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Fri, Jul 02, 2004 - Page 12 News List

Playing on the move is getting easier

GAMES ON THE RUN Not all developers are stuck in the past. Some forms of imaginative and useful mobile entertainment are on the way -- at least in the UK


Is mobile entertainment stuck in a rut? You would think so looking at the latest mobile gaming chart compiled by the European Leisure Software Publishers Association (ELSPA). For the second month, this new guide to the most regularly downloaded Java applications is dominated by conversions of ancient coin-operated games such as Space Invaders and Pac-Man. It seems the industry is unable -- or unwilling -- to challenge the nostalgic tastes of the average phone user.

Fortunately, a few developers are trying to provide more up-to-date entertainment. Bluetooth two-player modes are an interesting example. Macrospace's excellent shooter "Fatal Force" and Kuju's well-timed "Pat Cash Tennis" allow owners of Nokia 6600 and 6230 handsets to play against each other over a distance of about 10m. Two more titles, Morpheme's crazy golf sim "Micro Golf" and Acclaim's street car racer "Juiced," are due in the summer.

This month should also see an innovative GPRS multiplayer gaming platform developed by US company Kayak. The launch title -- a new version of Iomo's best-selling "Pub Pool" -- will allow gamers to challenge each other, wherever they are and whatever network they're on. Kayak is hatching plans for a huge multiplayer game along the lines of PC phenomenon Everquest.

Java application producers are also branching out to provide a wider array of services. British developer Player X has launched a range of Java phrase guides in association with travel publisher Berlitz. Six European languages are offered and for each there are five themed guides covering subjects such as "Eating Out" and "Chat-up Lines." Where's the entertainment value? The Series 60 version speaks many of the phrases for you, so just select what you want to say, then hold the phone up. The guides will be rolled out this month through all the major operators and can be downloaded for around ?4.50 each in the UK.

Social entertainment applications are also on the rise. Saw-You, a small UK company, has launched Weemee, an "avatar community" package allowing mobile phone and Internet users to create mini-cartoon versions of themselves to accompany multimedia messaging (MMS) and instant messages.

The service has quickly evolved -- there are more than 2.5 million users in the UK, and people use Weemee to identify preferred locations such as pubs and clubs. For example, if you are in an unfamiliar town and want to know if a bar is any good, enter the name and location at Saw-You's wireless application protocol (WAP) site. If any members have "tagged" it as a favorite haunt, you will be able to instant message them for details.

Your mobile phone could also soon be used as an instant dating tool. A German programmer claims to be beta-testing an application for Bluetooth handsets that lets people input details about themselves and their perfect partners, which are then permanently transmitted from their phones. Whenever two users with similar likes and dislikes wander within Bluetooth range of each other, their handsets swap contact details -- and photos. It's essentially a more developed take on the Bluejacking craze. The potentially messy privacy issues it raises, however, could prevent its appearance on major networks.

The mobile-entertainment industry may soon be forced to move away from the cash cow of classic arcade ports. Emame, a mobile version of the legendary Multi-Arcade Machine Emulator (Mame), has been converted for use on Series 60 phones by a coder, Staffan Ulfberg.

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