Robot 5 is throwing everything it has at the Apple Watch.
Founded late last year, this New York-based studio is dedicating itself to creating games solely for Apple Watch. It has three casual games lined up for launch week, including a card game, a matching puzzle title, and a football game. But it plans to release seven more Watch games between now and the end of May, establishing itself as a major player in the emerging smartwatch space. Analysts forecast sales of up to 40 million Apple Watches in its first year, so Robot 5 could find its games on millions of wrists very soon.
Apple Watch launch
Peter Chen, the founder and CEO at Robot 5 Studios, tells GamesBeat that a future vision of convenience in gaming fueled the company’s creation. It believes that wearable gaming will eventually pick up where larger screen gaming leaves off.
“Robot 5 Studios is a gaming studio that was formed specifically for the sole purpose of creating Apple Watch games,” Chen told GamesBeat in an interview. “If we think back to the transition from gamers spending time on consoles and desktop games to spending more and more time playing games on a smartphone that’s always nearby, we can imagine a future not too far away where gamers prefer the convenience of playing certain types of games on their Apple Watch instead of pulling out their smartphones.
“There’s a time and place for games on a watch, smartphone, and huge screen — we think that an increasing amount of time will be spent on watch games.”
While Chen admits that coming out with 10 games before this summer is ambitious, he maintains that it’s possible, noting that the current level of game complexity enables for creation of an app in a matter of weeks
“Most companies are announcing one or two Apple Watch games. Building 10 Apple Watch games is a bit ambitious but within our reach,” he says. “We started experimenting with the kinds of games that were possible last December. After many prototypes, designs, and brainstorming sessions, we figured out not only what did and didn’t make sense for wrist-based games, but we also figured out what was technically possible on the Apple Watch.”
Chen points out that while smartphone games could have full-scale teams building games for a full year, watch games aren’t there yet.
“Apple Watch games may eventually get to that size, complexity, and timeline, but they currently can be built by one to a handful of people in a week to a month or two.”
To start building games for Apple Watch, Chen says that Robot 5 had to reset from a smartphone-minded focus, scrapping a lot of what it knew about building games to start fresh. It also had to overcome several device limitations that game developers are not used to, such as manually creating animation through image sequencing.
“Part of the challenge and limitation is time,” he says. “Adding the kinds of complex scenes that are in our games is very challenging and time-consuming. For example, changing the color of a football in an iPhone game might take a few minutes by changing a few lines of code. In an Apple Watch game, this change might take several hours depending on how many times the football is used in different scenes.
“The biggest challenge is the complexity of the animations. iPhone games can have animations that are infinitely complex, with full control of each pixel and also of objects movements across the screen. Apple Watch games don’t have this kind of control over pixels and objects, so we have to mimic this kind of behavior.”
But through this work Chen believes the studio has come up with some new techniques that give it a leg up on games from other companies.
“Almost every game that we’re seeing from other companies have objects onscreen that are segregated from one another,” Chen says. “So you’ll see buttons in a grid, a static scene in a forest with a simple sword slash, or cards that instantly appear onscreen and never overlap.”
And he’s glad that these games aren’t as ambitious as those Robot 5 is working on.
“Our games are pushing the limits of the Apple Watch in several ways,” Chen says. “First, our games use a large number of layers of complex images to show a rich and diverse scene. Second, we’re coordinating these images and their animations together to provide a seamless experience and gameplay. Finally, we’ve hand-tuned the timing of players interacting with the screen and the layered animations to make the gameplay feel natural and responsive.”
Robot 5 likes the Apple Watch enough that it’s passing over other wearables to focus solely on it. Chen believes that its convenience opens up new avenues for gaming and that its ties to the iOS ecosystem will lead to widespread adoption.
“The Apple Watch is an extraordinary device that is beautifully designed and more easily accessible than a smartphone or any other device in existence,” Chen says. “Its games will be played by millions of gamers in April, then tens of millions by the end of the summer, and beyond. There’s no better creative and technical challenge than developing games for an amazing new platform, and nothing more exciting than to make breakthroughs that tens of millions of gamers will get to enjoy. In short, building games for the Apple Watch is and has been a game developer’s dream.”