Aug 15 AT 12:04 PM Taylor Wimberly 18 Comments

id Software demos the power of smartphone GPUs

During last week’s QuakCon 2010, John Carmack of id Software showed off a tech demo of Rage running on the iPhone 4 at 60 frames per second. The graphics looked amazing and will make most Android fans jealous, but most of the latest Android phones actually have the power to duplicate the same performance.

Inside the iPhone 4 is Apple’s A4 chip which is a 45nm 1GHz Cortex-A8 CPU believed to be matched with a PowerVR SGX535 GPU. Recent Android launches like the Droid X/2 and Galaxy S also have 45nm 1GHz Cortex-A8 CPUs and contain PowerVR SGX GPUs. Motorola is using the older SGX530, but Samsung was the first we know of to put the PowerVR SGX540 in a smartphone.

Carmack said the visuals in his Rage demo matched anything from the Playstation 2 or original XBOX. Imagination Technology, makers of the PowerVR GPU, recently said we could expect PS3 graphics in 3 years, so I’m a little surprised by what id Software has been able to acheive on current generation smartphones.

Android was actually mentioned during QuakCon 2010. Carmack said they were still “spot-surveying” the Android Market to see if it was worth supporting. He went on to explain it would not happen “this cycle”, but it would be evaluated in about six months.

So games with mind-blowing graphics are certainly possible with the latest Android phones, but the bleeding edge of software development is still taking place on the iPhone. Carmack might not be a fan of Android yet, but I have a strong feeling the next six months will change his mind.

Via: Kotaku

Source: Joystiq

Taylor is the founder of Android and Me. He resides in Dallas and carries the Samsung Galaxy S 4 and HTC One as his daily devices. Ask him a question on Twitter or Google+ and he is likely to respond. | Ethics statement

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  • http://Website Nann

    The problem with making cutting end games for Android is the variation in hardware. It’s easy to make a game for the app store and say ”this game is for iphone4 only”

    But with Android its going to be confusing. ”this game is for Droid2, Incredible, and Galaxy S if you have 2.2, or the Evo if you have 2.1 out higher, it will also work on any newer phones in 2011 as long as the manufacturer put in a 1ghz chip, check the system specs I guess, oh and your device has to have a 3.6 or larger screen and have six axis…”

    Yea :’( high end games are much less of a headache for iphone with its limited models

    • Nicko01

      I think you can limit what devices and OS’s can download an app on the Android market. Google does it with their official apps at least.

      • geniusdog254

        Congratulations, you get a cookie.

        If you define a required feature in your application manifest, like say you need an ARMv7 chip with VFP to run your native libs and you need a WVGA, you can define that, then when you publish it it’ll only show on devices that support those qualifications.

        It’s not as bad as it seems from the outside, thats for sure

        • http://www.typhon4android.org/ Mike Leahy

          Totally the tip of the iceberg.. There indeed are numerous issues with bugs in the SDK over various OS versions including major bugs in FroYo such as a broken OpenGL ES 2.x API / binding. This in addition to OEM/carrier bugs (very poor 30FPS frame rate limiting in EVO 4G for instance) along with instability in certain devices support for OpenGL ES is where the can of worms lie…

          From the inside you’ll be clawing to get out and each SDK release and of course each new device may cause problems. I’m afraid quality control has not been the highest caliber from Google to the OEMs especially so that is important to keep in mind why we are also not seeing a wealth of high quality games on Android..

          It only takes one bug / defect on a given Android OS / hardware combo to prevent 60 FPS or high frame rate games or real time apps. The problem is that this one bug barrier varies greatly across the Android ecosystem. In most combos there is one issue to overcome and sometimes it’s just impossible to do so.. :: sigh ::

      • http://Website Daniel

        This ability is quite limited, though. You may require OpenGL ES 2, for instance, but you can’t ask for minimum computational power, so you can’t release a game that runs on a PowerVR SGX530+ while blocking the Snapdragon. Similarly, you can’t tell apart phones which have full dual-touch support from those with limited support (like most HTC models). In fact, I can’t recall even being able to restrict only to those phones with multitouch support (fortunately nearly every phone has hardware-level multitouch, if not every one released so far).

    • http://plankhead.com Zacqary Adam Green

      The same issues come with making cutting edge games for the PC, so id would be right at home on Android.

    • http://Website dave

      Why would the version of Android matter? If you target phones which are comparable with the iPhone (evo, desire, droid…have I missed any) then you’ve got the hardware. The others..well, if it works on those after a fashion then that’s great too I guess. It doesn’t make sense to pitch the latest iPhone against every Android phone ever released.

      • http://Website Daniel

        Though he didn’t pick good phones for the example, his point is that it matters because the performance scenario may be very different. A certain game written in Java might perform better in a slower phone running 2.2 than on a high-end device running 2.1, simply because of the JIT. In these situations, it makes no sense to restrict your game to 2.2 if that means you neglect a big potential target audience.

  • http://Website Devesh

    Why would I want to play games on an iPhone with a 3.5 in screen and only 1 button? Sony has the right idea with the PSP + Android 3.0 phone (assuming it’s true)

    • http://Website ari-free

      yup these games whet the appetite for bigger screens and physical controls-things that Apple will never offer. Apple is more interested in showing ditzy girls in their commercials instead of some of the hot games that are out there.

  • http://www.typhon4android.org/ Mike Leahy

    @Nann – “The problem with making cutting end games for Android is the variation in hardware. It’s easy to make a game for the app store and say ”this game is for iphone4 only. Yea :’( high end games are much less of a headache for iphone with its limited models”

    Yes.. This is precisely why it’s taken me 20 months to finish up a real time app / game dev middleware platform for Android that is adaptable over the ecosystem and can respond to today’s reality, but also tomorrows. Now consider that what if the goal was to transparently create a middleware layer that runs on the desktop (J2SE) and the entire Android ecosystem of all devices without having to recode anything as this is what I’ve done and yeah it’s a bit of a challenge. Android and the varied ecosystem has been a catalyst though that caused me to have to do some major innovation with my codebase insofar that the solutions involved required next gen software architecture implementation. It’s been a very illuminating experience and I can’t wait to get all the code out to everyone (releasing as open source / open core)! I’m barreling towards the waterfall in release engineering stages right now, so it’s very exciting.. Should have some semi-public betas soon, but full public and web site launch October / November range.

    Regarding the 60 FPS claims for the Rage mobile demo I really think it’s a little bunk until I see it myself as there should be full frame fill rate issues limiting things to the 45-50 FPS range on current mobile hardware including the PowerVR SGX 535 in the iPhone 4 and most definitely the 3GS will not get 60 FPS with anything except the most trivial of content. Unfortunately the video of the QuakeCon demo is not convincing that it is indeed running at 60FPS and Carmack states that he raised some settings or something to that effect. I’ll also point out that what makes the mobile Rage tech demo look nice is that the level is indeed pretty simple (very boxy / few or no curved surfaces) and the texture and lightmapping is of very high quality. The burned in art assets are fantastic. There doesn’t seem to be all too much dynamic effects in what we see in the video demo. Basically what I’m getting at is that the engine tech doesn’t seem to be revolutionary; it’s just a pretty demo from the art asset side of things.

    The Rage mobile engine based on this demo should work fine on Android 3rd generation devices starting with the Galaxy S on up and also run adequately on 2nd generation devices which are mostly comparable to the 3GS

    @Taylor: Dude, you’re going to be in my neighborhood in SF in the next couple of days for that Adobe event. If you want a first hand demo of Auriga3D / FPS engine I’ve been working on for some time then lets grab a beer after the event. Don’t discount my efforts cause I haven’t released yet (changing that soon enough).. Quality control and long term maintenance is a priority over early release, so It’s a tough nut to crack especially with Android.

    • http://www.typhon4android.org/ Mike Leahy

      Quick little comment… Ahh.. The second video is much better even being an audience video.. All the ones I looked at before were of the same quality as the first video (not so good) and I didn’t view the second one here until after the post above. Obviously an internet video is not a good source to make any sort of comparison. I’m all for Carmack and his work and if it all indeed works at 60FPS that’s fantastic! It’s a very pretty tech demo, but I’ll be interested to see if they can make a fun mobile game out of it. Didn’t want to sound like I’m discounting anything. I actually need to get a Galaxy S (PowerVR SGX 540; the 535 is in the iPhone4) in my hands to test, so perhaps I’m incorrect in bringing up any fill rate issues with the 535/540 as my efforts will see the same FPS or thereabout if so.. That is all.. ;)

  • http://PSP blabeen

    If i want to play a decent 3d game then I would buy a PSP …
    phone r not built for these kind of games,,

  • http://Website Chancy

    I’ve tried playing games on my sister’s ipod touch and if touch control is the future of mobile gaming then COUNT ME OUT. If the PSP + Android rumor is indeed true then that is the way to go. Don’t be caught up by all the iPod touch gaming hype because it’s just that…hype. iPod may have “great” graphics but until it gets a great input device then it’s just horrible.

    Now as for Android, I think Google needs to step up to the plate and do something. I know Android is meant to be open source but like they set the bar high for hardware with their Nexus One. If they can have a small division of their dev team release some games that fully take advantage of Android, I’m sure we will start to see better games out there. They can also try sealing deals with mobile dev companies like Gameloft to develop Android centric games instead of iPhone ports — and yes, I’m looking at you, Asphalt.

  • http://Website Derek

    This is the difference between a real OS like iOS and a java virtual machine parading as an OS like Android. Huge difference.

    • http://www.typhon4android.org/ Mike Leahy

      Look there is a river! Look there is a bridge!!! Arrr.. Look there be river dwelling pirate trolls!

      Android OS is derivation of the Linux kernal (and hence is Unix like)

      iOS is a derivation of BSD called Darwin (and hence Unix like) – more or less in short

      Both can run C/C++ code, so pro game companies that build their engine tech in C/C++ can leverage the same engine on both OSes.

      iPhone devices are ARM based and use the PowerVR GPU line. There are a plethora of Android devices many of which are ARM based though Intel is trying to get in the mix and PowerVR is a popular GPU in many Android devices.

      The very same engine you see above demoed on the iPhone will run exactly the same on Android with devices of comparable hardware. If you have a Galaxy S it will even run better than the iPhone 4… Android devices coming out during the upcoming holiday season will blow away the the iPhone 4 hardware.

      The Dalvik VM is plenty fast especially after the JIT upgrades with FroYo. Any game written with Java and using OpenGL ES is basically as fast as it’s C/C++ counterpart if it’s constructed well. All of the graphics heavy lifting is done by the GPU which both a C/C++ and Java based game are using.

      Why did I write so much for a bridge dwelling pirate troll? Arrr!

  • http://Website Magius

    Very, very clever Carmack. Soft, basic shadowing for the characters. Static lights and shadows for everything else. Like it was mentioned before this is a very simple beautiful demo. It doesn’t take away from the achievement at all, they are clever folk. It is just that given the physical hardware on the phone it was to be expected if that some company was willing to invest the time and talent something like this was achievable.

    They are after all computers.

    I would love to see how it performs with more than three NPCs on the screen and Ai and all the other goodies active.

  • http://Website Gregor

    Oh, for F*s sake. Id was built on PC gaming, not platform. Every game had explicit hardware requirements. The games scaled to different screen resolutions, and different memory configurations. Id has gotten lazy, and is going to miss the boat if it sticks to the apple thing.