A look at what the Ultrabook has to offer gamers and developers.
iRacing is a massively multiplayer online racing game, with 40,000 members. I was intrigued to see a blog post recently on the Intel Developer Zone which revealed how iRacing was ported to the Ultrabook platform.
The Ultrabook has much to offer games players and developers. Its most obvious feature is that it’s extremely lightweight and portable, so people can continue working and playing wherever they go. It also brings together the best interfaces we have today, including touch screens, the keyboard and mouse, tilt sensors, and the camera. As the platform becomes increasingly popular in the market, and as perceptual computing becomes more widely developed and accepted, we could see dramatic changes in how we use computers. I have a vision of someone in the future sorting their emails by waving their hands in different ways in front of the camera, a bit like the sequence in Minority Report, but on a more practical scale. Or perhaps we will tilt to rapidly and precisely scroll through a lengthy document?
Back to the game. For iRacing, developer David Tucker wanted to support both touch screens and tilt controls on the Ultrabook. The game itself worked out of the box, as you would expect given that the Ultrabook is running Windows 8, but he amended it to scale back the graphics frame rate to preserve battery power when the device was running off the battery.
To ensure the game worked on tablet formats, Tucker had to remove any dependence on a mouse or keyboard. At first, Tucker tried allowing users to touch the screen anywhere to control the car, but through user testing he found that it was easier for people to use if you limited where users could touch the screen and gave them clear visual clues as to where those places were. Interestingly, he said there were many designs that looked great on paper but failed when testers tried them. I’ve always advocated the importance of user testing, but particularly when dealing with relatively unfamiliar controls, this shows how difficult it can be to second-guess what users will naturally take to.
The controls enable players to rotate the device to steer and tilt it to accelerate. The challenge he faced with tilt controls was not knowing how people would hold their devices naturally. Not only did this affect the angle at which the device was being held, but different devices (tablets, laptops or convertibles) also have the orientation sensors in different parts of the device and at different orientations. To get around this problem, he used a calibration mechanism and enabled users to reset it during the game by tapping a button, so they could adjust their grip if necessary.
There were a couple of visual challenges with this control mechanism too: firstly, the screen becomes harder to see the more it’s tilted, and secondly, Tucker had to disable the autorotation screen setting to stop the display reacting to the device being rotated.
As you would expect, Tucker faced a few technical challenges along the way. He’s documented the solutions he found, together with sample code you can download, so you can save time scratching your head and debugging.
It’s interesting to see how existing games are being ported across to the Ultrabook, but I’m particularly excited to see how new games will be created to take full advantage of new input mechanisms. How do you see the future of Ultrabook gaming?
This blog post is written by Softtalkblog, and is sponsored by the Intel Developer Zone, which helps you to develop, market and sell software and apps for prominent platforms and emerging technologies powered by Intel Architecture.