That way we can still use the full screen for the game images.”
You can find more information about Unreal Tournament on the Atari web site. All screen shots are courtesy of Atari.