Developers discuss the merits of cross-platform tools such as Marmalade over native development
In today's market, developing games natively for each of your target platforms can be a chore – particularly in the increasingly fragmented mobile sector.
While creating games specifically for a platform can have its advantages – especially if you are building the game with a solitary format in mind – if you hope to monetise your game across as many devices as possible, it can be a hindrance.
“If you need to cover multiple different platforms, then you need to be familiar with each platform you want to develop for,” says Vedran Manojlovic, architect and lead developer at Swamp Attack developer Amo 2. “That often includes using different programming languages, which means you will have to re-write your whole game for each platform.
“Doubling of code also means doubling of bugs and support needed. So you would need to double your development staff and double the code, which brings double the bugs and pushes up risk and complexity.
“But if you eliminate that, you have more time to spend with friends and family. And cats. And radioactive kamikaze raccoons. Whatever floats your boat.”
The answer for many is to use cross-platform development tools, such as Marmalade. Creating a game that can be easily deployed to multiple devices and app stores, without compromising on performance, takes much of the pain out of multi-format native development – perfect for studios such as Talisman: Digital Edition developer Nomad Games, for which MD and co-founder Don Whiteford says cross-platform releases are “a fundamental business strategy”.
“To maximise our reach and our fans, we have to be cross-platform,” he says. “In a crowded mobile space, it’s vital. As a team, it’s been our philosophy for well over a decade. Fans of our game prefer to play on a variety of devices, so the game has to go where the players are.”
Manojlovic says there are many advantages to cross-platform development: “You only have to develop one game code, and it will work on all the different platforms, such as iOS, Android, Windows, and more. Also, for the most part, you don’t have to deal with the system specifics of each platform.
“It can save you a tremendous amount of time and resources. Instead of having a team of platform-specific specialists to keep your code up-to-date, you can focus your resources on where it counts – delivering a superb user-experience. I don’t think we would be able to put out such a polished and fun game in the timeframe we had without Marmalade.”
That’s not to say cross-platform games development tools oversimplify things. In fact, you can still benefit from some of the advantages specific formats offer, taking some of the learnings there and applying them to your mobile titles.
“In the PC environment it’s an awful lot easier to beta, fix and update there,” Whiteford says, by way of example.
“It means that when you deploy on mobile, the vast majority of problems have already been eliminated. I have seen other games developers say the same thing. Plus, if you come from a PC or console background, it’s all an awful lot easier.”
The Nomad Games boss adds that cross-platform dev tools can also be very accessible, particularly if you’re comfortable with C++.
Manojlovic goes on to say that cross-platform tools can copy the exact functionality and programming logic you would find in native tools, so a good native developer can quickly transfer to a good cross-platform dev.
“These tools eliminate the need to invent the wheel each time you want to build a car,” he says. “You can write only one instance of code, and it will automatically work on different platforms. Sometimes you will need to write some native code for specific platforms, and with Marmalade you can simply write an extension for that, which you can use from your main code.”
With mobile marketplaces becoming so crucial to success, particularly for smaller studios, cross-platform development has become just as vital, streamlining the game creation and release process.
Whiteford concludes: “Seeing a game move flawlessly from the desktop environment to multiple mobile platforms in just days is always exciting, and with Marmalade all our key platforms and more are covered.”